The Secret Rhino Society by Jonathan E. Jacobs and Samantha Cotterill

Happy Monday! I'm grateful Jonathan E. Jacobs and Samantha Cotterill stopped by to chat with me about The Secret Rhino Society, cheese and pickle sandwiches, picture books, endpapers, hand-built illustrations, and more. I wrote the words in purple, Jonathan wrote the words in black, and Samantha wrote the words in orange. Thank you, Jonathan and Samantha! 

The Secret Rhino Society tells the story
of three friends, a hippopotamus (Hudson), a worm (Fran) and a light bulb (Jean) who have one thing in common: they each want to be a rhinoceros. To celebrate this love of the rhinoceros, they form a secret society and build a clubhouse where they can meet up to admire their favorite animal. But when they finally meet a real live rhino, she’s not what they expected. And their whole perspective changes. The book is all about expectations. You could be starting a new school, visiting an unfamiliar place or meeting a new person. It could be anything. We all have preconceptions about what that experience is going to be like. But it often doesn’t match our expectations. And when that happens, it’s sometimes difficult to change one’s thinking, but if you can, there’s a possibility of something new and unexpected to occur. It’s about openness. And openness is hard.

Samantha Cotterill’s illustrations are magical, whimsical and immersive. For this book, Sam’s working in 3D, meaning that she builds each scene as a diorama. Then she lights the scene and photographs it. It’s a jaw dropping effect that pulls the reader into the book and the story, quite literally. Children explore the layers of the world with their eyes. They can imagine going behind characters and around objects. But Sam’s dioramas never feel frozen or stiff like a “still life.” You’re invited to enter this world, explore it, get messy in it and experience it with joy! How Sam chooses to light a scene is key. She’s masterful with light. Luckily one of the characters is a light bulb… and that helps.

A cheese and pickle sandwich is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. To me, there’s something cozy about the idea of a cheese and pickle sandwich, but also quirky and individualistic. My wife grew up eating cheese with pickles, oftentimes in sandwiches, so my wife, son and I make them at home. Cheese and pickle sandwiches also remind me of Winnie the Pooh for some reason, about the special world in that book. In The Secret Rhino Society, these sandwiches are unique to Fran, Hudson and Jean. The sandwiches bond the friends in a different way than rhinoceroses do. I also happen to love the word “pickle.” It’s probably in my ten top favorite words.

Picture books are, for me, kind of like self-help books for kids, and when they are, they’re the best ones out there. Kids are able to reflect on their lives and the world around them by embarking on the brief magical journey of a picture book. Self-help books for adults are so much more complicated, following complex steps over many more pages. In picture books for children, the lessons are much simpler, often bound by magic and allegory. That same magic for adults is hard to find. When I write, I always write about things that bother me, snags I hit in my own day-to-day life. I like to choose issues that everybody confronts at one time or another. With picture books, I have the unique opportunity to help kids deal with one of these issues, the friction in life, and help them to confront it. These life problems don’t go away as you get older. So, it’s less about a solution than about building awareness that they’re out there... and doing it without hitting kids too hard with a lesson.

Illustration Credit: Samantha Cotterill
The Secret Rhino Society’s endpapers need to adorn every room of my house. I love creating patterns, and this design in particular just screams to be the backdrop of a cozy night spent around the fireplace. It was the first pattern I created for our story, and the catalyst for a frenzied obsession of crafting repetitive Rhinoceros images throughout this project. 

The illustrations for The Secret Rhino Society are hand-built three-dimensional sets containing digitally colored hand-drawn pieces (with good ol’ nib pen and ink) cut and assembled, painted cardboard and wood, and the cutest miniature lightbulb shot with a digital camera. How’s that for a short description that flows right off the tongue?

Fran, Hudson, Jean, and Ivy need many more adventures together (nudge nudge Jonathan). Seeing this diverse group of friends grow and learn from each other leaves me ever so curious to see what steps they take next. Plus! I got a bit obsessed with building the theatre and clubhouse, and yearn to explore more of their 3-dimensional world.

A rhinoceros in part of a group of other rhinos is called a crash. That alone lends itself to a great sequel, right Jonathan? 

Look for The Secret Rhino Society on May 5, 2020. 

Jonathan E. Jacobs' first love is telling stories. An avid record collector, Jonathan finds some of his greatest inspiration while listening to a forgotten track from his vinyl vault. Jonathan’s first children's book The Secret Rhino Society is being published by Simon & Schuster Paula Wiseman Books

Samantha Cotterill is an illustrator and textile designer. She works and resides with her family in Upstate New York.


Popular Posts