Alison Oliver: Learning to "Wolf"

photo: Tara Striano

Alison Oliver is the illustrator of more than 20 BabyLit board books, which introduce children to classic literature. Sales for the series total more than one million copies. Her first picture book, Moon, comes out April 17, 2018 from Clarion. Oliver lives in New York City, where she also runs a design studio called Sugar. Visit her online at and on Instagram at @alisonoliverdesign.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

Moon came from my own experience with meditation and with our increasingly busy world. More deeply, I remembered times in my childhood where I would find myself playing alone and have the experience of feeling very connected to... everything. It's the same feeling you get after meditating and is something you can access just by being still and quiet. The rewards are great; you gain access to your more intuitive self. Then, when you go back to "doing" you are coming from a more creative and insightful place.

Moon's journey is reminiscent of that of another famous character who "was sent to bed without eating anything" and traveled to a land of "wild" creatures. Has Sendak influenced your work? Any other major influences?

Yes, Max! I didn't realize that Moon went on a similar journey until I finished writing her story. But Max realizes he doesn't want to be so wild and goes home; Moon embraces the wildness she learns from Wolf and brings it home with her. I think what Moon learns from her experience is that true wildness is her nature and it is what she was missing.

Where did the name "Moon" come from?

I named her "Moon" originally as a placeholder because I couldn't think of the perfect name for her (and my cat's name is Moonbeam), but quickly realized how right it is for her. Her adventure takes place at night out in the forest, and it is that open, quiet space that she brings back with her. The moon is generally associated with the feminine qualities of creativity and intuition, and that's what Moon is tapping into there in the forest.

What is your illustrative process like? How do you make your text and illustrations work together? Does one come before the other?

This is the first book I have illustrated and written so I was really figuring out my process for doing both. I made a piece of art first because I knew the two characters and what their relationship was before I really knew what the actual story would be. After that it was a little bit of a back and forth; I would do some sketches and then write some words to go with it, and then finally the rest of the text came. My agent, Susan Hawk, recommended "writing" with art first since I am really more of an illustrator, and it was one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten. We are so used to words first that it feels backwards, but it really isn't. And it also reinforces what the story is about--letting your intuition lead the way!

There is a lot of humor in the illustrations (a wolf poster that changes from the beginning of the book to the end; a book titled only "Plants")--is it important to you to keep a light tone to your work?

Yes, I love humor and I think it's one of the best ways to convey messages. It has always been what I respond to the best. And, I also like putting little hidden things around that you might not catch the first time.

Why wolves, specifically?

Yes, that is very important. Animals reflect qualities to us that we can manifest in ourselves; they are like visual representations of invisible characteristics. Wolf is the epitome of the wild spirit and shows us how to embody that in ourselves by connecting strongly with our intuition. When wolves want to access all their sensory perception, they get very still so they can sense what is there. So, we can learn to "wolf" (or sit in stillness) to be more focused, be more creative and be more gentle and kind. But--wildest of all--to be more intuitive. --Siân Gaetano

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