I’ve known Divya Srinivasan and admired her work since we were in college. And as thrilled as I was by the publication of her first picture book, Little Owl’s Night, I’m even more excited to see my friend back so soon with her second book.
Let’s talk a bit with Divya — whose other credits include illustration for This American Life and animation for “Weird Al” Yankovic — about her new picture book.
CB: What made you want to create Octopus Alone?
DS: I began thinking what setting I’d like to spend some time in — something different from the forest in Little Owl’s Night — that would have its own distinct set of inhabitants. Maybe it was starting to get hot here in Austin, but underwater seemed appealing. I’d been researching Hawaii because I’d never been and wanted to go. Looking at photos of the coral reef, and the beautiful, weird, colorful creatures living there, I thought it would be really fun to draw — and it was! I also liked the idea of exploring that world, going from the busy, friendly, familiar reef to the mysterious, quiet unknown that also has its appeal.
Once I decided on the reef, I knew I wanted the main character to be an octopus. I’d drawn them before and had roughed out a story (just in my head and in my journal) with an octopus on the periphery, so the octopus has been on my mind for a while. As I learned more about them and their characteristics — shy, observant, curious, intelligent, able to camouflage, etc. — Octopus’ personality started taking shape, and so did the story.
“Loner” seems such a negative word, and so definitive. I liked showing a character who loves her home, but realizes she needs some space, and who then ends up finding a place that feels all her own, like a precious secret. It’s her time alone in those quiet surroundings — knowing it’s there for her whenever she needs it — that allows her to breathe easy. When she’s had her fill, she is even excited to get back to her home and her friends in the bustling reef.
CB: Tell me about the kind of child you think Octopus Alone will appeal to the most.
DS: One day, I saw my friend’s three-year-old give herself a time-out. She had been having a drawn-out meltdown and finally did something she had just been told not to do. Before her mom said anything, kiddo went and sat herself in the corner. She knew she needed that quiet place where she did nothing but sit away from everyone, and that’s what time-out was. After a few minutes, she was out of the corner, laughing and playing — renewed! I really hope she likes the book.