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Ideas taking flight

Peterborough: Author and illustrator Lita Judge presents new children’s story

  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.
  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.
  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.
  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.
  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.
  • Local author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough works on illustrations for her next upcoming children's book, about two owls living in Paris.

Penguins cannot fly. Too bad no one told that little fact the hero of Peterborough author and illustrator Lita Judge’s latest children’s book. Armed with a pair of bright red flight goggles and the soul of an eagle, this little penguin is determined to succeed at flight school along with all the other birds.

“Flight School” is the latest children’s book by Judge, and she will be signing copies of her book at the Toadstool bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.

In a recent interview at her Peterborough studio, Judge explained that she often starts her process from pictures, and she often starts her pictures with characters.

“I explore the character first. My works are very character driven, so the first thing I do is develop those,” Judge explained. “A character has to have enough effervescence to carry the story.” Judge herself seems filled with her own effervescence, as she sits in the middle of her open, airy writing studio, with her two cats slinking in to steal the chair seated before a large artist’s desk where sketches and paintings detailing Judge’s next work are already laid out.

Judge started as an artist, she explained, so her books start out as storyboards first, and then the words come. Doing it that way helps Judge to keep in mind her medium, and forces her to find visual ways to unfold the story.

“Picture books are so visually paced, that works for me,” she said. “So much is carried with the illustrations. If I start with writing the words, I don’t get the same pacing.”

The story often springs from those first visualizations, said Judge, although sometimes there is a story she goes in wanting to tell. In the case of “Flight School,” her latest children’s book, which she both wrote and illustrated, she started sketching the main character, a penguin, from memories of zoo visits. Then one day, she put a pair of flight goggles on his head, and the penguin’s story was born.

“He had a lot of exuberance and irrepressible enthusiasm,” said Judge of her character. “He needed a story.”

And though the final story is a typical picture-book length, at only 30 sentences long, it still went dozens of revisions from its first draft, in terms of both pictures and words. “A lot of times it’s just striving for subtlety,” said Judge of her revision process. Sometimes it will just be minor adjustments to the character’s expression, in order to convey certain meanings. Other times, she said, it was to allow her to play in the world she had created. In “Flight School,” for example, the point of view is from a bird who is longing to fly, so Judge played a lot with perspectives and angles.

Judge has published 14 books, mostly picture books, but some educational illustrated guides for children as well, she said. In her early days, she worked on a few books solely as the illustrator, but she didn’t like the way it hemmed her in creatively, she said.

“I feel more empowered as a storyteller when I’m both the writer and the illustrator,” she said. When she was illustrating only, she was tied to someone else’s vision, and often, it wasn’t even the vision of the author, but the editor she was working with. “I wanted to flex that ability I have as the writer to take a character where I want to take it,” she said.

Although her books often contain elements of whimsy and imagination that are appropriate for the age group she writes for, Judge said that a lot of her inspiration comes from her own life and the world around her. Two of her upcoming books, she said, are directly linked to her own life, though some more obviously than others. One of her upcoming works-in-progress, called “Good Morning to ME!” is directly inspired by her real-life parrot Beatrix, who wakes up early every morning, and isn’t satisfied until every other member of the family is also awake.

In other ways, Judge said, her influences are harder to spot — unless you know her. A story she is writing, of two owls living in Paris, for example, might seem a fairly straightforward story. It was sparked by a trip Judge took to Paris with her husband, and a field painting she did while there. Her imagination supplied the tow little owls playing on the rooftops, but her editor recognized the characters as being modeled off of herself and her husband right away.

“I mine my life for stories. We all have stories to tell,” said Judge. “We just have to foster our imaginations enough to be able to turn those stories into something.”

Judge will be at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday at 11 a.m. For more information about Judge, visit www.litajudge.net.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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