The Knight of Little Import: An Interview with Creator Hannah Batsel

Hear ye, hear ye! The new picture book The Knight of Little Import is out in all bookstores now! Young knight Charlie lives in the town of Little Import where nothing exciting ever happens. Until . . . she discovers there are monsters all around, and only she knows what to do to help her town of Little Import!

Author and illustrator Hannah Batsel joins us today to discuss how she created the intricate spreads and the inspiration behind hiding monsters in plain sight.

The Knight of Little Import is completely illustrated with cut paper. What was that process like?

It was unlike any illustration process I’ve undertaken! Every piece of the images was cut out of paper: tissue paper, construction paper, vintage paper, and even paper I made myself. Then I added details with acrylic paint, watercolors, inks, and whatever else I could get my hands on. To achieve the shadows and depth, I used blocks of foam to physically elevate the different levels of paper—so objects in the background really are a half-inch or so behind the objects in the foreground! The bulk of the imagery is made from cheap construction paper. Because the book is about making a difference even without many resources, I wanted to use materials that children could recognize and access. Hopefully, seeing simple materials used to create something bigger than the sum of its parts will inspire readers to make their own cut paper scenes!

The Knight of Little Import is about a knight living in a small medieval village. Did you have to do a lot of research to accurately represent the medieval period?

Absolutely not—in fact, this is probably my least-researched book ever. Wait, wait, come back, I can explain! The world of Little Import intentionally mirrors a modern child’s conception of what medieval times were like; it looks far more like a Renn Faire than any place that ever existed in the past. Some villagers wear period-appropriate clothing; others wear t-shirts. There are period-appropriate businesses, like a bakery and an apothecary, but they sell frosted cupcakes and magical potions. It’s colorful, fantastical, and completely unrealistic. Just as the protagonist, Charlie, is a real knight purely because she believes she is, I think the setting of the book rings true (if not accurate).

Throughout the book, Charlie tackles monsters disguised as everyday objects. Where did you get the idea for transforming monsters that hide in plain sight?

I am nothing if not a huge nerd, and the idea for the hiding monsters was inspired by the mimic, a Dungeons & Dragons monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest and lies in wait for unobservant adventurers. In my book, there’s a grandfather clock that unfurls into a noisy, winged beast, a three-tiered cake that’s really three turtle-like monsters stacked on top of each other, and—well, I won’t spoil the rest of them. Small, hidden monsters like these might not be as famous or as impressive as dragons, but they need to be wrestled with all the same!

How does Charlie have a full metal suit of armor if she lives in the middle of nowhere and carries around a poorly-crafted wooden sword?

I think there are two possible ways Charlie could have gotten her shiny metal armor. The simplest explanation is that Charlie has a parent or other adult who cares for her very much, and while they may not be willing to buy her a metal sword just yet, they were willing to shell out the big bucks to give her a real suit of armor. A less literal interpretation is that we see Charlie the way she sees herself: she believes she is a knight in shining armor, so she is. The armor is a part of her identity as a strong defender of her community; the sword, however, is less important, and eventually not needed at all—so we see it in its true, shabby form.

Do you have any tips for readers who might want to design their own hidden monsters based on objects they have in their house or school?

Absolutely! Look around at the furniture around you; can you find anything that looks a little bit like a face? Maybe two knobs on a dresser look like eyes, or the door of an oven might be a big, opening mouth. Look for legs or wings, too; most tables have four legs, just like many monsters, and cabinet drawers that open out can often look like wings. When I was a kid, my parents had a dining table with claws for feet—it scared me so much! Once you find some body parts for your creature, exaggerate the features that you found to make it even more monstrous. Maybe the pattern on your couch can turn into the scales of a dragon-like monster. Maybe your shoelaces can stick up and become antennae. Draw your new monster as weird and as wild as you like!

Praise for The Knight of Little Import

★ “Batsel’s artwork is a mesmerizing display of extraordinary mixed-media collage using a variety of handmade and purchased paper alongside paints, ink, watercolors, embroidery floss, artificial turf, and painted sawdust. Every page, down to the endpapers, is textured, rich, layered, and lovely. Batsel’s second book as author-illustrator is quite the achievement.” — starred, Booklist

“Tongue-in-cheek and not at all of little import.” — Kirkus Reviews

“[A] playfully interactive story that suggests the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else.” — Publishers Weekly

Connect with Hannah

Hannah Batsel is a book artist and illustrator who fell in love with bookmaking while pursuing a Fine Arts degree at the University of Georgia. She began printing her own illustrated art books on a Vandercook printing press from the 1950s and hand-binding them in small limited editions. Hannah has published two picture books for children: A is for Another Rabbit, inspired by the two rabbits she adopted from her local animal shelter, and The Knight of Little Import, about solving small problems to make a big difference.

Lerner authors and illustrators are talented beyond belief! Hear more about their work in these posts from the Lerner blog.

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