Nina Laden - Illustrator
Nina Laden is an author and illustrator who has created 10 books of her own, and she has illustrated two books that were written by other authors. Below, she answers questions on her books, writing, and wishing she could be a German shepherd.
RIF: Most of your books have animals as the main characters. Why do you use animals instead of humans?
Nina Laden: You can make fun of people by using animals. Animals represent people in a lot of ways. Anyone can find themselves in an animal. I think that animals have so much personality, and imagination can really be expanded with animals.
RIF: If you could be an animal, what kind would you be?
NL: I’d have to be some breed of dog, probably a bigger dog. I’m not a little dog person. I love German shepherds and their intelligence. They’re incredibly soulful. There’s a part of me that’s cat-like, too. I wouldn’t mind being able to slink around and lie on my back and get my tummy rubbed.
RIF: In your book The Night I Followed the Dog, a boy discovers that his pet dog has a whole life of his own. Did you get the idea from one of your pets?
NL: My ideas come mostly from my imagination. I’m always writing down anything that sounds interesting, occasionally from real things.
I think the whole mystery of life is that there’s things going on that we don’t know about. I remember as a child that nighttime was such a mystery, and kids aren’t privy to it. You aren’t allowed to go out and find these things. I want to tell stories that you don’t know what the answer is. There’s so much possible that it’s inspiring. I love to ask myself “What if?”
RIF: Did you have any pets now?
NL: My cat, Cali, is an adopted calico. She’s an indoor/outdoor cat, and she goes into all of the neighbors’ cat doors and eats their food. I once had a call from a neighbor who said, “Your cat is on my kitchen counter right now.”
We treat Cali like a human. She gets little bits of whatever we cook for dinner. She has a special stool in the kitchen so she watch us prepare dinner. She has to be where we are, and in bed with us at night. She’s very social.
RIF: Growing up, did you have lots of animals around?
NL: I grew up in New York City. We had two cats and a dog, fish, turtles, birds, and even rabbits for a little while. Sometimes we’d lose a turtle, and then find it a week later in the closet. And the dog loved the cat. I loved horses, but didn’t have one.
RIF: As a kid, did you draw a lot?
NL: Both my parents were artists. They gave me free-range creativity. They gave me art supplies and a license to create. I’d go in my dad’s shop in the backyard to saw and cut wood. The house was filled with books, and music was always playing. My mom let me paint the walls in my bedroom. She painted a jungle theme on my closet.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids who want to be authors and illustrators?
NL: My first advice is to keep a sketchbook and journal. My only rule is that you can’t tear out the pages. You have to save everything. A little thing might turn out to be a great idea.
Also, read. Feed your imagination. There are so many different ways to write a story. Experience your life to its fullest. Go to museums and galleries. Dance, go hiking. All of those things are what’s going on in your imagination.
RIF: When’s your next book coming out? What’s it about?
NL: My next book is Romeow and Drooliette. It’s coming out in spring 2005. I’m halfway done with the art and I’m finished with the story. It’s a take-off on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with felines and dogs – Romeow is a cat and Drooliette is a dog.