News and Interviews

Author-Illustrator Team Deborah Hodge & Lisa Cinar Talk About their Unique 2-in-1 Picture Book & Kids' Cookbook

Who hasn't begged a friend who is gifted in the kitchen for recipes or tips? In author Deborah Hodge and illustrator Lisa Cinar's Cooking with Bear (Groundwood Books), that's just what happens when Bear wakes up from hibernation and makes a special spring lunch for Fox. 

Deborah Hodge

The best part? When Bear shares his recipes (featuring lots of tasty green forest goodness), he doesn't only share them with Fox - he shares them with the readers too, so you can make your own delicious Bear-worthy meals at home with 15 kid-friendly choices like hazelnut-chocolate chip cookies and nut burgers.

Lisa Cinar

It's a totally charming story with a fresh spin in the bonus cookbook and Cinar's dreamy, beautiful illustrations bring the characters that first appeared in Bear's Winter Party to riotous life on the page. 

We're excited to welcome both Deborah and Lisa to Open Book today to take our very first edition of the Kids Club Books for Young People interview. Like a true team, they tackled the questions together and told us about why gentle and community-focused stories are more important than ever, how they relate to their furry characters, and their favourite points in the creation of a new book.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Deborah Hodge:

Cooking with Bear is a “two-for-one” book that combines a sweet story about friendship and food with fifteen forest-themed recipes designed especially for young children to make and enjoy. The recipes include such dishes as watercress soup, nut burgers, and wild strawberry smoothies.

In the story, Bear teaches his friend Fox how to cook with wild berries, nuts, and other tasty ingredients they gather in the forest. The two of them create a mouth-watering array of dishes to share with the other animals in their forest community.

Cooking with Bear is a springtime companion to an earlier book Bear’s Winter Party. Both are beautifully illustrated by Lisa Cinar.


Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?


In the troubled times of today, I wanted to show children a picture of a kinder, gentler world – a place where everyone helps and is considerate and respectful of one another. The animals in this story create the kind of caring community I’d like to live in, and one I wish we could all share.


Did the book look the same in the end as your originally envisioned it when you started working, or did it change through the writing process?


It began as a picture book with a single recipe at the end, similar to the format for the earlier Bear’s Winter Party. My late, wonderful editor and publisher, Sheila Barry of Groundwood Books, suggested I add more recipes and turn the story into a combined picture book and cookbook for children, featuring local and seasonal ingredients. I am so grateful to Sheila for her vision and wish she were here to see the finished book. I know she would love it!


Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?


I always tell people that Bear is a kinder, better version of myself. He loves to host and cook, and take care of his friends. He cares deeply about their well-being. I relate to his wish to be good to his friends – I have a large, lovely family – and I’m always happy to host and cook for them, and help them out as I can.

Lisa Cinar:

What I always enjoy about collaborating with Deborah’s stories is that I can relate to ALL the characters in some way. I can relate to Bear because I like to try new things (such as cooking new recipes, going to new places, thinking about different ideas) and then share them with my friends - just as Bear is sharing recipes with Fox. And I can also relate to Fox because sometimes I’m the person who needs help from a friend to get a new idea or recipe. I think we are all Bear sometimes and Fox sometimes.


What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the creative process for you?


The most memorable moment of the illustration process for me was when I had completed all of my initial sketches for the book - there were quite a lot of them, since this book is longer than most picture books - and then realized that I had looked at the dimensions of the book incorrectly and that it was supposed to be a vertical (i.e. portrait) layout and not a horizontal one (which is what I had used for my guidelines). I had just assumed that the dimensions would be horizontal, as in the first book Deborah and I worked on together, Bear’s Winter Party. It took me a long time to rework all the layouts to fit the correct proportions. Needless to say when I started working on the next dummy book layout I was hired for, I was very careful to double check that I was starting off with the correct dimensions in mind. Lesson learned for life! ;)


What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


There are a few things I need in order to illustrate.

When I make the sketches for a new book, I can work almost anywhere: a coffee shop, the beach, a park, or just my studio and home. The sketching process is all about coming up with ideas and organizing them. I usually like to draw out the images on loose leaves of paper first so that I can look at everything all at once when I’m done.

The application of the colour process is a lot different. This is always done in my studio since all my paints and papers are there and it takes up quite a bit of room since I like to work big and spread out. I usually listen to music or podcasts which helps me stay a bit more loose with my colour choices since I’m not focusing all of my attention on the process. I have recommended this technique to my students when teaching illustration courses and it has always showed great results in peoples’ assignments.

You can even pick music that you think will reflect the feel of the book or the colour palette you are trying to achieve ahead of time and make a playlist for your book. When I do the initial sketches, however, I can’t listen to anything, not music or podcasts. I need all my energy to focus on the idea process. Different tasks require different processes.


What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?


I love every part of working on a book. It is my dream to be able to create something that children will enjoy reading. The inspiration stage is always fun, but the most satisfying stage is getting the right words to match the image I have in my head. When I feel the words are saying what I want them to say, I am over the moon. Finally, seeing the text paired with the art is a magical stage and that is when I begin to believe that my idea really has become a book.


I love looking at a blank page and coming up with ideas, so one of my very favourite parts of the books creation process is always the very beginning. My second fave part is once everything gets tweaked and adjusted after the first round of sketches and I can start to think more thoroughly about the colours of the book and applying them. I sometimes use watercolour and sometimes digital colour and sometimes both.

The important thing for me is to always keep the process fun! I think that if I’m not having fun making the book, you probably won’t have fun reading it, so that part is very important.

Once the final colour illustrations are done, the book designer sets all the images and text up together and then sends me a pdf to look at for approval. I love that magic moment of seeing the image and the text together for the first time. Images and text should complement each other and create that perfect picture book synergy!


What are you working on now?


I have written a third manuscript about Bear and his friends called Bear and the Goodbye Picnic. I have my fingers crossed that Groundwood Books might decide to publish it.


I am currently working on the sketches for a new picture book with Owlkids Publishing. It’s written by author Mahtab Narsimhan and is a super cute story about two very very, good friends. Fun!:)


Lisa Cinar is an educator and the author and illustrator of two picture books, The Day It All Blew Away, nominated for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize, and Paulina P. (for Petersen). She also illustrated Bear’s Winter Party by Deborah Hodge and is the creator of Draw Me a Lion, a line of cards, prints and colouring accessories. She lives in Vancouver.

Deborah Hodge is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five books for children. Her honours include the Children’s Literature Roundtable’s Information Book Award of Canada (won twice), the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature, and she was the finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Her work has also appeared on lists such as ALA’s Top Ten Best Environmental Books for Youth and IBBY’s Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. Deborah is a former teacher and curriculum writer who lives in Vancouver.

Buy the Book

Cooking with Bear

A story and recipes from the forest

When Bear wakes up after a long, cold winter, he makes a special spring lunch and invites Fox to join him. The food is delicious, and Fox asks Bear to teach him how to cook.

They walk through the forest collecting honey, nuts and other wild ingredients, and they greet their friends along the way. With an armload of tasty foods, Bear and Fox return to Bear’s den and cook up a feast to share.

Afterwards, Bear writes down his recipes so that Fox (and you!) can enjoy many marvelous meals. His cookbook — Best of Bear — offers a selection of kid-friendly, forest-themed recipes, including nut burgers, wild greens pita pizza, hazelnut–chocolate chip cookies and a wild strawberry smoothie.

Readers can revisit the animal friends from Bear’s Winter Party and try out fifteen fun recipes in this playful story/cookbook from award-winning author Deborah Hodge, featuring exuberant art by Lisa Cinar.