Q&A with Jo Williamson

“Papa Penguin and Pippin run the best cafe in the Antarctic, serving fish for breakfast, fish for lunch, fish for dinner, and even… fish ice cream! Everyone loves fish. Or do they?” What’s for Lunch, Papa Penguin? takes a penguin chef on a chaotic roadtrip around the world in search of new exciting foods to try. It is one of the two books featured in our Cooking Kit book box, we are celebrating its release with this 5 question chat with the author and illustrator of this hilarious picture book, Jo Williamson. Enjoy!


Jo Williamson – © Nick Chitty

1. What is the inspiration behind “What’s for Lunch, Papa Penguin?”

I wanted to write and illustrate a picture book about penguins, as they are so endearing and amusing. For some reason I kept imagining a penguin in different countries around the world rather than just the Antarctic, so I had to come up with a reason why he was there. After chatting with my agent about this and coming up with various reasons why he might be travelling, she suggested that maybe my penguin might be cooking a meal and gathering ingredients, and this led me to think of a penguin who was a chef in the Antarctic running the best cafe and serving fish every day.

2. Did you have to do much research into penguins to create your characters?

I researched different type of penguins, such as the Adelie penguins that live in the Antarctic, but as my drawings developed the penguins changed so that they don’t look like a particular breed.

From “What’s for Lunch, Papa Penguin?”, Jo Williamson, 2018.

3. Can you briefly describe your process from the original idea for this book to when it is submitted to your publisher?

I knew my main character was going to be a penguin, so I started drawing different penguin characters and researching how they move, their natural environment etc. I then start to plan out scenes and storyboard ideas, with the text and images remaining flexible as I keep drawing and planning the roughs. I work backwards and forwards with text and images as I develop the pace and pagination of the book with my editor and art director. Once the text and roughs have been approved I start the final artworks.

I am inspired by the reduced colour palettes of vintage picture books from the 50’s and 60’s, and I screen print most of my final artworks onto paper. The act of screen-printing and of having to commit to a decision on colour and line with no backspace button changes the actual outcome and makes me think differently than working digitally. It takes me between 5-9 weeks to produce the final artworks in my studio, and then I package them up and take them to London to hand over to my publisher, who send them off to be scanned by a printer.

4.  You were a fashion designer in a previous life. Does that influence how you ‘dress’ your characters?

Absolutely. I have great fun designing my character’s outfits, and their clothes reflect their personalities. It’s very easy for me to draw any outfit or item of clothing without having to think about it too much, as I know from my fashion work exactly how most garments are made, and where seams, collars, pockets etc would sit on a garment. For my penguins, I used just the odd item to differentiate between characters, as penguins can all look quite similar. Papa Penguin had a stripy apron and a chef’s hat, and Pippin mainly wore a sunhat on his travels, whereas Frank, who stayed at home in the Antarctic, was defined by his woolly bobble hat.

From “What’s for Lunch, Papa Penguin?”, Jo Williamson, 2018.

5.  You have worked with author Katie Haworth on “Petunia Paris’s Parrot”, is there an author who you would love to work with and illustrate for?

I would love to work with lots of different authors, but it’s more a case of the story inspiring me rather than a particular author. I do love humorous stories as well as classics for older children, such as ‘Tom’s midnight Garden’, and ‘The Wind in the Willows’. I was totally inspired by Katie Haworth’s book and knew immediately that I would love to illustrate it. It contained many challenges for my illustration skills including Petunia conversing with a parrot, a butler, a tandem with its own chauffeur, and a jungle scene. The humour also drew me in from the first moment I read the text.

Jo, thank you for sharing some behind-the-scenes details of your thoughts and writing and illustrating process. You can find out more about Jo Williamson through her website, and follow her on Instagram (@jowilliamson_).

What’s for Lunch, Papa Penguin is part of our Cooking Kit book box, available now!

Check out our subscription options and current boxes available for purchase on our SHOP page.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to make sure you never miss a post and check us out on Instagram (@littlebirdiebooks) or Facebook.

Leave a Reply