Are you ready for a wild and wacky story all about friendship? Let’s talk about “Sasquatch and Squirrel”! Strawberry the Sasquatch, a big and fuzzy creature who lives deep in the forest. She’s happy doing all the things a sasquatch does like hiking and foraging, and even has some pretty cool dance moves. But things get really interesting when an extremely friendly squirrel named Nutty comes along. Hilarious mishaps and cloud watching later, these two unlikely friends find a way to get along.
And guess what? The person behind this tale of friendship is none other than award-winning author, illustrator and cartoonist Chris Monroe. She’s the brain behind the super successful “Monkey with a Tool Belt” series and now, she’s back with another fun and silly story for you to enjoy.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the story of Sasquatch and Squirrel?
I have occasionally stopped at a Sasquatch-themed gas station when I am traveling, which is in Remer, MN, Bigfoot Capitol of MN I believe. I thought there was a need for a fun Sasquatch story, (based actually on very little research on my part!) and that got me thinking about a story idea. I liked the idea of a buddy story and also love squirrels. So it all came together.
How did you come up with your characters?
Nutty the squirrel had already been a character in my comics, and I had put him on t-shirts and banners in the past too. My idea of Nutty is that he is a bit of a troublemaker, and he was basically just waiting for a story to enter. As far as Strawberry the Sasquatch, I wanted to create a Bigfoot that was a lot more sensitive and artistic than one might expect. I wanted the characters to be somewhat opposites. They were both very fun characters to work with.
Can you talk about your writing process and give kids advice on how to write?
I often begin with rough comic sketches, or just jotting down ideas either on a computer or in an actual notebook with paper and pen. I like to do comics, so writing and drawing at the same time is something I do. It helps me work through the plot and I like to use the art to tell some of the story, not just the words. So sketching and writing at the same time in a comic or storyboard format works for my process. Once I have the rough idea formulated in sketches or notes, I write the book manuscript in a Word document on my computer.
My advice would be to try to write or draw for at least a few minutes a day. I have a ten minute rule where I have to work on my art or writing for ten minutes a day. After ten minutes, if I am not enjoying it, I allow myself to step away. Some days we just don’t feel creative, and that is okay! Use ideas from your own life, or something that you are interested in so it is exciting for you to write about it. I tend to write a lot and edit things out later. Let ideas flow. You can always delete later!
I also recommend brainstorming ideas if you need help coming up with something in your story. Write down one word related to your topic and then just write whatever next word comes to mind. Keep going with that and ideas will somehow magically arise out of the process. It really works!
How do you think kids will respond to the story of Sasquatch and Squirrel?
I can only hope they find it hilarious! It’s a funny book! I sort of trust that if I can make myself laugh, hopefully someone else will too. I truly hope they like it. It’s very much like a comic book and it has a lot of slapstick comedy that I hope they (and their parents) will enjoy.
Your Monkey with a Tool Belt series has inspired the Netflix series, Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt. Are there any plans for Sasquatch and Squirrel to be adapted for TV?
Not currently, but it would definitely make a great show!
Can you talk about your experience as an award-winning author, illustrator, and cartoonist and how it influenced your work on Sasquatch and Squirrel?
I tend to approach all the things I do from a similar part of my experience, which is: cartooning. I wanted this book to be more on the comic book side than the previous ones. The other books I have written have elements of comics throughout, but this one is almost 100%. So that was a little different. When I wrote my first book I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing! I just forged ahead and used my experience as a cartoonist to guide me. I also was lucky to have great people helping me along. I feel very grateful for that and the opportunity to make more books!
Are you planning to write more books for this series or are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
I am starting work on a new book about an adventurous kitten. But yes! I have considered doing a sequel to Sasquatch and Squirrel, but I don’t have any plan in place for that right now. We’ll have to see how it goes!
How does the theme of friendship and acceptance play a role in the story of Sasquatch and Squirrel?
I would say the main theme of the book IS friendship, and the idea that sometimes friendships take a little work. I don’t really want to preach to kids, but it is a good message – to hang in there through the rough parts and accept the ways our friends are, even if they are very different than we are. Kids are pretty great at friendships in general, so I think they will relate to Nutty and Strawberry’s situation. Nutty is a friend who makes some bad choices. He has impulse-control issues. That is going to be challenging for Strawberry, no matter what.
Can you talk about the use of humor in picture books and how it appeals to young readers?
I can only really base it on what I liked as a kid, and go from there. I have always loved funny books, comics,and animation, and my son did too. So I have always been inspired to try to write that type of story, even when I was a little kid. The more funny books, the better! If kids laugh when I am reading the books, I feel very very good! We can all use a good laugh.
What message do you hope readers take away from the story?
I mainly always want readers to have fun reading the books. But I also hope they think about friendship, and art, and maybe about listening when someone warns you not to smear mud on someone’s laundry.
What are some tips you have for young cartoonists?
Just go with it! Don’t worry about things like: “Am I a good at drawing?,” or “Is my story too silly or boring?” Think of it like a visual journal and draw things about your own funny life, or characters or stories in your imagination. Embellish things that have happened to you. Try to tell a story in your own way. If you feel like trying to draw famous cartoon characters, go for it! It is good practice. But drawing in your own style is the greatest. It will lead you further and further into a fun form of art and writing.
On a technical level, I draw things first in pencil and then draw over the pencil lines with ink pens. This helps me lay out my comic panels and make room for all the things I need in it. I do a lot of erasing, so I draw lightly at first. A lot of people draw on digital tablets or their computers now, and I think that is an awesome way to draw comics too. Don’t give up. Not everything will be great, but maybe it leads you to something cool. Mistakes can be just what we need sometimes to figure out what it is we were trying for.
What has the process been like working with Netflix? How much involvement do you have with the production of Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt?
I really have only worked with the production company, Silvergate. They are awesome to work with. I don’t have a lot of involvement with the show, but I have written a couple episodes. I wrote the one about the evil coal-powered lawn gnomes.
What challenges did you face while writing and illustrating Sasquatch and Squirrel?
I had a couple challenges. One was determining how Strawberry the Sasquatch would look. It isn’t like you can really KNOW what a Sasquatch actually looks like. I had to put my own spin on how she looks, and what color and size she would be. The other challenge was to depict the physical comedy they go through. I was seeing it in my head, but it was so much like animation. I had to figure out how to translate that to comic panels and still get the movement and humor.
How do you approach writing and illustrating stories for young readers and what do you believe is the most important aspect of creating a children’s book?
I honestly approach it the same way I approach writing comics for grown-ups. I just try to create a story that will entertain the reader and characters they could maybe grow to love! I think the most important aspect is that the story holds the reader’s interest and is fun, inspiring, or interesting.
What are the key takeaways for parents reading Sasquatch and Squirrel?
Sound effects can be fun.
How does the book compare to your previous work in the Monkey with a Tool Belt series?
It has a lot more trees! It still has the theme of friendship and problem-solving, but neither of these characters are the capable hero that Chico Bon Bon is.
Where can people find your work online? Where can they follow you?
I do post on Instagram: chrismonroe1984, and I have a website: www.chrismonroestudio.com. Lerner Publishing’s website is a good resource too. There’s going to be some fun Sasquatch and Squirrel things there.
Anything else you want to add?
I think mainly what I would like to add is that for kids: Draw cartoons! And read. And have fun. (and be kind!)
We hope you enjoyed reading about Strawberry and Nutty’s journey to friendship with Chris Monroe. Don’t forget to look out for the book when it’s released in May and keep an eye out for more of Chris Monroe’s amazing work. And remember, friends come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes, the most unlikely friendships can be the best. Thanks for reading!
About “Sasquatch and Squirrel”
In this story, Strawberry the Sasquatch lives alone deep in the forest. Most animals are afraid of her, but she doesn’t mind. She’s happy doing all the alone things a sasquatch does—things like hiking and foraging as well as dance moves and logger pranks. Then one day, an extremely friendly squirrel named Nutty shows up. After a series of hilarious mishaps, Strawberry isn’t sure she and Nutty can get along. But thanks to some cloud watching, seed portraits, and stale marshmallows, the two find a way to be friends.
About Chris Monroe
Chris Monroe is an award-winning author, illustrator and cartoonist. Her picture books include Sneaky Sheep, Bug On a Bike and the Monkey With a Tool Belt series, which inspired the Netflix show Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt. Chris is also the author and illustrator of the comic strip Violet Days, which has been in print for more than 20 years. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.