Siblings can have complex relationships. They love each other, but sometimes they irritate each other, too. Pooka & Bunni explores the bond between sisters and how a big sister can still learn something new from her little sister.

Here’s an interview with the author and illustrator of Pooka & Bunni, Jennifer Zivoin, about how she created this book and other titles for Magination Press.

Magination Press: What was the inspiration for Pooka and Bunni?

Jennifer Zivoin: Pooka & Bunni was inspired by my daughters, who were ages 4 and 8 when I wrote the book.  I was actually working on a completely different manuscript which was just not coming together.  Then, one day while my older daughter Olivia was at school, my younger daughter Elyse started playing with Olivia’s Lego creation and broke it.  She tried to put it back together, but when Olivia came home, she could definitely tell that all was NOT as she had left it!  This sort of scene would play out in my house almost every day:  Elyse idolizes and loves her big sister, and Olivia is loving and inclusive to her sister, but sometimes the age gap creates conflict.

MP: Do you have a sister or brother?

JZ: Yes, I have a younger sister AND a younger brother!

MP: Pooka & Bunni is the first book you’ve written and illustrated. How was that different from illustrating a book that someone else has written?

JZ: When I illustrate a book by another author, the framework for the story is already there.  My job as an illustrator is to add to the storytelling through imagery. However, with Pooka & Bunni, I created this book the exact opposite way of how a book by another author would come together. I think in pictures, so instead of the text coming first, I illustrated the entire book without words. Then, I wrote the text for the pages to fill in any gaps in the storytelling.  

MP: What was the hardest part of making Pooka & Bunni? What was the most fun?

JZ: The hardest part of creating Pooka & Bunni was coming up with the designs for the characters. Pooka and Bunni are based on my own children, but they also had to be their own unique selves as characters, and their looks and designs had to reflect that. In early sketches, Pooka and Bunni were going to be rabbits, but I just could not get their personalities to shine through, and they kept looking like animal caricatures of my daughters. Then, once I threw all structure out the window and went with monsters, that is when the character designs finally started to take shape. Monsters could move and look however I wanted, and so their designs became all about communicating Pooka and Bunni’s feelings and personalities. You can tell just by looking at them what is going on inside of their heads. That was the most fun—drawing the characters in their many poses and expressions! Every time I drew Pooka, she just made me smile!

I also had difficulty coming up with the design of the couch castle that Pooka builds at the end.  It needed to be grand, but also something that she could build herself. So, I actually tore apart my living room and built a couch castle, with Elyse’s stuffed penguin standing in for Pooka, so that I could see what it could look like!

MP: Some of the books you’ve illustrated for Magination Press are about very serious issues: racial injustice, bullying, gossip, and autism. How do the themes of the book affect your illustrations?

JZ: Illustrations are supposed to enhance and build on the story through visuals, so the theme of each book affects how I approach the illustrations.  

For Something Happened in Our Town, that book deals with very serious social issues. So, I chose colors that were deeper and muted, not playful. You can feel the heaviness of the mood hanging over the characters just by the colors. I also went with almost a comic-book-frames type of structure, so that I could show quick flashes of scenes, emotions, flashbacks and memories all together on one page.  

For Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf, I used line to help convey mood. In scenes where the little wolf is being bullied, the trees are sharp and angled so that they are closing in around him, giving that “trapped” sort of feeling. On pages where the wolf feels safe or empowered, the scenes open up and have more light and color. Big Red’s personality is aggressive, so she has lots of sharp lines and geometric shapes in her design, while Little Bitty Wolf has softer, more flowing lines to show his gentle nature. 

In All My Stripes, I wanted Zane to be a special character. His design is all about math, which is his favorite subject. But, he is different from other kids in some ways because of his autism. He likes order. He likes routine. So, all of his stripes are geometric and grouped in prime numbers.  Zane is also the only zebra in the story to wear shoes. There is a scene in which he uses a paint brush because he doesn’t like the feel of paint on his hooves. So, I figured that he would not like the feel of mud on his hooves either. So he wears shoes. Another detail is that throughout the story, you can see his “autistic stripe” on every page, except for the last page, when Zane finally feels like a whole individual who can love ALL of his stripes. 

MP: What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

JZ: My daughters are virtual learning right now due to the current virus situation, so I spend a lot of time supporting them in their education and helping with their music practice. I love to read and to play piano. As a family, we like to be outdoors, especially swimming in the summer. In the fall we go to corn mazes, apple orchards, hiking in the woods, horseback riding or just hang out together and roast s’mores over a fire. Board games are also pretty serious in our family!

MP: Do you have any fun facts about yourself that readers might not know that you’d like to share?

JZ: I just recently adopted two pet chinchillas. I named them Frodo and Sam, and they are now my “studio buddies”! I also have a secret talent. I can make up a song about pretty much anything on the spot. My kids get a huge kick out of this. Each day they get spontaneous humorous songs about everything from chores to ice cream to taxes to chinchilla poop!

MP: Did you have a favorite book as a child? What was it and why is it a favorite?

JZ: In elementary school, I read every book I could about dinosaurs or unicorns. Why were these favorites? Because I was obsessed with dinosaurs and unicorns. Seriously, I could name the scientific Latin names for dinosaur species. I can’t do that anymore, so don’t ask me to.  I can draw dinosaurs and unicorns, though.  

Fantasy has always been my favorite genre. My favorite book series in elementary school was The Chronicles of Narnia. My favorites from the series were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I loved the magic, the world-building, the memorable characters, and the adventure….and the talking mouse with a sword.  You really can’t go wrong with a talking mouse and sword.  Just look at The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo!

To see a video of Jennifer describing the process of creating Pooka & Bunni in more detail, click here.

To see other books Jennifer has illustrated for Magination Press, click here.

by Jennifer Zivoin

This Article's Author

Jennifer Zivoin earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University, Bloomington, and has illustrated more than 40 children’s books, including Pooka & Bunni, which was the first book she also wrote, A World of Pausabillies, and Something Happened in Our Town, which was a Notable Social Students Trade Book for Young People book and an Action Book Club selection. Her artwork has appeared in children’s magazines, including Highlights High Five and Clubhouse Jr., at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and in books by Bill O’Reilly, James Patterson, and the band Guns N’ Roses. She lives in Carmel, IN. Visit her online.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Pooka & Bunni

    Jennifer Zivoin

    Oh no! Pooka knocked down her big sister Bunni’s pillow castle! Pooka needs to fix it before Bunni returns. Even though she’s small, Pooka uses her big imagination, creativity, and perseverance to figure out how to build an even better castle.

    This clever story highlights sibling bonding and how big sisters can learn a lot from their little sisters!