welcomes as our guest Laurel MacQuarrie who is the author and illustrator of The Misadventures of Seefus Slug series which to date comprises her first three books Seefus Goes to Sleep, Seefus Learns to Obey and Seefus Finds a Friend.

Norm: Good day Laurel and thanks for participating in our interview

Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. 

Laurel:  Hello Norm and thank you!  I am the oldest of three in my family.  I grew up in Santa Ana, California and currently live in Apollo Beach, Florida with my husband and three sons.  I have a bachelor's degree in Psychology and completed additional courses to receive my teaching certificate in the state of Florida.

I attended several field studies in foreign countries while completing my degree.  I was able to study in France, Italy, Ireland, England, and Spain.  It was on these field studies that I saw the true value in learning through experience and not just through books in a classroom.  I tried to bring a hands-on approach to as many things as possible in my lessons.  If we learned about bugs, I brought worms, crickets, butterflies, and ladybugs throughout the week.  If we learned about farm animals, the students got to "milk" a rubber glove with pinholes in the fingers that I filled with milk.

I taught special needs children ages 3 to 5 and feel that teaching provided me with life experience that goes well beyond what I learned in school.  A kind heart and loving guidance goes a long way when teaching children with special needs.  They need to feel safe as well as genuinely cared for before they can fully invest themselves in participating and learning in the classroom.  Teachers have a lot of expectations placed upon them by the educational system.  That person inside the little body that shows up with their lunchbox and backpack can too often be lost in the system as teachers have pressure to comply with the expectations of a "system."  My soul was not cut out for system compliance when my heart was attached to the children.  I decided I would prefer teaching through humorous social stories in books.  The Misadventures of Seefus Slug was born from this idea.

Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing children's picture books? As a follow up, are there aesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to this genre? Does it have a particular form? 

Laurel: When I taught young children, it became very clear to me that they were often bored with the pictures in books I would read to them.  Because of the special needs in the population of children that I taught, catching their attention and keeping them engaged was crucial to having a successful learning experience. 

I started to make my own materials after an accidental discovery one day.  We were learning about healthy foods and I had cut out pictures of beautiful fruits and vegetables along with some junk food.  We started to categorize the foods by placing the pictures under their corresponding labels.  I had also cut out pictures of rotten fruit and moldy bread.  This was my "Aha!" moment. 

The children were absolutely fascinated with the pictures of the moldy bread and rotting fruit.  They started talking about these oddities more than they would ever talk about pictures of the same items in their pre-rotten form.  It was fantastic.  They compared and joked about eating it, that it could make you sick because you'd get "bugs" and so forth.  The books in the Seefus series have some odd things to engage young readers by keeping them focused on the picture long enough to listen to someone read the words on the page to them.  Items in the books are out of proportion, there are odd things like bottle caps on the ground, gum stuck to a tire, little things that make them look for just a few seconds longer.  Oddities bring questions to mind.  When we see something out of place our attention is typically engaged for a longer period of time than if everything looks just right. 

I think one of the aesthetic disadvantages to children's books is that they are typically written by adults.  Adults have adult minds, minds that have been programmed over a lifetime of the philosophical theories or principals that govern how we view things within our society.  Children however, have young developing minds that have not yet completely grasped the realities of our world.  Their imaginations are endless, their minds think on a different plane.

I can remember being a young child, sitting in the backseat of our giant old Galaxy Ford, and thinking about how exciting it would be when I grew up and was able to drive.  The excitement for me was not that I'd get to control the wheel and momentum of the car, it was because I thought I would simply have to see the whole world in order to know where to drive the car when I had somewhere to go (many, many years before GPS.)  I would guess we all have those moments when we may recall something from our childhood thoughts that was truly irrational yet seemed completely logical as a child. 

The perceptions of a young mind are very different from that of an adult mind.  In writing children's books, I think it is important to consider the perspective of a child while still incorporating the ideals necessary for them to learn a valuable lesson that helps their minds make sense of the adult world around them.  For example, Seefus Learns to Obey teaches a very valuable do not need to test all rules in order to understand their necessity in our lives.  Seefus learns the hard way the dangers that "rule four" was protecting him from.  It was very fortunate that Seefus only had close calls on his misadventure.  Breaking rules just for fun or curiosity's sake can truly be hazardous!

Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about writing the first three books in your series? 

Laurel: The first book, Seefus Learns to Obey, was a terrible struggle at first.  I became very attached to the words I had written and didn't want to change things because I was afraid I'd lose the meaning in the story. 

The biggest problem is that they are written in prose and telling a story, that rhymes and doesn't sound too corny or forced, was a task I initially felt I should have abandoned.

My husband was a huge help at refining some of the tough lines but a good friend told me one day to just lock myself in a room and abandon my preconceived ideas of what I felt could not be changed.  I went in my room for about an hour and just started scratching out words and shortening the lines.  When I came out, my husband read it and after weeks of trying to hash out a final version, he simply said he loved it and we had the first book. 

There are currently 11 stories but illustrating them takes me awhile so only 3 are completed.  Each story provides some kind of life lesson along with an activity at the end of the book that can be done at home or in the classroom.

Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your books and what was it?

Laurel:  I learned a lesson that my husband exemplifies.  "Never give up!"  If I had abandoned my stories because I felt I couldn't get them to rhyme or because someone may think they are ridiculous, I'd have abandoned my teach.  Seefus has taught me many lessons in persistence, from writing to illustrating, many stories could be told about the hurdles that had to be jumped to get to the next hurdle.  Someday there is a finish line but it is a long, long way off for the moment.  

Norm: What made you chose Seefus the slug as your principal character in your first three books?

Laurel: I am so glad you asked this question!  Eli Allison is the answer.  I have a cute, extremely intelligent little nephew that used to have an imaginary friend named Slug. 

The third book, Seefus Goes to Sleep was inspired by events that took place when I once visited him at Christmas time.  I had the flu and felt absolutely horrible.  I was sleeping on his bottom bunk but his sleepy wiggling through the night would wake me so I moved to the couch.  I was asleep on the couch and I awoke to a little head in my face that said, "Auntie Lo Lo, I was asleep all alone, I can't sleep alone!"

I tried in vain to explain there was not enough room on the couch for the two of us and that I needed to sleep.  I did what Mum Slug did and let him lie down next to me to go to bed.  I figured he'd fall asleep quickly and I'd just quietly move him so I could sleep.  As soon as he fell asleep, I carefully made him a spot on the floor with blankets and covered him up.  Just as I fell asleep myself, the little head popped back up, "Auntie Lo Lo, somehow I ended up on the floor, I need to sleep next to you!"  My sister has spent many a night "putting up with this stuff" as Mum Slug says.  I came home and wrote book three.  In the next few days 10 more stories were written to eventually be illustrated members of the series.

Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the books and what purpose do you believe your stories serve? As a follow up, and what matters to you about the stories? 

Laurel: The primary inspiration for the books, aside from little Eli, was the desire to teach children in a fun and memorable way.  I believe my stories serve to "teach children in disguise."  They look at the silly pictures of Seefus with his odd expressions and strange surroundings.  They hear and see him act in ways they can relate to and probably behave in similar ways at times just as Seefus behaves. 

Parents seem to be a little intrigued by some of the photos, particularly Seefus stuck on a rubber tire or the teacher slug picture with her enormous lipstick smile and various clutter upon her desk.  I am hoping these books serve as a tool for parents to teach valuable lessons to their children.  If one child stays out of the street because he can relate his street to Seefus and his "wild cement ride" then my mission has been accomplished!  Providing a fun way to learn matters most when I'm writing the misadventures.

Norm: Could you describe to our readers how you went about creating the vivid beautiful illustrations in your books?

Laurel: Here we have a very big life lesson for me. I am no artist and I simply cannot draw anything that anyone would want to look at.  Many flat pictures in story books start to look a bit generic.

In our society today, children see everything in motion on televisions, iPads, on their home computer screens, etc.--it is hard to compete for their attention.

I started out creating illustrations for my nephew, nothing anyone else would see.  I cut pictures out of a real slug, made a silly bed for him in a room with stamps on the wall for pictures and various things a slug may have, like a leaf for a blanket.  As I began creating the pictures for Eli, I thought maybe I could make the picture collages and actually make a real book. 

I went to the store and bought scrapbooking paper in all textures and colors.  I was so very proud when I finished two books in a week or so.  I can be a bit slow at processing things sometimes and it didn't occur to me until I'd finished that I cannot reproduce anything in print.  I had a little breakdown that my husband rescued me from (as he often does in times of desperation.)

Although I had given up, he hadn't.  He contacted various paper companies to ask for permission to use their papers in bits and pieces for the books.  DCWV asked for a sample of what I would be using them for and they contacted us to let us know we could use their products if we acknowledged them in the books.  Paper Pizazz also agreed with the same request for acknowledgment.  So, the moral of the story is..."Never Give Up" as you will see hanging on Mum Slug's sewing room wall in Seefus Finds a Friend.  I create the collages using many items other than paper, things I find at flea markets, craft stores, even trash! 

Seefus is made from Sculpey clay, painted in layers, and then sprinkled with the best sprinkles in town from Sparkle-N-Sprinkle.  Once he is all baked, painted, glittered and glued, a photograph is taken of the image and the photo is opened in a free program called Gimp.  Digital corrections and additions are made as part of the final process in bringing Seefus to life. 

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books? 

Laurel: I am doing a presentation at South Shore Library in Ruskin, Florida on September 30th and hope to be doing more all throughout Hillsborough County Public Libraries this year as well as at elementary schools. 

The presentation will include a reading of one of the books, a large display of some of the original art used in the books, a display about real slugs in our world, typically a craft will be done at the presentation as well that relates to one of the stories.  You can go to my  WEBSITE  for free printable activities such as a memory game, counting with Saul Snail game, coloring pages, etc.  There will be new ideas added to the website each month.  My books are available on my website or through AMAZON.COM

Norm: What is next for Laurel MacQuarrie?  

Laurel: I need to work on the illustrations for the rest of the stories.  Illustrating is a bit of a time consuming process for me.  Number one on my bucket list is completing a science fiction novel I started over 20 years ago.  Life was very busy for me when I was raising young children and I am a little preoccupied now with Seefus but I hope to resume what I started so long ago before 2020! 

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer. 

Laurel:  What is most important to you in this life?  My family.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.          

Laurel: THANK YOU!

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review Of  Seefus Finds a Friend

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Seefus Learns to Obey

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Seefus Goes to Sleep