Tag Archive for Lavoie Mathieu

Creating Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie

A guest post today from Mathieu Lavoie (don’t worry, it’s in English) about creating his wonderful picture book, Toto’s Apple – my review of which you can read here. Mathieu is a children’s book author and illustrator, as well as the creative director and co-founder of Comme des Géants, a children’s book publisher based in Montreal.

toto apple

Our night time routine with the kids involves reading books aloud and once that’s done, we turn the lights down and make up a story for them, on the spot. One very special night, I came up with the story of a little worm that had a hard time reaching an apple, but never gave up. As I was telling the story, which was not as polished as the printed version, I thought I had something interesting. After I was done and the kids were happy, I kissed them good night and rapidly went into my studio and wrote down the first draft of Toto.


That first draft is very different from the final version. It’s more “written”, with more descriptions and a much slower pace. I had not yet come up with the more concise writing. The evolution of the story and its style slowly happens in the next few months. I let the story sink in as I re-tell it to myself many times. It haunts me in my everyday life. It’s as if it was continuously whispering in my ear: “I’m the one, listen to me!” At one point, I realised I could make a book with it and I started writing a second draft. From there, I made a storyboard and started cutting out vignettes and playing around with them, with pacing.


In the early version of Toto, Didi chooses to pick up Toto and swallows him, satisfyingly. That ending was later dropped because we thought it might just be too weird and cruel and we wanted Didi to retain her naive and pure character, echoing Toto’s personality.


After I’m satisfied with the pacing, I make the drawings that will be used for the final illustrations. Those drawings are quite small at approximately 3 by 4 inches for a full spread. Therefore, I enlarge them with a photocopier.



I am now ready to start painting with gouaches. It takes me around one month to create the illustrations.


After that, I send the illustrations to my publisher who takes it from there. Oh wait, I am the publisher as well! Seriously, throughout the whole process of writing and illustrating Toto, I consult with my good friend and associate at Comme des Géants. Between the two of us, we try to make books as best as they can be!

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and Toto’s Apple as well!

With thanks to Mathieu and Phaidon for this guest post. You can buy a copy of the book here

Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie

toto apple

Every time a foreign children’s book lands on my doorstep, I think of Daniel Hahn, author of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, translator, and a key advocate for imported fiction. He’s certainly right in that there are some gems being published abroad to which the UK’s children deserve access.

This is one such book – a marvellous picture book that extols the virtues of grit, determination, and overcoming failure, yet also providing a witty text and a surprise ending. It reminded me of You Can Do It, Bert by Ole Konnecke.

Toto is a worm attempting to get an apple. His first issue is position.

“The apple is up high.
Toto is down low.”

Each time Toto comes up with a plan – he is a very resourceful worm – and each time the plan fails. The plans are nigh on ridiculous and at the same time wonderful. Toto transforms himself into various other objects or animals in order to obtain his apple. None works. In the end, Toto does get his apple – but simply by a piece of good luck. After all the effort he’s put in though, he pretty much deserves it.

The book doesn’t end here though – it finishes with a rather surprising and whacky twist.

The beauty of this picture book lies in several elements all coming together. The text is delightfully minimal, the illustrations are blocks of bright colours – easily identifiable objects with minimal detail and plenty of white space – both aspects making this a pacey picture book. The white space and minimal text combine to give plenty of opportunity for the readers to discuss what they think will happen, as well as what they would have the worm do next.

Other factors include the playfulness with opposites, and the transformations of the worm – these will inevitably lead creative sorts to experimenting themselves with turning simple block images into other images. The illustrations were made using gouache – a type of opaque watercolour – and it enhances the story beautifully. The blocks of colour can be seen even at the back of the classroom, and close-up they hone the attention.

This is an excellent picture book for young readers. I’m cheering on Toto, even though he’s a worm. Find out how Lavoie created it here. You can buy a copy here.