The Very Hungry Pregnant Lady: Kid-tested, Smarty Approved
CML: Emilie Sandoz-Voyer, our dear friend, we're so excited to celebrate, buy in bulk, read, and gift your new book, The Very Hungry Pregnant Lady! It's so funny, sweet, and charming - a real treat of a book. But before we get winded blowing so much genuine, well-deserved smoke up your tuchus, can you tell us about the book? What inspired you to write it? Tell us about its conception in every dirty detail!
ESV: Thank you guys for having me here! I'm thrilled to finally have this book out in the world. It has been gestating for waaaay too long.
I started thinking about the idea back at the beginning of 2014, when I was very pregnant with my second kiddo. My then two-year-old and I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch at that point in my pregnancy - really doing whatever we could on the couch. "Hey, sweetie, pretend the couch is a boat and I'm on the boat. You can swim around the boat, ok?" "Honey, let's play that game where mom is a sleeping baby on the couch and you have to pet her hair really nicely."
But a lot of our time on the couch involved reading, of course. And one of the books we read over and over and over again was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I remember one day getting to the page with the big spread of food--the one where the caterpillar just loses control and raids the fridge--and audibly sighing with longing. Pickles, cheese, salami, several kinds of dessert... it was exactly what I was planning to eat during my daughter's afternoon nap. I realized that I was the caterpillar. We both tried to eat healthy things when we got hungry, but at a certain point we'd give up and eat everything we could find. Then we'd feel gross and have a salad for dinner. It was a very familiar pattern, to say the least.
I thought immediately about what a great parody it would be, but then I got swept up in, you know, GIVING BIRTH and forgot about it. Months later, when I finally got my head above water, I realized that I really had to try to make the book happen. The joke potential was just too good. And I loved the idea of a book that both celebrated and poked fun at the whole experience of pregnancy, which is so beautiful, and so, so ridiculous. I decided that I'd need to set the whole thing at the tail end of pregnancy, so that the transformation of the pregnant lady into a mother could mirror the whole caterpillar-into-a-butterfly thing.
I enlisted the incredible illustrator Gabriel McElwain to take a stab at the artwork, and he instantly understood how to deliver on the concept with his own unique vision. The first piece he created was the image of the pregnant lady looking into the fridge (paired with the text, "She started to look for some food") and I knew he got it.
Probably my favorite part of the whole process was coming up with the list of foods on the big binge page. That was tough! Gabe and I worked together on that one. A lot of great foods were cut, because we had to think about the way the foods would look on the page. Otherwise it would have all been brown, since most of the things I craved during pregnancy were brown carbs. But there are some special shout-outs to friends and family there—the Philadelphia-style pretzel for our friend Chris, the peanut butter and pickle sandwich for my Grandad. The hot dog wrapped in a tortilla was an invention of mine during pregnancy. It still makes me smile to see that page.
CML: That hot dog sounds super gross, but your story of creating your book is super awesome!
Can you tell us more about the writing and illustrating process? How did you find your awesome illustrator? Because the art is spot-on Carle-inspired while remaining uniquely charming. Well done, Gabriel McElwain, for walking - and ROCKING - a delicate line there.
ESV: For this book, the writing was not the hard part. Once I had the basic idea down, I got out my well-worn copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and just played around, trying different ways to hit all the beats from the point of view of a pregnant woman. I did toy with a couple of different narratives, for instance the book taking place over the course of the pregnancy, with the pregnant lady getting bigger and bigger and the foods getting weirder and weirder as she approached the end of her third trimester. But ultimately I thought the story worked better if you have the pregnant woman awake "by the light of the moon," dreaming of a snack, then padding into the kitchen to have just a little nibble that turns into a full-on smorgasbord.
Gabe is the one who had the really hard work, and boy, he nailed it. We've been friends since college, and I've always admired his comics and artwork. (Side note: he's multi-talented--also an amazing musician. We have dueling songs about cranberry sauce on Gobble, an album about Thanksgiving dinner, and he's also one of the geniuses behind the Thanksgiving Hot Dog song on that same album).*
When I asked if he was interested in playing around with the artwork for this book, he immediately had great ideas for how to pay homage to Carle's traditional cut-paper look while making something that felt fresh and unique. He's also the one who came up with the idea of including the crumbs and dirty dishes on the back side of each of the pages about food, rather than a hole cut through the pages. Because, of course, a pregnant woman wouldn't tunnel her way through a scoop of ice cream. She'd eat the whole damn thing.
CML: Hot dogs? Again? Is enjoying novelty hot dog dishes a requirement for remaining friends with you? Because this might be our last interview.
ANYWAY, how on Earth do you keep up with your excellent writing when you're busy with, you know, kids, a job, and a life?
ESV: Well, you know, it's hard! I know you know it's hard. Frankly, I don't know you guys do it, writing all the beautiful, awesome pieces you do for this site. I think a 20-some page parody of a classic children's book is really the extent of my abilities at this point, outside of work. Though this process has kicked my rear in gear and made me realize the importance of sitting down in the evenings and doing things, making things. The most gratifying thing about this book has been how excited my kids are to look at it and read it with me. It's insanely motivational, seeing your kids proud of you.
CML: Awww, thanks, buddy. And I, too, take great pleasure in seeing how proud my kids are of you. It's a commonality stronger than our hot dog division, and one, I hope, that cements our friendship regardless of our tube-steak schism.
Before we close, what was your strongest or weirdest pregnancy craving? (Mine was a daily ration of Goldfish crackers. Not the carton, not the box - the square-shaped, foil-lined paper bag.)
ESV: Strongest craving was definitely whole milk. I drank gallons of it. Both pregnancies. And I hate milk.
Weirdest craving? I eat anything and everything, all the time, so I don't know if I had a "weirdest" craving. I mean, in college I remember sitting in the kitchen after a few drinks wondering fuzzily if it was wrong to eat mustard out of the jar. Like, with a spoon. That was weird. During pregnancy, I mostly craved milk and desserts. Super normal by comparison.
CML: (I would have put good money on a hot dog answer.)
Congratulations, again, Emilie, on a fanastic book!
And, all of you, go out and buy it immediately! It is a true delight for the whole family.
(Left to right: Shannon, Christina, and esteemed author Emilie. I thought we had a normal picture of us from that night, but we don't.
We have these instead. Enjoy!)
*I am buying the living daylights out of this album for Thanksgiving, and you should, too. "Open the can / slice the cran / pass it around / do it again." BRILLIANT!