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The story behind Bottom’s Up!

A Junior interview with author Jeanne Willis and illustrator Adam Stower on their brilliant picturebook collaboration

Posted: 10 March 2009
by Catherine O'Dolan

A Junior interview with author Jeanne Willis

rock star baby carpet
JW: I’m Really glad you liked Bottoms Up and even more pleased that your three-year-old son did. You read it five times, eh? He’s obviously a very good judge. I’ll answer your questions now, hooting with mirth as I do so because it’s such an amusing subject, even when you’re 49.

Junior: What inspired the book?

JW: What with all the bad news and all the worthy tomes, I just felt like saying Bottoms to it all. Toddlers are forever being told what to do these days – be quiet, sit still, wear this, eat that. It’s time they took a stand and cried freedom. Maybe we all should. If that means flinging off our restrictive undergarments and running for the hills, so be it.

Junior: Was it a dig about prudity?

JW: I prefer the word prudery as it is takes the P out of rudery. Rudeness is not saying please and thank you; there’s nothing rude about nudity. At its best, it’s beautiful; at its worst, it’s hilarious. I find prudity rude because it’s so judgemental. It scorns bare people in the mistaken belief that they’ve got naked deliberately to offend the onlooker, whereas in reality they might just be hot or their knickers might rub, in which case they are doing it for medical reasons.

Junior: Does Bottoms Up contain a positive body image message?

JW: Babies and toddlers have very positive body images or why are they so reluctant to wear clothes? They can’t keep their bobble hats on for five seconds, so they’re clearly not embarrassed about being bald. They have chubby bits, dimples, creases and rashes. They wobble and they leak. But they don’t give a damn. It’s so refreshing.

Junior: Did you have fun thinking of all the different words for underwear?

JW: Yes, the English language is rich in lingerie lingo and it was fun to plunder it. But I had problems with the American version simply because they have very few words to describe underwear. I’m still wondering why.

Junior: My three-year-old son was taken with the word Bazoomers.

JW: Good boy! Bazoomers have been under-represented in children’s books for too long, which is odd because half the population have them and they’re of enormous interest to babies who know when they’ve latched onto a good thing. I’ll rectify the situation in my next book.

Junior: Am you worried the nudity nature of the book might offend some parents?

JW: Yes, especially if it’s my parents. But you can’t please all of the parents all the time, whether your pants are on or off. Some are offended by bottoms. Some are far more offended by people parking in front of their drive or the threat of nuclear war. It’s all very subjective.

Junior: Did you have any input in the illustrations?

JW: None whatsoever. I had an input in the choice of illustrator though. I really wanted Adam to do this book because he had a perfect cheek – they’re not easy to draw, you know.

A Junior interview with illustrator Adam Stower

rock star baby carpet
AS: Good news about Bottom's Up being featured in Junior magazine! I’m happy to answer your questions. This is my first Q&A session.

Junior: How much fun was it depicting characters wearing underpants?

AS: It was great fun! I tried to guess what type of underwear each animal would choose for themselves.

Junior: How did you do your research? Loitering round knicker departments in fancy stores?

AS: No, I'd get too many funny looks from people! I made up the pants in my head and matched them to the personality of each character.

Junior: Were you inspired by any favourite pants of your own?

AS: No, not particularly. But we all have favourites, don't we? My current favourites are a pair of Batman pants I was given at Christmas.

Junior: Where did the idea for the penguin-eating python spring from?

AS: I decided to draw the characters on that page walking in procession and I had the Python at the back. I just thought it would be funny if he was gobbling up the penguins one at a time. You can see the ones in his tummy looking around and wondering “who turned out the lights?”, and the penguin at the back of the procession is rather nervous. I enjoy trying to add little moments like this to my pictures in addition to what is in the text as I think it adds depth and personality to the characters.

Junior: Why is the chubby upside-down bat looking so grumpy? This is a question from a three-year-old reader: he says it’s because she’s the fat one!)

AS: Your little boy’s idea is a great one, but actually when I drew the bats I thought it’d be fun to have lots of lady bats in bikinis, and one poor man bat who’s decidedly fed up at the notion of bats wearing bikinis and he is sulking. So, that's why he’s bigger… and so grumpy.

Junior: Which is your favourite image from the book?

AS: It’s a hard choice but I’d have to choose the naked wombat picture. He is so carefree while the Donkey, Lion and other Wombat are aghast! I also like Wombat’s W-fronts. For wombat. As opposed to Y-fronts.

Bottoms Up! By Jeanne Willis and Adam Stower is published by Puffin, £5.99.

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