A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Something doesn’t smell right at Mr. Abel Throppe’s bakery. Eighteen customers are sick, and they’re blaming it on his pie! What could have caused this awful epidemic? It seems a funny bunny fly has taken up residence in the bakery. You see, Funny Bunny Fly doesn’t like to be clean. Prior to entering the bakery, he rolled in some dog doo-doo and is spreading germs all over town! Mr. Throppe better keep his bakery clean, or he’s going to lose his customers and gain a permanent new tenant.
The Funny Bunny Fly is a cautionary tale about hygiene that’s playful and fun. Bethany Straker’s silly rhymes are complemented by her colorful and wacky illustrations. The Funny Bunny Fly is sure to keep the laughter bubbling—and, hopefully, the soap too!
Sarah Naughton: Hi Bethany
First of all, double congratulations: on the imminent arrival of your new picture book, The Funny Bunny Fly, and more importantly your new human, who I believe is due any day now, so I’ll try to make this snappy!
Bethany Straker: Thank you! The Funny Bunny Fly enters the world a week or so before the baby is due – both are going to be pretty messy!
12 books in 3 years is quite an achievement. Is this now a full time job for you?
Yes, I was able to illustrate full time from a few years ago. When I’m not working on my own books, I’m able to illustrate for magazines so I keep things ticking along. I’ve also been working on illustrating a joke book and a history book for some talented authors.
What were you doing beforehand and how did you first come to be published?
I studied illustration as a degree, before training inhouse as a graphic designer, working for various companies and various types of publication, from children’s magazines to graphic novels and business magazines. I was able to submit and publish the odd illustration from the start, and was really encouraged to do so in my first job by my first boss, Richard Coombs. I am still able to do the odd illustration for him now. Then I met my agent, Isabel Atherton, and we started working on Zombie Cat, The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty together.
You wrote and illustrated the book, which is a first for you. How did you find the experience as compared with just illustrating?
It was lonely, but I loved it! I’ve always enjoyed writing and would fill sketchbooks with both drawings and words throughout university. When I got the confidence to try writing a children’s book, I realised how scary it is to be working alone with only yourself to blame for any failings. I became so used to chatting about ideas with Isabel, Kate Ormand, Rose Mannering and other people I’ve worked with, that it was strange not to have that on this project. But it does make me more proud that it got picked up!
The Funny Bunny Fly is a rhyming book about a horrible little dirty character that enjoys nothing better than a wriggle in some fresh dog poo, only to be tempted by the nearby smells of a bakery. The result is the very vivid sullying of a lot of cake, and some rather unwell customers! I wanted to write something funny, but with a moral – in this case the importance of hygiene.
How does your illustration process work?
I like to start with the ‘hero’ of the book, and to think not only of it’s image, but of its world, as everything afterwards is dictated by the way the main character looks. I wanted to create a funny looking little thing, with enough cheek and warmth to endear itself to the reader, whilst still leaving them a little disgusted by its actions! Once I’d created the Bunny Fly, I created a colour scheme marrying the appeal of fresh cakes and buns with the brown of all the nastiness the Bunny Fly encounters. So this book contains a lot of icing pink, caramel orange and a rather harsh shade of brown.
I love all the titles of your books, especially ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. What draws you to such funny/gross subject matter?
Thank you! Zombie Cat was my first book, and when Isabel wrote and showed it to me I just thought it was my perfect subject matter. I’ve always enjoyed the spooky and surreal, I love a good psychological horror, and I rely on humour to distract me from any anxieties I may have. When something challenging happens in my life, I try to turn to comedy to look at things differently. Growing up, my favourite books were always the really silly. As for the ‘gross’ element, there is nothing more satisfying to draw than something slimy, wrinkly or broken!
Was there a particular author that poisoned the mind of the sweet and innocent young Bethany?
The Funny Bunny Fly owes a lot to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, both because of the rhyming element and because of its happy grotesque style. The nonchalance in reporting that someone’s mother has been eaten, or that our initially glamorous hero is in fact a pretty disgusting human being, was always something that excited me. Quentin Blake’s cover image of a massive wolf reading a story to two very visually uncomfortable children used to make me laugh.
You love to draw grotesques. Is there a particular artist who has influenced you?
Ralph Steadman was probably the first illustrator that made me understand that things didn’t have to be beautiful to make an impression. I wondered if I could draw something a bit ugly and disgusting in a children’s book. I think the key is to keep the humour up, and to offer contrasting good. The Funny Bunny Fly is pretty gleeful in spreading his muck around the place, but he isn’t malicious, and we also see the consequences of his actions.
Did you have a reader in mind? A yukky little nephew perhaps?
A young me, probably! I think most children find yukky funny. I remember being young and very bored with all the nice little stories in the shops. I used to get irritated by all the witches being good witches, and all the monsters being cute and cuddly!
You’re about to have your first baby: have you got a plan for continuing to write in between nappy-changes and sterilising bottles?
That’s a daunting prospect! But I could never leave illustration for long. My plan is to try not to be too overwhelmed by everything and perhaps step tentatively back towards some new projects in the Spring. But this baby will definitely grow up with a lot of paint and pens at hand!
I’ve written a book for adults which deals with anxiety, but again it uses humour to see the positives in each fear. It’s a diary-like account of a girl’s worries and her imaginings that things will inevitably go wrong. There were some fun illustrations to draw for this one! It’s called Why Am I Scared of Everything? and it’s out in February. I also have been collaborating with the wonderful Kate Ormand on a children’s book about recycling and a very sweet little dog: ‘Pierre the French Bulldog Recycles,’ out in April!
Funny Bunny Fly is a cautionary tale about cleanliness, so the new baby should provide plenty more poo/vomit/drool avenues to explore. Thanks for talking to me, Bethany, and a very happy book birthday!
Thanks so much, Sarah! Lovely to talk to you.
Funny Bunny Fly is out on the 4th November.
BETHANY STRAKER is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website, www.bethanystraker.com
Sarah Naughton is the author of two books for young adults: Costa shortlisted The Hanged Man Rises, about possession and child murder in Victorian London: and The Blood List, featuring witches and changelings and a very nasty little brother. She lives in London with her husband and two sons. You can find out what she’s up to on her blog, or follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.