Writing a Story: When the illustration Comes First, a guest post by Chrissie Krebs
Bizard The Bear Wizard was an idea that started out as a visual image.
While wandering through a children’s bookstore in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, I was surprised to see how many different unicorn books were available–of the ten or so picture books that had “recommended reading” stickers on the shelf underneath them, four were about unicorns.
It is true that unicorns are magical.
They are known to be gentle and pure, even though they have a deadly defense weapon on their head.
They are also glittery and fabulous.
And it was clear to me that with so many books about them in the marketplace, I needed to come up with an idea that would be just as appealing to young readers.
So, I decided to take some elements from the unicorn–the horn and the magic–and I started to brainstorm.
A bird with a horn? I think that could be slightly terrifying. Imagine horned pigeons, swarming towards you at the park, flapping their wings furiously in your face, fighting each other for a piece of bread you are throwing in their direction. That feels like something similar to a gladiator fight.
What about a dog with a unicorn horn on its head? I decided dogs might be too small and domesticated to be competent unicorns.
But what about a unicorn bear?
Bears are generally seen as big animals, not incredibly social and can be a little bit grumpy. What if there was a way of giving them a makeover? A unicorn bear might be the antihero we didn’t know we needed.
As an Australian, I understood that my idea of bears might be completely different from the lived reality of many Americans who deal with these delightful creatures on a day to day basis. The only bears I have had contact with are koala bears, and they are technically not bears, so I made sure to do some research on Black, Brown and Grizzly bears. I saw cute footage of Mama Bears with their playful cubs, some funny videos of bears fumbling in people’s trash cans, but I also saw some heart stopping footage of people being chased by bears while riding their bikes. Just like every sentient being, bears have an array of emotions and behaviour patterns. I found the varying qualities of this animal to be great fodder for character development in a potential story.
And so began my creation of a unicorn bear.
My initial drawings showed a slightly grumpy looking brown bear with a horn on his head. I also tried some other animal hybrids, such as a mermaid dog, a bunny with wings, but I kept being drawn back to the bear with the horn in his head. I wanted to know more about him.
So, I had my image of the unicorn bear, but he needed a story too. I played with the idea of a naturally occurring unicorn bear. Perhaps he was born under a rainbow on the edge of a cascading waterfall? I must admit, however, I am not good with writing fantasy/whimsical stories and it felt incongruent with the style of my illustrations which are quirky and strange. I needed a quirky and strange storyline to accompany my unicorn bear. The quintessential hero’s journey was what I finally decided on.
A bear who leads a normal, uneventful life has his world turned upside down one day by a random tornado that slams an out-of-control wizard’s wand into his head. Bear is initially upset with his newfound powers (and not just because he’d rather sleep than grant wishes), but learns to accept his destiny of being a Bear Wizard in order to save the inhabitants of the mountain forest from an evil wolf.
I also had to decide what kind of wishes would animals really want. Deer would probably wish for sweet grass, foxes would love some tasty fat rabbits and a warm burrow, all normal and reasonable animal requests. But what if they wished for things like an air fryer? Or a smart phone? Or even a skateboard? And what would that do to the forest they inhabit? And although Bizard does grant those wishes, the story is also about unlikely friendships, kindness, and working together to reach harmonious conclusions, proving that there are some things in life that are more important than material wishes.
To some people beginning with an image before writing the story might seem strange. But I have always been a visual person and drawing my way towards the story and solutions in my stories, works best for me. It is fun to imagine the character and then shape the story to fit the character–in this case Bizard the Bear Wizard—a grumpy and kind bear.
Meet the author
Chrissie Krebs has illustrated several picture books, including Pig in a Wig, A Dinosaur Ate Dad’s Hair, and There Is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard. She also illustrated Rodney Loses It! by Michael Gerard Bauer, which was named a CBCA Children’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood. She lives in Australia. Visit her at ChrissieKrebs.net or on Instgram @chrissiekrebs.
About Bizard the Bear Wizard
An ordinary bear gains extraordinary magical powers in this hilarious early graphic novel reader.
Bear was just an average bear, until the day a tornado lodged an out-of-control wizard’s wand in his head. Now he looks a bit like a cross between a bear and a unicorn. He is none too pleased, but it seems he might be stuck with the wand for the foreseeable future.
Even worse, he now has the ability to grant wishes—something he wants no part of. He’d much rather spend his days dozing away. His friends give him a new name—Bizard the Bear Wizard—and he reluctantly accepts his new magical powers and starts granting wishes to everyone in the forest.
But when the evil wolf and his bad guys threaten them all, Bizard knows it’s time to embrace his magical destiny. Only he and his newly wanded head can save the day now. Along the way, Bizard’s friends, Fox, Owl, and Squirrel, all bring their own brand of kooky support to his antics as he uses . . . and accidently misuses, his powers.
From the talented author-illustrator Chrissie Krebs comes the first of two hilarious younger graphic novels about Bizard and his friends.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/20/2023
Series: Bear Wizard #1
Age Range: 8 – 10 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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