Dory, the star of Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory series, is an energetic and entertaining little kid who wishes her older brother and sister liked playing with her more. Luckily, she has an imagination that never quits — which helps her invent a crew of imaginary friends (and even some enemies!) to keep her company. Full of entertaining illustrations and loads of laugh-out-loud humor, the Dory Fantasmagory books are the perfect match for young readers who are encountering life obstacles similar to Dory, including making friends, going to school, and getting along with their siblings. We were thrilled to chat with Abby Hanlon about her transition from teacher to writer and illustrator, why she suspects the characters she’s invented might be a little too ingrained in her life, and the one thing she thinks every kid needs.
What first made you excited about art?
When I was a first grade teacher, I was determined to write and illustrate a picture book. And although I hadn’t drawn since I was a child, had no background in art, and had no knowledge of the illustration world, I still thought that I could start with stick figures and eventually end up with a book. It took a long time, but I did it.
As a teacher, I had an urge to “write with pictures” the way my students illustrated their stories. But it was when I stopped teaching and stayed home with my twins that I really became excited about art for the first time — because it was when I got to spend a lot of time poring over illustrations in picture books and obsessing over favorite books. I tried to figure out different illustrators’ processes, sometimes even by trying to copy them. Through this study, I came up with my own style and process.
What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment?
Right now I’m working on this sketch of Mrs. Gobble Gracker dressed as the tooth fairy about to get hit in the head by a swinging toaster and then squashed by a mattress.
Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?
I had so much fun drawing Dory in her winter coat that she hates so much.
Which characters from your books would you like to spend time with?
That is a hard question because I feel like I already spend too much time with all of them. Recently, I was in a cafe drawing a scene where Mrs. Gobble Gracker sneaks into the cafeteria and scares Dory from behind. While I was drawing, someone came and sat down behind me, and I got very startled. I yelped and jumped! It was pretty embarrassing. So, I would say that I definitely need to spend less time with my characters.
Can you draw us a self-portrait?
What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by?
I am in love with the graphic novel series Ariol, written by Emmanuel Guibert and illustrated by Marc Boutavant. It’s beautiful and funny, and I think those two things don’t often come together. His animal characters make me want to be a kid.
Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art?
I think art is more important than it has ever been for kids. With so much competition from screens, how can we encourage kids to still spend time making art? Video games provide an escape for kids, but with drawing, you can also escape — you can create your own world. I think every kid needs a sketch book. It’s a cheap hobby, you can take it basically everywhere and it gives you independence at any age. It’s also a great way for kids to have a collection of their work that they can reflect on and share.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
Books by Abby Hanlon