Inspiration can come in curious ways.
For Tom Lakusta, it was an unexpected run-in with an insect that inspired him to write a children’s book.
Lakusta explained that he was sitting outside about a year ago.
“And a wasp bumped into my head,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not common.’ And I started thinking that a lot of people, if they have a wasp bump into their head, they’re going to freak out, especially a kid. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re just going about their business living their lives. And that got me thinking about how this could be something to say. This could be worth something to write down.”
It led him to write ‘A Bee Bumped Into My Head!’
Lakusta said the more he thought about it, the more he thought there’s a lot of things that kids are afraid of, and a book could help teach them to not be afraid.
So he spent a few months kicking the idea around in his head.
“And then one night I was in Edmonton and I just thought, ‘Well, maybe I should write this down,'” he said. “So I scribbled it down and then took that draft and made it a little bit nicer ultimately. And then I was looking for an illustrator.”
Lakusta, a forester with the GNWT, found an illustrator in a daughter of a co-worker.
That illustrator is Corrine Smith, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student at Princess Alexandra School.
“This is the first thing I actually drew a lot of,” said Corrine. “I don’t really draw a lot, until this.”
In fact, it was the simplicity of her drawings that appealed to Lakusta, who chose Corrine as the illustrator on the advice of Sereena Singh, a kindergarten teacher in Winnipeg and his son’s girlfriend.
Singh pointed out the popularity of children’s TV programs, such as ‘Peppa Pig’, which have very minimalist artwork.
Corrine said, when she reads children’s books, she likes when characters “pop,” explaining that means when they are bold.
For example, she gave the girl in ‘A Bee Bumped Into My Head!’ red hair because young people like colour a lot, and the character has big, expressive eyes.
Corrine found illustrating the book with coloured pencil drawings to be interesting and challenging.
“It’s pretty cool, but I never thought it would ever happen,” she said.
In fact, she hopes to perhaps become a writer, more than an illustrator.
“And maybe I’ll illustrate my own book, too,” she said. “I’ve always liked writing.”
Lakusta said he wrote down what he wanted on each page for an illustration.
“It was just a matter of Corrine taking my thoughts that were going to be on that page and taking the concept of the story and turning that into pictures that reflected the story and reflected the page of writing,” he said.
Lakusta also pointed to the importance of illustrations in a children’s book.
“Because this book is for kids that are in Grade K-3,” he said. “The key is providing that visual image so that the kid can understand it and see it. So we’re just really fortunate that Corrine was willing to make the pictures.”
Lakusta noted that one of the important things in the book is that the character gets scared.
“So she’s frightened. She’s wondering,” he said. “She goes through a series of emotions and somehow that has to be interpreted on what’s on her face.”
“A Bee Bumped Into My Head!’ is Lakusta’s first book and it will be his last, he said. “This is a one-shot deal.”
The book was self-published with assistance from the NWT Arts Council.
“I committed to sending this book out to all the schools in the Northwest Territories and all the libraries in the Northwest Territories free of charge, and also to have a public book launch somewhere,” said Lakusta.
That book launch took place at NWT Centennial Library on Sept. 8.
‘A Bee Bumped Into My Head!’ is currently on sale at the Hay River Visitor Information Centre.
Lakusta has also sold about 50 copies himself, noting, “The people that have bought the books seem to like them.”