Literacy Now

5 Questions With...
ILA Membership
ILA Next
ILA Journals
ILA Membership
ILA Next
ILA Journals
  • Blog Posts
  • 5 Questions With...

Five Questions With... Abby Hanlon (Dory Fantasmagory)

by Morgan Ratner
 | Nov 21, 2014

Abby Hanlon has a rich imagination. She says herself that she “played imaginatively long past the age considered normal” and based her decision to become a teacher on the ability to cultivate other young minds.

When she left the classroom to write children’s books Hanlon created Dory Fantasmagory and Ralph and realized it was she who could best illustrate them as well and a new career as a self-taught artist blossomed.

But she couldn’t stay out of the classroom for long and often makes author visits to share her books and answer questions. That way, she still fosters those young minds in person.

You have 7-year-old twins. Do you test run your stories with them and do they have veto power?

Yes, I definitely test run everything with them, but they are a little more like collaborators than guinea pigs. They fuel me with tons of ideas and we talk about Dory so much that it’s as if her life is sort of happening right along side theirs. Mostly, I pay close attention to what makes my kids laugh -- they are so joyous and weird, and I want to capture that happiness in my stories. They are my guides and I am merely the spy/recorder.

Do they have veto power? Yes, I guess they do in a way. In one version of Dory Fantasmagory, I had the chapter where Dory can’t find Violet’s doll much more dramatic and higher stakes for Dory. My daughter hated it—she was upset by it and couldn’t handle that suspense, so I toned it down for her. 

There’s another Dory book due next year. Are you working on anything else?

I’m starting to think about a third Dory book, but I’m still deep into working on the second Dory.  As a full-time mom, the home/work balance does not allow for me to work on more than one project at a time.

Why did you want to become the illustrator for your books?

That is a question I get asked a lot and I always think it’s because the person asking doesn’t think I should have! Well, I guess that means at least I have the true insecurity of an artist.

When I first had the idea to write and illustrate a children’s book, I was a first grade teacher.  And I never even for a second had the rational thought, “I can write a book, but since I’ve never drawn before, I can’t illustrate a book.” I often wonder why I immediately leaped to, “I can learn how to draw! I can illustrate too!” And I think it’s because when I first started to think about children’s books, I thought of the relationship between the words and pictures. That seemed to be the whole point of it, the exchange between the two.  And my brain couldn’t think of just the words alone. So as laughable as my drawings were back then when I first started, I still needed to develop the words and pictures together. My drawings are an extension of my writing.

What’s your favorite part of author visits to the classroom?

I like when the kids laugh at my book.  And I think it’s so funny when they ask me totally random, inappropriate, and personal questions at the end of my presentation and the teachers look mortified. I also love connecting with teachers and librarians, because I still think of myself as a teacher. 

Is there a children’s book author who influenced your writing?

Astrid Lindgren, Beverley Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Betty MacDonald (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle) have all shaped my idea of how to put your heart and soul into a chapter book. But I’ve definitely spent more time with picture books. When I think about the craft of writing, here are some classic picture books that I use as a benchmark for excellence:

  • George and Martha by James Marshall
  • Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber
  • Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
  • Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • Almost Anything by Kevin Henkes
  • Miss Nelson is Missing and The Stupids by Harry Allard

Morgan Ratner is a communications intern with International Reading Association.

Back to Top


Recent Posts