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by Elisa Kleven

I find inspiration in all sorts of ways. Sometimes an image inspires me : the brush-like tail of a lion at the Oakland zoo sparked the idea for THE LION AND THE LITTLE RED BIRD; the sight of a picket fence reflected in a wet sidewalk gave me the idea for THE PUDDLE PAIL.

Sometimes an experience gives birth to a story idea: my daughter’s reaction to her domineering, sloppy new brother inspired my book A MONSTER IN THE HOUSE; the comforting act of making bread on a gloomy winter day gave me the idea for SUN BREAD.

And sometimes stories well up mysteriously, from undercurrents in my life and amorphous but powerful feelings. After I finished THE PAPER PRINCESS, for example, I realized it summed up my feelings about being both a book creator—working away lovingly and privately on detailed pieces of paper (my illustrations and stories) that I later send out into the world to “finish themselves” (that is, be read and reacted to), as well as earlier, raw feelings about having lost my own “creator”, my mother, when I was still a child, and how I went out into the world feeling like it was up to me to complete myself.

The inspiration for my newest book, THE FRIENDSHIP WISH, falls into this last (amorphous, powerful feelings) category. One of the sources of its inspiration is a quote from Caliban, the monster in THE TEMPEST, who describes a dream about “riches ready to drop upon him, ” and how upon waking, he “cried to dream again.” I love that description of the feeling of loss one feels when one awakens from a beautiful dream—and Farley, the lonely dog in my story, experiences the same intense sensation of longing and loss when he awakens from his dream of a friendly, guitar-playing, pancake-making angel. But other themes in my life welled up into this story as well: I have always been fascinated by angels, and frequently “meet” them in dreams and in art, as Farley does. I also feel that, like the characters in the book, we need to be each others’ angels, because, who knows if any other angels really exist.

And speaking of angels, I have to add that the book was originally called JOEY’S ANGEL. My publisher wanted to avoid the word “angel” in the title, so I tried on many different titles (e.g.FRIENDS FOR FARLEY; WHAT PUP DREAMED UP) before the publisher settled on THE FRIENDSHIP WISH. At first I had trouble saying the title, because it wasn’t “mine”, but I’m getting to like the whispery, “sshhhh-y” sound of it.


Elisa Kleven has always loved to create imaginary worlds. Throughout her childhood Elisa made miniature people and animals using paper, paint, clay, scraps of cloth, yarn, nutshells , even dried apples. She would lose herself for hours making up stories about these characters, and building intricate settings around them.

Elisa’s childhood passions have now become her career, as she is still creating miniature worlds inside of her picture books. As she did in childhood, Elisa uses paint, collage, and imagination to create characters settings, and stories.

Elisa is the author and/or illustrator of over 30 children’s picture books, among them WELCOME HOME, MOUSE, THE PAPER PRINCESS, THE APPLE DOLL, THE LION AND THE LITTLE RED BIRD, SUN BREAD, A CAROUSEL TALE, THE PUDDLE PAIL, DE COLORES, by Jose-Luis Orozco, ABUELA AND ISLA, by Arthur Dorros, and THE WEAVER, by Thacher Hurd. Elisa lives near San Francisco with her husband, daughter, son, dogs and cats. To learn more about Elisa and her books, please visit her web site:

Elisa is generously giving away two signed pieces of her work—her San Francisco limited edition giclee print, as well as a print from ANGELS WATCHING OVER ME, by Julia Durango. Please leave a comment to enter and two winners will be randomly chosen one week from today!

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