Cat Rabbit is a creative textile artist who has drawn on her plush toy creations to write and illustrate picture books for young children. Read on to discover the fine craft work and detailed planning that resulted in the most recent publication about a bear who struggled to make friends.
How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide is about a bear who has plenty of stuffed friends, but no real ones. The book follows her attempts to win friends by impressing them with her (non-existent) jogging skills, fancy outfits and cake. The book is illustrated with photographed scenes of my soft toy characters in a brightly coloured felt world. When making the book, I knew I really wanted to draw on my own experiences – both as a kid and as an adult – navigating friendships as an introverted person. I always preferred the quiet of the library or the art room to the football field or school socials; I always loved baking and sewing with my mum and sister and I had a sticker collection that I guarded with my life. The book is dedicated to my sister, who still to this day plays recorder with me (though lately it’s had to be mostly via FaceTime). So, we can safely say that I am Bear, and this is somewhat of an autobiography!
When I was making the characters, I wanted them to be simple, colourful and a little bit weird, giving them each a strong personality. I sew all of my characters by hand and without a pattern; I work in a sculptural way, adding and cutting as I go. I always use an armature in my soft characters, and in Bear, Koala and Lamb I made these armatures a little more complex to allow for lots of different movements and poses. I also made their clothes removable so they can wear different outfits.
Once I hand made the characters, I sketched out the storyboard. Because the photographs take quite a long time to get right, it’s good to have every element of the story locked in before launching into the shoot. The storyboard went back and forth between myself and my editor until we had the story plotted out to our liking. From there I made comprehensive lists of every single element I had to make for each scene and once I’d created everything, I set each scene and did a quick test shoot of the book.
I wanted this book to be bright and welcoming, with a bit of texture. I mostly used coloured cardboard with elements drawn on with crayon to give it a childlike feel; sort of like Bear was in a world of her own creation. The coloured backgrounds also reflect Bear’s mood: yellow when she’s happiest, baking and drawing; pink when she’s earnestly trying to make friends; purple when she’s feeling emotional.
I wanted the story to have lots of funny elements to provide comic relief to the emotional rollercoaster that is making friends – and that’s where Bear’s toys come in. I really fell in love with the idea of Bear, a toy, having toys herself. When I was small, I used to have quite a crew of toys (which I refused to call toys, instead preferring to call them ‘friends’). Bear’s stuffed friends provide a lot of the comic asides and also give Bear an audience for her feelings.
It was such an honour for How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide to be listed as a CBCA noteworthy book for 2022. I’m so glad the story resonated with children and adults alike – it’s even more wonderful when I hear that it has helped a small person navigate the tricky world of making friends!
Author and Illustrator
Editor's note. Visit Cat Rabbit's website to see more of her wonderful creations and spend time exploring the exquisite art work in the book. Enjoy a reading of How to Make Friends: A Bear’s Guide via Storybox Library.
All images © Cat Rabbit