Elanna Allen is the creator of Pet Dad, an adorable new picture book about a young girl, Plum, who desperately wants a pet, but whose request is met with a resounding “No.” Determined Plum gets creative and decides that if her dad won’t let her have a pet, then he’ll have to be one. As she attempts to teach her “new” pet tricks, her father uses their game as an opportunity to both bond with his daughter and show her how he wishes to be treated — with love and respect. Featuring delicate, detailed illustrations and pops of bright, bold lettering, Pet Dad balances tender moments with essential life lessons, making it perfect for father-daughter duos everywhere. We chatted with Elanna about her artistic process, her favorite illustration details from her new book, and how her mom supported her childhood creativity.
What first made you excited about art?
I was passionate about drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. This is thanks to my praising mother who always delighted in every scribble I drew. She never let me watch television, had no video game console and gave me nothing but blocks of wood to play with (only a slight exaggeration). She dragged me to every lecture, shopping trip, and concert she wanted to attend and stuffed a pencil in my hand to keep me from complaining. Drawing was the most exciting thing I could do with my free time. I am grateful to her every day for hanging my paint splotches on the wall, as if they were museum quality. Lots of time spent drawing, plus early delusions of talent, have fed my lifelong passion for art.
What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment?
I always love life drawing. It is like going to the gym. I also love drawing children moving and playing. I love to see how few words I can use on a page and how much of the story can be communicated through posture and expression.
Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?
I loved drawing two of the spreads: the title page and the park scene. I think the title page tells the whole backstory. From Plum’s point of view, everyone has a dog except her. Every business is pet related, every pedestrian is enjoying their pet. Poor Plum is pet-less.
I love pets who look like their owners, and the absurd lengths pet owners go to in pet-parenting, including pushing their dogs in strollers. (I’ve even seen dogs in baby carriers, which I sadly didn’t put into the book).
Which characters from your books would you like to spend time with?
I live every day of my life with my own version of Plum, who is a cross between my child-self, and my 7-year-old son, Nico. I’m not sure who is in charge, Nico or me. He has mastered the art of training me. He knows I’ll do anything for a “please” and a hug.
Can you draw us a self-portrait?
What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by?
Right now I am obsessed with The Lost House. I love the endless detail and the beautiful hand. I love the watercolor and the printing process and the perfect exciting color choices. I also love the simple story.
I also am obsessed with the book Thank You, Octopus. I love the rhythm of it and the absurdity.
Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art?
Art-making is important for kids because you have to turn off self-criticism in order to make art. You have to get into a flow state and give yourself over to the process. This will translate to creative problem-solving throughout life. I think kids are natural at it. All we have to do is give kids the materials and the time and space to create, and the praise them for creating. I think it is important for kids to have empty time without stimulating devices and toys. Their brains will naturally fill the void.
For a sneak peek at the book, check out the trailer for Pet Dad here!