Not a day goes by without my furry friend, Mulan, stopping multiple times to wait for another walker, runner, or biker to catch up to us on our daily treks throughout the neighborhood. She pauses and sits several times along the sidewalks surrounding the elementary school where I work. It does not matter whether school is in session or not. She is listening for the sound of children.
It seems that Mulan is not alone in her desire to care for others. In Lita Judge's newest title, Don't Worry, Wuddles (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, September 26, 2023), an exuberant duckling is determined to provide for the other creatures on the farm. The yellow bundle of fluff takes one look at the wooly, wooly sheep, Wuddles, and offers the perfect proposal for an impending problem.
Wuddles, are you asleep?
Wuddles, eyelids barely open, is not asleep, but trying to nap. The duckling is concerned because snow is coming. Would Wuddles share a bit of wool so the duckling can have a scarf?
The now scarf-wearing duckling notices Rooster is not protected from the approaching winter weather. Oh! Rooster needs a hat! The appropriate amount of wool is taken from Wuddles as the title phrase is uttered. Wuddles has so much wool, surely the amount needed for a scarf and hat will not be missed.
Eyes moving around the inside of the barn, the duckling comments about the lack of fur on Rabbit's ears. Earmuffs are the best garb Rabbit can use. Duckling assures Wuddles everything is under control and each creature will be ready for the upcoming chilly temperatures.
Let's see there's Goat, Goose, Dog, Cow . . . Cow!? No, Cow is huge and hairy. There is a passel of Piggies, though. Running around like an spirited, single-minded knitter, Duckling fashions an array of winter attire. Looking out the window, a satisfied duckling sees the snow. In the next second an utter disaster is discovered. Again, the clever clothier has a solution. Two universal words are uttered.
When you read this story penned by Lita Judge, you can feel your mood lightening. The first person narrative of Duckling is like that of a small child discovering something wonderful in abundance. They are so excited their mind is operating like the balls in a pinball machine.
Duckling's ability to connect the right attire to each animal via Wuddles's wool is witty. As each animal is clothed, the banter will likely lead to gales of laughter from readers. Here is a passage.
Wuddles, did we forget anyone?
Oh yes, there is Dog.
He's fine. Furry head,
ACK! Bare feet! Wuddles,
this will never do!
Somehow when you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case and witness the wooly Wuddles resting comfortably with the fuzzy, yellow duckling already on the run, you get the distinct feeling Wuddles is probably going to be worried sooner rather than later. The duckling is also shown running on the jacket flaps and across the left side (back) of the jacket and book case. It is here readers are introduced to the soft realistic color palette used throughout the book.
On the endpapers is a solid sunny yellow. On the initial title page, Duckling is standing on a wooden box looking up at Wuddles. By the formal title and verso pages, this little being brimming with get-up-and-go is leaping toward Wuddles' head.
This artwork by Lita Judge rendered in watercolor and colored pencil radiates warmth as image sizes shift from double-page pictures to single-page illustrations crossing the gutter and at times pairing with circular designs. Time in quick succession is displayed with visuals on white near full-color illustrations. Lita Judge masterfully manages to separate individual moments while making them a part of a whole.
Readers will appreciate the humor present on every page. The highly animated animals' exact moods and reactions to the duckling clothing them are depicted with wide-eyed looks and exaggerated body postures. It is the growing concern in Wuddles' expressions as the wool is being used that will have readers laughing out loud.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture. Wuddles fills most of the lower half of the pages. To the left, Rabbit, now wearing earmuffs, watches Goose, whose neck is stretched out tall. Duckling is seated on Wuddles' right ear, wings to its head in puzzlement. On top of Wuddles are Rooster and Goat, wearing their winter wear. Goat is being especially goat-ish and reaching to nibble on some nearby straw. Wuddles staring at readers is looking slightly aghast. You cannot look at this scene without smiling or giggling.
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Don't Worry, Wuddles is sure to have readers begging for it to be read repeatedly. They will fall in love with all the members of the barnyard crew as the passionate little duckling wraps wooly creations around each of them. I have an idea how readers might react to the two-word wisdom of Duckling at the story's conclusion. Be ready. I cannot imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.
To learn more about Lita Judge and her other work, you can visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Lita Judge has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At the publisher's website, you can view interior images as well as the open dust jacket. It was with honor that I was able to pose questions to Lita Judge about this title. I know you will be delighted with her answers.
Lita, I have long been an admirer of your creative endeavors. There is a rare blend of warmth, richness, and sincere love of life in your characters and their stories. After having met you briefly last autumn, I have come to believe that there is a little bit of you in each of your characters. Everything they do, their stories, make readers better than they were before they read about them in your books.
Thank you! My husband teases me that my characters are all a little autobiographical. On the outside I can seem a little quiet and shy, but inside, I'm a kid bubbling over with excitement.
With this being said, do you see yourself in either the duckling or Wuddles? Or is there a little bit of you in each of them?
I'm definitely more duckling! Eager to do something and ready to jump in. But I hope my friends also see I have some Wuddles in me. I try to be a safe harbor and a good listener, which is a way of caring for others given I don't have a wooly fleece I can share.
How did you arrive at the name Wuddles?
I was trying to think of a name one day while walking with a close friend. Her cat is named Wuggies, and I've always loved that name. But then I remembered that's a character from a Daniel Pinkwater book. So then I just started playing a word game to think of something that fit my own dear, sweet, over plumped-up sheep and the name Wuddles came to mind. I find names are often really fun to come up with!
Are there real-life animals on which the characters are based?
Duckling was originally a mouse in need of a tail scarf, inspired by my own pet mouse, Pantalaimon. At first I wanted so badly to keep him a mouse (I had all the drawings originally done with him). But Pan has already appeared in a LOT of my books. Then one day I was holding and sketching a baby duck at a farm I often visit and thought how perfect. He had just the right energy. Wuddles is inspired by a big mama sheep that lives on the farm. I have visited her often and sketched during lambing season and always wanted to put her in a story.
Did a weather event inspire this story? We readers are curious as to how this tale started?
This story actually started during a blackout in the first week of Covid lockdown. We had a terrible wind storm which blew hundreds of trees down and left us without power for several days. With that and the beginning of covid, I felt a little bit like duckling in this story. Writing and drawing Wuddles, by headlamp one evening, made me feel like eventually, all would be ok.
Did the list of winter attire come first or did the animals which are finally clothed in the warmth?
Hmmm, neither really. I drew all the animals first without clothes and thought about what they might need and want if they were cold. It took a lot of drawing and experimenting to find the right clothes for each critter. Someone else would have probably just written a list, which would be much more efficient! But I always start stories with pictures before words. They just come to me that way.
For those that follow you on Instagram or Facebook, you are always generous with sharing your artistic processes. Did the animals come first as sketches? Did they ask you to tell a story about them or did the story come first? Would you briefly tell us the order in making the artwork for this book? Colored pencil first, then watercolor? Or perhaps, sketches and then watercolor and colored pencil? We would be grateful to know this.
Stories almost always begin with random sketches for me. I used to try to write first and then draw, but it never worked out. I draw in sketchbooks all the time, producing hundreds and hundreds of sketches. I try to draw nearly every day. Then every once in a while an animal becomes a character that feels like it has a story within. At that point, I rarely have a plot in mind, but I have a character and I can start drawing various things that could happen to that character, and then, little by little a plot develops. My nonfiction books begin with sketches as well, though I'm doing a lot of research to learn about the topic while drawing so that eventually I can organize the material into a book.
The art starts with graphite pencil. I do endless sketches to get the characters just the way I want them. Once they are developed, I paint in watercolor and then I layer colored pencils on top of that to bring out the line work and build in richer colors.
I thank you, dear Lita, for answering these questions. I know readers will love Wuddles, the duckling and other creatures and their story as much as I do.
Thank you so much! I'm so eager to share this with young readers, and older readers who are young at heart!