When interviewed about their early influences, most writers rhapsodize about favorite childhood books, or the early, tantalizing glimpses into parental libraries. But for Massachusetts native Maddie Frost, it was the television cartoons of the ′90s — “the golden age of Nickelodeon!” she pointed out — that sparked her love of character and story.
“I was obsessed,” Frost said, citing cartoons like “Rugrats,” “Doug,” “CatDog,” “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” and the “Wild Thornberrys.” “I love characters. I would sit there in front of the TV and draw them,” said Frost. Early dreams of pursuing a career in animation didn’t pan out. “I went to MassArt in Boston to study animation,” she said. “I liked designing, the characters and storytelling. I didn’t like the process of animating.”
After college, Frost worked as an elementary school art teacher. “I think I get some of my sense of humor from just being around elementary students,” she said, adding that she purposely designs the animals in her illustrations to be easy for children to draw themselves, a process she details on social media.
“Iguana Be a Dragon” (Bloomsbury), the seventh picture book Frost both wrote and illustrated (previously, she illustrated several books written by others), was published this summer. Like all her other picture books, its protagonist is an animal. “I have yet to author a human book,” Frost said. “I’m working on it. I just think I relate to animals — they’re such universal characters. It’s easy to tell any kind of story with any kind of animal.”
“Iguana” tells a universal story — anxious to impress new friends, Iguana tries to change himself, a plan that literally crashes — but it’s the little sparks of specificity that Frost loves bringing to her work, like Iguana’s thrift-shopping habit. “I was a kid who looked at the little details and wanted to know more,” Frost said. “And I also think I don’t necessarily write and illustrate for kids; I definitely do it for myself. I’m entertaining me.”
Maddie Frost will read in person at 4 p.m. at An Unlikely Story.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.