Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Katherine Battersby Interview - Cranky Chicken

Photo Credit: John W. MacDonald

Katherine Battersby is the critically acclaimed children’s author and illustrator of two chapter books and twelve picture books, including Perfect Pigeons and Squish Rabbit, a CBC Children’s Choice Book. Her picture books have also been shortlisted for numerous Australian awards, including the CBCA Awards for New Illustrator and Book of the Year. Katherine lives in Ottawa, Canada.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I think I always knew, but it took me a long time to get up the courage to do it. I’ve always been called to story and have turned to writing and drawing when I had a big question about life - something that moved me or concerned me or something I wanted to understand better. Since I was a kid, I always felt like I had big things inside me that I needed to get down on paper. But I didn’t always like showing people my art. It felt so incredibly personal, so the sharing part of it was hard. Once I got used to that bit (which honestly took me into my 20s!), I realised this was something I wanted to spend my life pursuing.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
There are so many books I return to over and over, but one particular favourite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. It’s full of magic and wisdom and is about the transformative power of love. Also, despite never having written it, I adore fantasy! My favourite fantasy novel of the last few years is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhnill, which is just so beautifully written and full of the most unique and fantastical things.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Honestly, there is nothing more precious than when a little person connects with one of my books. I carry all the stories around with me that I’ve been told by parents and teachers and kids - a moment of shared understanding, a snuggled up reading together, some shared laughter, a small person feeling seen or heard. One that stands out is the very first video I was sent of a child I didn’t know reading my first published book. She was just three years old and was flicking through the book from back to front and reciting the words on each page with perfect emotional inflection. It made me cry (happy tears!).

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Can I share the single BEST distraction? My daughter. She was just seven weeks old when I started making Cranky Chicken. It was the first thing I had tried to do that was seperate from her since she was born and I really wasn’t sure how it would go. It was back in those early days and weeks and months where I never wanted to do anything but look at her and smell her and love her, but I felt compelled to make something and I’m so glad I did. I loved making it alongside her and I have such happy memories of grabbing little bits of time as she napped to write and dream and think and draw. I’d often look up from drawing a page to find her studying me intently. Cranky Chicken (the book and the series) has really grown alongside her. She’s now three and the first book is out, the second book is made and the third one is being drawn as we speak.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories are all about connection, which is just about the most important thing there is. Stories are our way of reaching out to each other - of sharing a moment that is both personal and universal. They’re our way of being together even when apart - of realising how similar we are even when we feel so very different. All of which is why diverse books are so incredibly important. Every child (and person) deserves to see themselves in a book - to open a book and to feel seen and heard and understood.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from CRANKY CHICKEN
Speedy Worm says to Chicken, “How could you be cranky on such a beautiful day?”, which always makes me smile. Sadly, the weather does not always match our mood. Often weather has the indignity of being stunning, even on a very cranky day.

At the end of the first chapter, Speedy says to Chicken, “You sure look happy friend,” which I like because Chicken doesn’t actually look happy at all. But Speedy knows something that maybe even Chicken hasn’t realised yet, which is that since meeting Worm her heart is starting to change (just a little bit).

Finally I like that Chicken’s deep insight about the true meaning of friendship is that you should spend time together doing the things that don’t make you cranky. Surely this is the secret to all great enduring friendships?

  • 1) I relate to Cranky Chicken more than I care to admit (we are both introverts with a quirky yet cranky worldview).
  • 2) There are lots of foods that make both me and Chicken cranky. Certain cheeses. Bananas. Papaya. I have a very sensitive nose and I don’t like smelly food.
  • 3) I don’t like surprises (neither does Chicken). Surprises are too open ended - they could go in any direction and I don’t like not knowing what I’m up against. My childhood best friend might have a little something to do with this. She liked to surprise me with smelly cheese.
  • 4) While I relate to Chicken, I think I likely seem a bit more like Speedy Worm to others. I’m silly and excitable and always up for an adventure.
  • 5) Like Speedy, I also have a lot of fears. We’re both scared of bears and can’t watch scary movies. I’m not scared of feet but I can’t say they’re my favourite things.
  • 6) Like Speedy, I wish I could fly. I’ve had many wonderful flying dreams (throughout childhood and still now).
  • 7) Both Chicken and Speedy like to dress up - so do my daughter and I. We like fancy hats and wearing our hair silly and sometimes even donning our cranky pants. Clothes are fun.
  • 8) Some of my favourite friendship activities feature in this book, which Chicken and Speedy do together. Like eating ice cream and reading books and star gazing.
  • 9) I am NOT a fan of puns. They don’t make me laugh and I am actually terrible at punning myself. Yet somehow, inexplicably, a few have crept into this book. I honestly have no idea how it happened. My brain is cheeky, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised it conceived of characters who enjoy an occasional pun…
  • 10) I also dislike exclamation marks (in books). In my 11 published books before Cranky Chicken I’ve used maybe a total of 4. But then along came Speedy, who demands exclamation marks! Everywhere!! At last count there were a whopping 101 in the book. This makes me a little bit cranky.
Writing Behind the Scenes
For me, the thinking part of storytelling always takes the longest. An idea can stay in my head anywhere from six months to several years before I commit it to paper. This is because it takes that long for an idea to become rich enough to be worth working with - I need to consider it from every angle, watch the characters move and talk and react to each other, consider all the different possibilities and start building the world of the story. Then, eventually, I start making notes and doing some character sketches. Typically I work with words first, developing the script over time. I let the characters talk to me and flesh out the story bit by bit, letting in unroll in my mind like a film. After that I break the manuscript up into pages, figuring out where the page turns will be and how to pace the story across the entire book. Through all this I will also be developing the visual style for the book - playing with how the characters will look, the colour palette and building the visual world. Next comes storyboarding, where I do quick rough sketches of each page, working with the classic comic book panels and challenging myself to come up with fresh perspectives and to match the illustrations to the developing emotions of the narrative. I also have to rough out how the speech will look on the page, fitting it into all the speech bubbles (in Cranky Chicken I use a font I created based on my handwriting). After this I rough out which colours I will use on each page, making sure there’s good variation across the book and that the colours match the mood of each spread. Then comes the final art - doing all the line work and colouring. And then I sleep.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I was chased by a very broody hen when I was about 6 years old. I never trusted chickens again. But I can’t really hold it against them, can I, considering it ultimately lead me to write this book!

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
This is actually something really important to me. I was raised with my mum’s strong sense of justice so I have always stood up for people when I can. This started at school with bullies on the bus and has continued into adulthood with the more adult forms of bullying (which isn’t limited to fear-mongering, misinformation, sexism and racism). I don’t always have the power or ability to stand up for others in the moment, but I work hard to be an advocate, an ally and a loud voice when my voice is needed. And I am always learning and trying to do better.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I’m not very good at sleeping, which isn’t helped by the fact that I have anxiety. So to help myself fall asleep I tend to give myself permission to imagine the nicest things happening in my life that I possibly can. This is a surprisingly effective way of drifting off to sleep (and leads to rather lovely dreams).

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
When I was born, my parents named me Naomi. I was Naomi for three days before they decided it didn’t suit me and went with Katherine instead. They named me after my mum’s favourite actress, Katharine Hepburn. But apparently many others were doing the same thing, as I ended up at school with hordes of other Katherines (there were four on my hockey team alone). If I could go back in time I’d have them stick with Naomi. I’ve always thought I’d have lead a more interesting and unique life as Naomi.

If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why?
Could I be one of the Queen’s corgis? I can’t help but feel they’d be spectacularly spoiled and happy pups. I feel like a should have a more important answer to this question, but every time I try to go back in history I just end up thinking ‘Did they have good dental hygiene back then?’ or ‘I don’t want to live before modern medicine or underground sewerage was invented’.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Chickens. This answer goes with the above life changing incident re: being chased by a cranky chicken. I often get laughed at for this fear, but occasionally I meet someone who understands. I’m thinking of starting a support group.

Narwhal and Jelly meet The Bad Guys in this heartwarming, brightly illustrated, and downright hilarious chapter book about what happens when a very cranky chicken is befriended by a very cheerful worm.

Cranky Chicken is, well, cranky. With one cranky eyebrow, cranky eyes, and even cranky, scratchy feet. But then one day, Cranky meets a very friendly worm named Speedy who wants nothing more than to be friends. Young readers will love seeing the mismatched friendship grow over the course of three charming and laugh-out-loud short adventures as Chicken and Speedy become BFFs (Best Feathered Friends) and Speedy shows Chicken how to look on the bright side.
You can purchase Cranky Chicken at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card


  1. The last thing I bought was a weighted blanket for my grandson l

  2. The last thing I bought was garlic toast squares for our Christmas potluck.

  3. Chocolate bars. They only have this kind at Christmas. I got a few, well 20.

  4. The last thing I bought was Spangles!

  5. The last thing I bought was boots for my grandsons.

  6. "Last thing you bought?" A vintage postcard of a famous ancient masterpiece in the collection of a European museum!

  7. Just bought an auxiliary heater for a room where my grandson has aquatic turtles and he is obsessing because the room is too cold for them.