Interview with Sybrina Durant about Cleo Can Tie A Bow By The Children’s Book Review

Read an interview I recently did with The Children’s Book Review

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Cleo Can Tie a Bow is a part of the A Rabbit and Fox Story series that teaches kids how to tie knots. Can you share a little bit about the series and how Cleo Can Tie a Bow fits into it?

Many years ago, I learned of a little mnemonic that illustrated a simple way to remember how to tie a necktie. It went like this: A fox chased a rabbit around a tree – two times. The rabbit darted under a bush with the fox close behind. Then, the rabbit jumped over a big round log and into the safety of his rabbit hole. The fox was too large and could not follow the rabbit there, so the fox would go hungry that night. Nearly 30 years later…it almost sounds gruesome. But back then, most people weren’t quite as sensitive to that type of imagery as many are today. I, personally, was charmed by the story and turned it into a song in 2009; and shortly after…a little animated video.  In 2012, I took it a step further and developed the first picture book in the Rabbit and the Fox Learn To Tie Series.  Donna Naval was the illustrator for that book, which is available in English, Spanish, and Tagalog. I always wished I could think of a similar story for teaching how to tie a bow and had very nearly given up until nearly 8 years, Cleo’s story finally made itself known to me.

Learning to tie various knots (and bows) is a confidence-building, developmental milestone that improves fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Why did you decide to write books about this specific life skill?

Learning knot tying used to be one of the most important developmental milestones for children to achieve.  Every parent spent lots of time and energy teaching their child how to do it themselves because there was no other real option until the late ‘60’s when Velcro was introduced with Puma tennis shoes. That began a trend that never ended and it has really disrupted the development of that particular skill in at least half of the shoe-wearing population today. But before that, wearing neckties had also begun to be very unpopular with the younger set.  In the 80’s they made a little come back but today, nearly no one wears that accessory in the workplace.  Just about the only place you will see them now is at a wedding or maybe a funeral.  Needless to say, I really don’t know why I felt I had to document either of those skills—tying necktie knots or shoelaces. You might even say I’m a little bit of a fish out of water in these times we’re living in. But if future generations decide they want to learn how to tie either, maybe my books will still be around for someone to find…and hopefully, enjoy.

Kids can often feel overwhelmed when learning a new skill. However, this lesson is wrapped up in an enjoyable story. Is there a real little girl out there that inspired the character of Cleo?

I don’t know a single “real” Cleo but I’ve seen a lot of them on Pinterest! I have four granddaughters and none of them are the bow wearing type. Now, if this question was about one of my other books, “Yarashell Abbily and Her Very Messy Room”; they would all fit that description. In fact, I combined their names for the little girl in that book. But Cleo is truly a figment of my imagination.

The ‘how-to’ information is presented with text and illustrations that readers will be eager to try out. Have you heard from readers on how they enjoy the book?

A lot of readers have told me that their kids love the book so much that they are bound and determined to learn how to tie a bow from the directions presented in there. I’ve been told the book has generated a lot of excitement – especially with the friendly fox helping out the little rabbit. I’ve actually seen a couple of videos where I got to really study the expressions on the children’s faces as their parents read the book with them the first time. I must say I was thrilled to see how their eyes widened and how their faces lit up with smiles or expressions of suspense; as well as how the book managed to hold their attention until the end. I actually got to see a 3 and 1/2-year-ol tie a bow around her waist on the first try.  That was very gratifying.

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Cleo Can Tie a Bow is sweetly illustrated. Can you tell us about your experience working with illustrator Pumudi Gardiyawasam?

Pumudi and I found each other at exactly the right time for this book. You will be surprised to learn, this was her very first effort at creating an entire book. Working with her was and still is like a dream. I’m the kind of author who gathers a lot of inspiration pictures for my illustrators. I even provide them a pseudo-script with scenes and directions.  I have a pretty good idea of how I want things to look and she was able to capture everything I asked for and more.  Even beyond the book illustrations, I contracted with her to provide transparent backgrounds of certain images for various uses in marketing and promotions.  She was happy to work with me on any request I had.  I truly can’t say enough good things about her and her exquisite artwork.

The story ends with a catchy song that readers can listen to and watch on YouTube. Was this an element that you always planned to include in the book?

Nearly every book I write has a song! I just can’t help myself. Unlike the Tie A Tie With The Rabbit and the Fox song, this one does not teach how to tie. It is just a cute little ditty that I think will stick in most people’s minds after they hear it once or twice.  I am in love with the singer, Beephemy’s, childlike voice.  And the music by Audio Coffee hits just the right notes of fun. I am not a musician.  I’ve attempted to sing in the past but now I’d rather hire someone whose voice is more suitable to the message I want to get across.  I am a big proponent of hiring others to help with the entire book process.  Illustrators, editors of all kinds, beta readers, people who create videos, file preparation, and conversion experts, and even marketing and promotion experts are all valuable resources for potential authors.  I hire resources from many sources but most of the service providers I work with are from Fiverr.

Finish reading the interview at The Children’s Book Review

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