Watt, Mélanie 1975–

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Watt, Mélanie 1975–

Personal

Born August 20, 1975, in Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada; daughter of John (a senior manager at Petro-Canada) and Francine (a retired administrative assis- tant) Watt. Education: C.E.G.E.P. Marie-Victorin (Québec, Canada), diploma in graphic design, 1997; University of Québec—Montreal, B.A. (graphic design), 2000. Hobbies and other interests: Music, art, design.

Addresses

Home and office—Montréal, Québec, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Author and illustrator.

Member

Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Association des illustrateurs et illustratrices du Québec, Cooperative Children's Book Center.

Awards, Honors

Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award for Picture Book; two Blue Spruce awards; Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award; International Honor Book designation, Society of School Librarians, 2001, Our Choice List, Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2002, and Children's Choices designation, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council, 2002, all for Leon the Chameleon; Outstanding Children's Book Award shortlist, Animal Behavior Society, 2003, for Where Does a Tiger Heron Spend the Night?; Notable Book designation, American Library Association; Bronze Award for picture book, Independent Publishers; Cybils award; NCTE Notable Children's Book in Language Arts designation; North Carolina Children's Book Award for Picture Book, 2008, for Scaredy Squirrel.

Writings

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

Leon the Chameleon, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Learning with Animals (boxed set; contains Numbers, Opposites, Colors, Shapes, and The Alphabet, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Augustine, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

Scaredy Squirrel, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Chester, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Chester's Back, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2008.

Scaredy Squirrel at Night, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2009.

ILLUSTRATOR

Margaret Carney, Where Does a Tiger Heron Spend the Night?, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

Sharon Jennings, Bearcub and Mama, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

Sidelights

Canadian author and illustrator Mélanie Watt has produced several highly regarded books for children, including Leon the Chameleon, Augustine, and the works in the "Scaredy Squirrel" series.

Born in Québec, Canada, in 1975, Watt had a passion for drawing at an early age. "Classmates often asked me to sketch little cartoon characters on pieces of paper or on the back of their hands," she once explained to SATA. "I later developed my art by drawing portraits in pencil." In college, Watt took business administration classes for two years before realizing that she needed a change. Entering a graphic design program, she eventually enrolled in the bachelor's program at the University of Québec. Watt began her first picture book for children, Leon the Chameleon, in 1999, her final year as a student. "We had to make a book about colour," she recalled. "It was up to us to decide what the content would be. Having always been interested in children's books, I decided to make one that would teach complementary colours in a fun and simple way. I had a great time thinking up a story for little Leon, in fact, I think I spent more time on the storyline than working on the actual illustrations."

With the encouragement of her teacher, Michéle Lemieux, Watt translated her story into English and submitted it to Kids Can Press, where it was quickly accepted. Praised by Quill & Quire contributor Jessica Higgs as "not only a lesson on the interaction of colour but a celebration of being different," Leon the Chameleon focuses on a little chameleon who doesn't blend into the background like his other chameleon friends. Instead, he turns the opposite color of his environment. It is hard to hide a problem like this—when hiding behind something yellow, Leon turns bright purple—and soon everyone is aware that young Leon is somehow different. In addition to praise for her sensitive storyline, Watt received kudos for her use of "vibrant, eye-popping primary and complementary colors" in illustrations that make Leon the Chameleon a "visually effective choice for children just learning colors," according to Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld.

One of the aspects of the book that intrigued the publisher was Watt's inclusion of an appendix providing an introduction to color theory via a color wheel. "This is certainly a fine way to extend the book," maintained Kathryn McNaughton in her review of the "absolutely delightful" Leon the Chameleon for Resource Links, "and children will enjoy experimenting with paints or gels which can help them see how colours are mixed."

A shy little penguin is the subject of Augustine, another self-illustrated title. When Augustine's father takes a new job at the North Pole, Augustine must adjust to a new home and a new school, and she uses her artistic abilities to make friends. Critics applauded the book's unusual layout, which incorporates references to such celebrated painters as Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci. According to School Library Journal contributor Andrea Tarr, Watt's "acrylic-and-pencil artwork is naturally childlike, an effective touch," and Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, noted that the "distinctive, vividly colored illustrations create eye-catching effects."

Watt has also created a number of popular works featuring a neurotic squirrel. "I knew for a long time that I wanted to write a book about fearing the unknown," she stated in an interview on the Cybils Web site. "I grew up in a family that was sometimes a little too overly cautious. I had my mind set on exploring this

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subject and expressing how fear stops us from discovering our talents and capabilities." Watt introduces her anxious protagonist in Scaredy Squirrel, "a tongue-in-cheek tale that may help to prod anxious readers out of their hidebound routines," wrote Booklist contributor John Peters. Worried about everything from poison ivy to Martians, Scaredy bails from his tree after spotting a "killer" bee and discovers—much to his surprise—that he is really a flying squirrel. "With his iconic nervous grin and over-the-top punctiliousness, Scaredy Squirrel is an endearing character," noted Payne, Rachel G. Payne remarked in School Library Journal, and Horn Book reviewer Kitty Flynn observed that Watt's "casual, child-friendly illustrations and tongue-in-cheek text have a lot of fun with Scaredy and his story."

In Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend the phobic critter, who is wary of companions with teeth, decides to make the acquaintance with a goldfish in a nearby fountain. When a playful pooch interrupts the proceedings, however, Scaredy tries to avoid harm by playing dead. Watt's "playfully varied page designs add liveliness to a lighthearted story that doesn't take itself too seriously," Flynn stated. Scaredy's efforts to acquire a seashell are the focus of Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach. "In appealing, flat colors, Watt's cartoon-style pictures (full spread and graphic-novel-style panels) add joke after joke," Stephanie Zvirin commented in Booklist.

In Chester, Watt does battle with a plump, egotistical feline who tries to take over the book. As the author attempts to pen a story about a country mouse, Chester the cat enters the tale and, marker in hand, begins to disrupt the narrative. "This sidesplitting metafiction offers further proof of Wart's extravagantly fresh, cheeky voice," observed a contributor in Publishers Weekly. Chester's Back, a sequel, finds the self-centered cat bathing in his own glory. A Publishers Weekly critic applauded Watt's portrayal of the feisty title character, remarking that young readers will be "tickled by his ongoing battle of wits with his owner/ creator."

Watt's advice to budding picture-book creators is to "have a good message to tell. Then find a way to tell it by choosing the best possible character and setting to explore it. Think like a kid again and have fun creating."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 1480; February 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Bearcub and Mama, p. 1084; May 1, 2006, John Peters, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 94; November 15, 2006, Carolyn Phelan, review of Augustine, p. 55; June 1, 2008, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, p. 92.

Childhood Education, winter, 2001, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 112.

Guardian (London, England), September 12, 2006, Kate Agnew, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 6.

Horn Book, May-June, 2006, Kitty Flynn, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 305; May-June, 2008, Kitty Flynn, review of Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, p. 275.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2001, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 191; February 15, 2005, review of Bearcub and Mama, p. 230; August 1, 2006, review of Augustine, p. 797; September 1, 2007, review of Chester.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2006, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 64; September 18, 2006, review of Augustine, p. 53; November 5, 2007, review of Chester, p. 63; June 30, 2008, review of Chester's Back!, p. 183.

Quill & Quire, May, 2001, Jessica Higgs, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 32.

Resource Links, June, 2001, Kathryn McNaughton, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 7; October, 2003, Kathryn McNaughton, review of "Learning with Animals" series, p. 10; June, 2005, Antonia Gisler, review of Bearcub and Mama, p. 5; April, 2006, Linda Ludke, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 13; February, 2007, Janneka Guise, review of Augustine, p. 62; June, 2007, Zoe Johnstone, review of Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, p. 7; December, 2007, Rachelle Gooden, review of Chester, p. 14.

School Library Journal, April, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Leon the Chameleon, p. 126; May, 2002, Lynn Dye, review of Where Does a Tiger Heron Spend the Night, p. 134; August, 2005, Rebecca Sheridan, review of Bearcub and Mama, p. 98; June, 2006, Rachel G. Payne review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 128; November, 2006, Andrea Tarr, review of Augustine, p. 115; May, 2007, Susan Moorhead, review of Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, p. 111; December, 2007, Maryann H. Owen, review of Chester, p. 102; May, 2008, review of Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, p. 111.

Sunday Times (London, England), November 12, 2006, Nicolette Jones, review of Scaredy Squirrel, p. 56.

ONLINE

Cybils Web site,http://dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils/ (March 6, 2007), "An Interview with Mélanie Watt."

Cynsations Web log,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (May 12, 2006), Cynthia Leitich Smith, "Author-Illustrator Interview: Mélanie Watt on Scaredy Squirrel."

Mélanie Watt Home Page, http://www.scaredysquirrel.com (September 10, 2008).