Monday, May 23, 2011

It's the Journey

Several years ago I wrote and illustrated a story called Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey. In it, an African cat goes off down the road on an adventure. When he gets to the end of the road, he asks, “Is this where the world ends?” It’s a foolish question, of course, but the other animals he meets keep trying to answer it. Not until he meets the eagle does he find the real answer: there is no end to the world.

I suppose that this is the same with all questions. If we knew the answer, we wouldn’t ask the question.  If Calabash Cat had known more about the world, he wouldn't have been so foolish. But it took a foolish question for him to gain some wisdom. The trick is to keep asking questions no matter how foolish they might seem later. You never know where your questions will lead you.

And so it is with this blog. I don’t know where the questions I have about writing and illustrating children’s books will lead me. One thing is for sure, though: they will lead me to more questions as I try to put into words what I think makes a good children’s book, what works for me.

In short, like Calabash Cat, I am on a journey.

So, I will begin with one simple statement: books are not a destination; they are a journey. Where a book takes the reader is anyone’s guess. Where it takes the author is equally unknowable. 

When I wrote Calabash Cat, I did not know that the illustrations would inspire so many young artists to draw their own fantastic animals—just as the original calabash cat inspired me long after my wife and I bought it in Chad, where we were Peace Corps volunteers in the early 70s.

Here are some drawings my book inspired.  I just received them from students at Cambridge Friends School in Boston, which I visited last month. Each one is a delight. Some are surprising for their creativity. My hat is off to them. To find out more about how and why I wrote Calabash Cat, and for other activities related to the book, see my website:
For other websites where "Calabash Cat" art is featured, go to 

In the coming months, I hope to share other drawings done by my readers with you. I’d also like to talk about what I am working on and discuss some of my past work. I hope you will join me along the way.


  1. Great post, James. I look forward to seeing what you do next.I love your line "books are not a destination;they are a journey." So true.

  2. Hello Jim, my name is Michelle, Harriett is my Grandma Obies (as my son always called her). I just discovered your blog from the links forwarded to me by my aunt Nancy. It is wonderful, just as your books! I enjoyed and appreciated your Harriett story on your site too, so neat to read. I love how your books seem to inspire students and fans of all ages to engage on a journey of discovery, learning, imagination, writing, illustrating and other creative expressions. This post has inspired the artist in me to create a series of "Calabash Cat" style illustrations for an upcoming artist card trade and more :) Keep up your beautiful work, knowledge, and enthusiasm my grandma always admired and shared about you among so many other wonderful qualities. I look forward to your future blog posts too!

  3. Hello Jim, this is Michelle promised I wanted to share with you a calabash-inspired octopus doodle. Believe it or not, I came across a paint chip color named "calabash" days after reading your blog, so how could I resist? Hope you enjoy:
    I have a couple more in the works, so much fun to create, perfect for doodling/illustrations.