Namaste, everyone. Today the wonderful YOGA BUNNY enters the world. It’s a sweet story of a yoga-loving bunny who is misunderstood by his woodland friends. There is a lot in here for a kid to love, including visuals of cute animals doing downward dog and tree pose. Even if a kid doesn’t know what yoga is, the story is a charmer and encourages staying true to yourself, being open-minded and taking time for self-care.
What I love about this book is that it combines the nostalgia of sweet, woodland stories like Winnie-the-Pooh with a very modern trend. There is a great interplay between familiar and new in this picture book. The simple, hand-drawn illustrations create a soothing aesthetic to go along with this calm story.
I was connected to author-illustrator Brian Russo by the amazing Lisa Sharkey of HarperCollins. Brian is a true creative soul, brimming with ideas for books, stories, illustrations, animations. I first met Brian a couple of years ago at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo in NYC–he had skateboarded there from Brooklyn. As soon as he told me that, I was charmed by this loveable artist and have really enjoyed working with him since. I look forward to seeing where his career takes him.
YOGA BUNNY is a great gift for little yogis and kids who love woodland tales. Great for baby showers and for the the adult yoga-lovers in your life!
Here’s my interview with Brian Russo:
What inspired you to write YOGA BUNNY?
I first did the illustrations when I was getting verified to teach yoga and we had to memorize a long sequence. I drew the Bunny on flashcards and people in the class really responded to them. Around the same time, I was teaching myself web design and so I built a web page featuring the bunnies (which is still running and pretty close to that original version bunnyoga.com
). I remember when I built it, I was thinking of watermarking all the images so no one could ‘steal’ the images. But at the time, I was living in an indoor trailer park in Brooklyn, and my roommates advised against it. It turned out to be really great advice because it allowed the images of the bunnies to roam free around the internet, and go somewhat viral. Then flash forward a few years, Lisa Sharkey, a vice president at Harper Collins, had the idea independently to do a children’s book about a bunny who did yoga. When she googled Yoga Bunny, my yoga bunny was the first thing to come up, so… that worked out well for me. She got in a contact with me about doing a book based on the illustrations, so that’s what inspired me to start writing the story.
What was your favorite part about writing your manuscript and/or creating the illustrations?
So, after Lisa got in contact with me, it was still almost a year before we all found a story that worked. The first story I wrote and pitched to them was about a Giant Salamander that Yoga Bunny conjures through a sequence of poses. The second story was a Yoga Bunny meeting a Boston Terrier who may or may not have been a ghost. Finally they said to me… look, we really want to do a small simple story like Winnie the Pooh. So I started looking at a lot of the original A.A.Milne illustrations and did a series of illustrations in that style, in where Bunny was doing yoga and a bunch of animals, one at a time, were looking at him like, ‘What are you doing?’ They really liked those illustrations, and after that, the manuscript that would become the book came pretty quickly. So, that was my favorite part of writing the manuscript: when the people at Harper Collins liked it and it became clear that this was going to happen, because before that I wasn’t sure it was going to happen.
Where and when do you write?
I know people have a daily writing practice where they write everyday like exercising. I tend to just write when I have a project I’m working on, and that can happen in any location: coffee shop, train, etc. For example, a few months ago, Clelia and I were working on my manuscript for a graphic novel. As soon as she would send me notes, I’d rewrite the manuscript wherever I was.
My fiancé Emily likes when I make up stories on the spot for her, and I come up with a lot of ideas this way, but all of these stories are pretty strange and have that ‘I just made this up’ feeling to them. I have more stories in my brain than I know what to do with, and the hard part is figuring out which of these are good enough to see the light of day.
Rejection is a big, and helpful, part of the writing process. Like, I just pitched two stories to Clelia that she thought were not right for children’s books. But with that information, I was able to look at the two stories, decide which one I was more passionate about, and now I am working on storyboards for that one, in hopes it can be made into an animated short.
The other kind of writing I do is with my friend, Sean. We have a comedy pilot we’ve been working on, and it’s so much fun just to be in a room with him or talk on the phone crack each other up. Like, over the past few months we’ve worked out a whole storyline for a Gremlins/Jurassic Park mash-up movie… Steven Spielberg, if you’re reading this, and I know you are…. call me.
Where and when do you illustrate?
I illustrate much more often than I draw. This I will really do anywhere. I’ll bring my sketchbook to dinner parties and just draw the whole time if I think I can get away with it, that is, not be perceived as being rude or anti-social. We worked very hard on Yoga Bunny to have a clean, calming, minimal look to all of the illustrations, and I’m so happy with the way it turned out. But in my sketchbook, I love getting messy and filling up the whole page with scribbly nonsense.
What was the most surprising part about the book-making process?
I guess the most surprising part was how long everything takes. It can be frustrating when you really just want to get something done. But, there’s a whole team working on the book with you. When I received my first copy of YOGA BUNNY, I was floored just by how good it looked. And, you know, that wasn’t just my work. That was the work of my editor and the art directors and several other people whom I never even had the chance to meet in person. And when I saw the book it also struck me that this could be a really classic thing that has a longevity to it. Like it can hopefully be enjoyed by different people for years and years to come. So it’s worth it and it’s a good thing that everything takes so long… people aren’t just trying to get a product out there, they’re trying to make something really special.
Who are some writers and illustrators who inspire your work?
I’m lucky to know some artists personally, whose work I really admire. Jon Burgerman is an incredibly prolific artist who has does murals, coloring books, and posters. He gave us a calendar a while ago. Emily and I cut out the pictures, put them in frames and they’re still hanging around our apartment.
Also, my friend Cait Davis does work that really inspires me. She has a company called ‘Springtime Jellyfish’ and they do the most incredible puppetry and stop motion animation; reminiscent of the Brothers Quay but with more of a sense of humor. I really hope to be able to work on stop motion film with her one day.
In terms of people I don’t know… I’m huge fan of Noelle Stevenson, who did the graphic novel, NIMONA which was also published by HarperCollins. She’s a co-creator of LUMBER JANES, and she has a bunch of really cool fan art online, doing renditions of everyone from the Scooby Gang to the Avengers. She’s also a writer on Wander Over Yonder, a really funny cartoon on Disney XD.
And speaking of cartoons… That’s a big source of inspiration for me. I love ‘Adventure Time, and recently I’ve really enjoyed watching Star vs The Forces of Evil. The writing on these shows is not only hilarious but also isn’t afraid to get existential. I think it’s great that the writers give kids credit to be able to wrap their heads around these kinds of concepts.