The Angry Little Puffin

The cover of author/illustrator Timothy Young's book The Angry Little Puffin

I didn’t mean to take more than a month off, I just got caught up in a bunch of stuff. I want to resume telling the story of my books. So I finished the tale of They’re Coming!, Shadows On My Wall and I Hate Picture Books!. The journey to publication of those three books was very much intertwined. I wrote about how Schiffer Publishing had said yes to those three plus Do Not Open The Box! Now I can explain why that one was not the next book to be published.

The origins of The Very Angry Puffin go a long way back. When I visit schools to do author presentations students often ask how long it takes to write a book. I mention that some books can take only a few days to get the initial story down and others can be worked and re-worked for longer. I then tell them that one of my books took me over 30 years to write. They looked stunned. I explain that it’s not like I sat at my desk for thirty years trying to write it but that the inspiration for the story happened that long ago.

The entrance to the Penguin House at the Central Park Zoo.
The Penguin House

In 1988 the Central Park Zoo reopened after having been closed for years for renovation. I remembered having visited it when I was a child and so I went to check out the changes. I went into the building called the Penguin House and found an exhibit of puffins off to the side of the penguins. I was enjoying looking at them when this guy walked by and said something like “That’s a funny looking penguin!” and then he walked away. It struck me as funny that he was wrong about what kind of bird it was and I thought the puffin was probably upset by people assuming it was a penguin.

A Puffin
A puffin in the exhibit at the Central Park Zoo. It’s hard to judge his mood.

This idea of a cute little bird being really angry stuck with me. I drew a few sketches of an angry puffin. At the time I had recently graduated and had been working in animation. I thought that I could create a short film or draw a comic strip. I went on to work on a lot of other projects but occasionally the puffin would come back to me.

In 1992 I was asked to contribute to a book, 3-DIMENSIONAL ILLUSTRATION by my friend Ellen Rixford. It featured a few of my illustrations and Ellen also asked me to write and photograph a section on mold-making. To use as an example I sculpted a puffin character, not angry but perhaps a little sardonic.

The cover of Ellen Rixford's 3-Dimensional Illustration
The cover and the puffin sculpt I did for the book 3-DIMENSIONAL ILLUSTRATION by Ellen Rixford.

a spread from Ellen Rixford's book 3-Dimensional Illustration
The spread on mold making from 3-DIMENSIONAL ILLUSTRATION.

Somewhere along the line I finished an illustration of an angry puffin character when I was beginning to work in Adobe Photoshop. He was very muscular, more like a comic book superhero than the version that would end up in my picture book.

So lets get back to my books. I was finishing up I Hate Picture Books! and I was thinking about what to follow it with. While I loved the story of Do Not Open The Box! I thought it was too sweet and nice to put out next. I wanted something a bit snarky and I remembered my puffin. In early drafts I had him breaking out of the penguin house and running rampant around the zoo. At one point I drew him grabbing a visitor to the zoo by his shirt. I re-wrote it a few times, finally keeping the story within the puffin exhibit.

The puffin spread from author/illustrator Timothy Young's book More Creatures and Characters.
I included this spread in More Creatures and Characters: Drawing Awesomely Wild, Wacky and Funny Animals. Top Left shows the early, muscular puffin from a while ago. I also show development sketches of the puffin in progress.

I sent it to Schiffer and explained that I would like to hold Do Not Open The Box!. They liked The Very Angry Puffin and gave me a contract for it. I began tightening up the final draft and working on the final illustrations. Unlike the actual penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, I put both the penguins and puffin into the same space. When working on the style of illustrations I remembered how dark it is in the penguin house and how if you stand behind the other visitors they are silhouetted in from of the well-lit penguin exhibit. Having already worked with silhouettes in my other books it seemed only natural to work with them again. I don’t explain this in the book but my hope is that someone who has read the book will one day walk into the penguin house and say “Oh, now I get it!”

An illustration from author/illustrator Timothy Young's book The Angry Little Puffin
Here are the silhouetted people in the book.

This is video of the penguins in the Central Park Zoo. You can see how the people in front are silhouetted.

The book was mostly finished when I sent the cover art to Schiffer. Soon after came a request. They wanted to change the title from The Very Angry Puffin to The Angry Little Puffin. It was a small change but it was the first time one of my titles would be changed. I thought it over and decided it worked better. It softened it a bit by pointing out the ridiculousness of this cute, little bird being so irate. It also balanced better when I changed the graphic where the puffin has crossed out the words “Happy” and “Penguin” in the title treatment.

Alternate covers for author/illustrator Timothy Young's book The Angry Little Puffin
The evolution of a book title.

The book was published in fall 2014. I was reminded recently on Facebook that it was 5 years ago with the photo below. I’ve been very pleased with the response to the puffin. A number of readers have told me he’s their favorite and I’ve been sent a lot of fan art. It has even lead to my first sequel, more on that later.

The gift shop at the Central Park Zoo
A few months after the book came out I visited the Central Park Zoo.
They had a display of The Angry Little Puffin and kids were reading it.

Helen Ishmurzin

Title: Untitled
Author & Illustrator: Timothy Young
Age: 5-8

I absolutely LOVE metafiction*! While I haven’t yet had much experience writing metafictional picture books myself, I’m always excited to read new ones. My favourites include Tom Fletcher’s There’s a Dragon in Your Book, many offerings by Richard Byrne, such as This Book is Out of Control, and basically everything ever created by Hervé Tullet.

I was therefore excited when Schiffer Publishing sent me an advance copy of Timothy Young’s latest picture book, entitled (yes, really): Untitled. Isn’t that a great title? Well, I think so.

The book is narrated by two bored characters who are fed up with their illustrator. Carlos is a coatimundi and Ignatz morphs early on from a porcupine into a capybara, commenting resignedly that maybe the illustrator “got tired of drawing all the quills.”

The story revolves around the pair imagining the kinds…

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