I recently had the pleasure of reading Fooling Ewe, written by Mike Demers and illustrated by Todd Finklestone. This beautifully illustrated picture book chronicles the adventures of Ewe, a precocious young female sheep who is bored grazing in the meadow all alone. Now Ewe wants to play and sets out to amuse herself by playing tricks on Chicken, Cow, Duck, and even Farmer. I was delighted to have the opportunity to both review the book and interview the author.
My review: I always get disturbed when children want to be just like their friends, wanting to wear the same clothes, participate in the same activities, watch the same TV shows, use the same apps, have the same gadgets, etc. It has always been hard for parents to convey the message that while it’s good to have things in common with your friends, it’s also important to be your own person with your own interests – and there’s also the age old wisdom borne of impatience, “If your friends jump off a cliff, are you going to jump off the cliff too?”
Now more than ever, it’s important to start conveying this message of individuality and having the courage to be who you are at a young age. In the book, Ewe gets tired of grazing in the meadow like the other sheep and ventures out to meet the other animals on the farm. She has some harmless fun as she interacts with her new friends. As a result of her teasing, welcoming personality, the horse, chicken, pig, and other animals all wind up playing together rather than being isolated in their own sections of the farm. I enjoyed the childlike innocence of this book and how Ewe breaks out of the monotony of doing what is expected of her. The story also encourages diversity – having friends from different backgrounds and breaking out of a clique. I suspect that many young children will be learning what an ewe is for the first time and will get a kick out of the ewe vs. you wordplay. The vibrant illustrations were a nice complement to the text, which offers the kind of repetitious phrases and patterns that children enjoy as they can guess what might happen next. But the end comes as a surprise, as even Ewe gets the wool pulled over her eyes. All in all, this richly illustrated picture book is a captivating read that encourages positive values, diversity, and the importance of maintaining a sense of playfulness even when one has a job to do…I’ll be on the lookout for more Ewe books!
For more on Fooling Ewe, here is an interview with author Mike Demers. Mike is a single father three nights a week and tends bar the other four. Leaving behind a promising career in film production, Mike received his MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College’s graduate program in Boston before moving to the suburbs for the spoils of family and green grass.
How did you get the idea for the mischievous but good natured Ewe?
My ideas usually start with a situation or plot. Fooling Ewe started with a word: Ewe. It was so rich in wordplay (ewe vs you) that it felt almost personal. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and rarely does a word intrigue me so much. ‘Ewe’ sounds like ‘you’ and so it just made sense for Ewe to BE you. And me. And so Ewe wants to play, not work. Seriously, who doesn’t?
What kind of message did you want to send kids with this book?
I think we all spend our youth trying to be what we THINK we want to be, and often it stems from idolatry, of a sibling, a classmate, a celebrity. Me, I went through life wanting to be like my brothers and then to Emerson College wanting to be like John Steinbeck, whom I admired. After a period of frustration and painful realization that Steinbeck was never going to happen, I was forced to reevaluate who I was and what I was writing: Children’s books. Sometimes I think our vision of what we want to be obstructs the view of what we are. Life’s pieces won’t really fall into place until you embrace who you are, so the message I want kids to learn? Be different. Be Ewe.
Do you have plans for more Ewe books?
Oh yeah. We’re already working on the next one and I’m SO excited about it. Also have two more in the pipeline, both of which were conceived by my daughter. Each Ewe book is so different from the others, so unique, which is of course how Ewe would have it.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for over a decade but it’s been far from linear. Like with anything, Life gets in the way and detours send you in a different direction. But some detours turn out to be more scenic! When my daughter was born almost nine years ago, I had to give up my writing in order to work six, seven days a week to support a family. It was necessary but it hurt. Little did I realize then that, even while not writing, I was still developing as a writer. Every night at bedtime, when my daughter would say “Dad, tell me a story,” I would ask “About what, baby?” She provided the parameters and the stories rolled out into the dark and off my target audience. They say you’re lucky if you can have your cake and eat it, too, and I agree, but nobody says you’ll get the cake you ordered. You might get one better! Fooling Ewe was not on the road I set out on and so I’m grateful for every pothole and turn that brought me here.
What do you enjoy about writing children’s books? What are the challenges?
I love all writing but children’s books are special because they help shape the adults we will become, and that is the future. I’m not sure if there is more tragedy around the world or more cable channels and Internet to report it, or both, but children’s books help make children better, and better children lead to better adults, a better society, and a better future. That’s pretty important, maybe more important than ever.
How do you feel the illustrations complement the story? What was it like to see your story illustrated?
It was like birth. An idea is just an idea but when Todd gave her a face, she was born. And then her personality filled in the way a crossword puzzle fills in the closer you get to the end. Seeing my story illustrated is cool, and thrilling, yes, but it feels less “complementary” than it does revelatory. They say a picture is worth a thousand words for a reason. Words are words and pictures are pictures but words and pictures together give a character identity, a three-dimensional realness.
Tell us about some of the activities on your website.
What we have now and what we plan to have later are very different. For now, we have puzzles of Ewe and Ewe with others like Elvis (“If Ewe can’t find a partner…”), Renee Zellweger (“Ewe Complete Me!), etc. the level of difficulty of which can be modified to suit the player. We also started a fun blog called “Sheep Thoughts” in which Ewe blogs from her perspective, which is really fun. What we will have, and what we are currently developing is games, music, and free coloring pages. Fun Ewe ‘nique stuff!
What projects do you have in the works?
So much! In addition to the aforementioned coloring pages, etc, we are working on toys, stuffed animals, and some cool items to give to children at readings. We also have plans for Ewe music and TV. Very cool stuff to come!