Father’s Day is almost upon us and each year several picture books celebrating the special bond between fathers and their children. Among this year’s offerings is Just Like Daddy (Pavilion) the lovely story of a little raccoon who wants to be just like his daddy when he grows up, because he is brave enough to fight off the scariest monsters and builds amazing tree houses but yet remembers what it feels like to be small and a little bit silly. Full of warmth, this is very much focuses on parental unconditional love, and what makes this book so special is that a lot of it was inspired by Lucy Freegard’s relationship with her dad. I am delighted to welcome Lucy to Library Mice to talk about how Just Like Daddy came to life.
The birth of “Just Like Daddy”
by Lucy Freegard
I love drawing animals and giving them personalities. During our MA in children’s book illustration course at Cambridge School of Art, a few of my friends and I had memberships to London Zoo, where we’d meet up and chat and try to remember to get our sketchbooks out. ‘Just Like Daddy’ began here in the lemur enclosure… I worked on this project speculatively after graduating in 2015.
After filling a sketchbook with lemurs, I began to draw the characters more anthropomorphically. They also became more raccoon-like, as raccoons look more cute and cuddly (although in real-life they seem quite evil!) than lemurs. I started to see an adult-and-child relationship emerge in my sketches, so I thought about what things I most loved doing when I was little and drew those scenarios. Before long, I had lots of material to work with. Here’s a ‘before and after’, from first-ever scribbly sketch to published page.
When it came to writing the text, I mapped this out roughly page-by-page in InDesign and then inserted scans of my drawings from about five sketchbooks to match the words. There were only a few gaps where I needed to make new sketches. I then worked these drawings up, adding in details and getting them to a stage where I’d feel confident to move straight to doing the final artwork – if I got a publisher.
It makes me cringe to look back at some of my early colour attempts: I’m super grateful to my agent, Alice Williams at David Higham Associates, for all her help and encouragement in pushing me in the right direction. I took bits of feedback like “Don’t be afraid of slightly quirky colours” way too literally at first, but we got there in the end – phew. The little raccoon developed quite a lot too, until he/she was young and fluffy enough.
When Alice took a dummy of ‘Just Like Daddy’ to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it was a mix of pencil roughs and sample colour spreads. Below is what the cover looked liked then, with the raccoons on a tandem. (I used to ride to school on a tandem with my dad, but this image was later scrapped as a cover option because few people have them.) At Bologna the book was called ‘Little Me’ but both my agent and my publisher to-be (Pavilion, who expressed interest at the Book Fair) felt that ‘Daddy’ needed to be in the title: it made more sense commercially.
Nowadays I cycle (on my own, on a normal bike!) from my flat in Dalston, in North East London, along the Regent’s canal and through Victoria Park, to work from my old bedroom – now a lovely studio – in my parents’ house in the East End. It makes me very happy to see so many children going to school on scooters – an excellent cover choice. High five, Neil (my fab publisher and editor)!
I wasn’t short of inspiration when coming up with ideas for ‘Just Like Daddy’: the story is based on my relationship with my now 65 year-old dad and all the activities are real! But everything in the book was from memory – I didn’t consult any photos at the time. I had a rummage through our family photo albums in the lead up to publication and was surprised and amused to see how accurate my memory had been. I posted a few comparisons on social media…
Here (below) are photos of my dad and me recreating a couple of scenes from the book to celebrate its release. He’s an architect, hence the treehouse – and the bow ties – in the first picture (my publisher, Neil, suggested I make the tree house look a bit wonky, but I joked that it might damage my dad’s ego. So the un-wonky tree house got to stay!).
We also made the dad ‘mess-up’ more in the final version of the book, as he was deemed too perfect – ha! One of my uncles recently said, “I hope ‘Daddy’s’ head is not too expanded in the face of such book-bound adulation!”
A few years ago my dad bought an identical paddleboard to mine, so we now have matching daddy and daughter boards! We regularly go out together on the estuary leading to the North Sea at Blakeney, in North Norfolk, near where I grew up. That’s what we’ll be doing together this weekend…
I hope everyone has lots of fun together on Father’s Day! Thank you Library Mice for hosting this blog post, and thanks so much to Alice, and to Neil and the rest of the team at Pavilion, for making ‘Just Like Daddy’ into a real book – and, of course, big ups to daddy raccoon for being an absolute legend! Watch out mum…
Thank you so much Lucy, what a wonderful and inspiring post.
You can follow Lucy on Twitter, where you will find more examples of how her childhood inspired Just Like Daddy!
Just Like Daddy is published by Pavilion, and is out now. You can purchase a copy here.