Canby native Carrie Tillotson grew up wanting to be a children’s book author or illustrator, but for many years, it appeared life had taken her down a different path.
“I wanted to be an illustrator when I was very little,” the Canby High School grad said in a recent episode of the Now Hear This: Canby podcast. “When I was 3, I wanted to be the person who made the pictures for coloring books. I was always an art kid. I never really thought of myself as an author.”
Actually, she harbored the childhood belief that books were only written by dead people — until the fateful day she met a real-life author — and it dawned on her that that career path could be open to her, too.
But, again, life happened. Tillotson ended up earning a master’s degree in epidemiology and public health, and worked for more than a decade as a biostatistician, researching various studies and helping verify their results and make them more accessible to scientists and the general public.
All along, though, there was that little voice in the back of her mind, whispering that she had other talents to still explore. It eventually led her to the website of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
“I was always stalking their website thinking, ‘It would be so cool to be an author or an illustrator,'” she recalled. “Then one year, I realized, ‘Well, there’s nothing stopping you but yourself.’ So, I just dove in and started writing. That was about eight years ago, and I’ve never looked back.”
The journey culminated this week with the release of her debut children’s book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, illustrated by Estrela Lourenço and published by Flamingo Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.
Hilariously written and delightfully illustrated, Counting to Bananas has already received rave reviews from the likes of Kirkus and Parents Magazine and has been compared favorably to Jory John and Pete Oswald’s The Bad Seed series.
The book tells the story of a narrator counting various fruits and non-fruits, and being increasingly heckled by the titular Banana, who wants more of the spotlight. The story is charming, fun, silly and, believe it or not, inspired by real events.
“The story is from an interaction between my son and his swimming instructor,” Tillotson said. “Every class, he’d have to do a skill called a starfish float for 10 seconds. And his instructor would count ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…bananas!’ And, of course, he thought that was hysterical.
Carrie Tillotson on Twitter: “🌟🍌It’s finally here! 🍌🌟Counting to Bananas is out in the world today!PBs don’t often have space for acknowledgements, so I want to acknowledge the MANY people who have helped usher this book into being here: a thread.1/16@kidlitcaravan @penguinkids @penguinclassroom pic.twitter.com/T0vjLOsa0K / Twitter”
🌟🍌It’s finally here! 🍌🌟Counting to Bananas is out in the world today!PBs don’t often have space for acknowledgements, so I want to acknowledge the MANY people who have helped usher this book into being here: a thread.1/16@kidlitcaravan @penguinkids @penguinclassroom pic.twitter.com/T0vjLOsa0K
“I remember one time, his instructor asked him, ‘Don’t you like my counting to bananas?’ And I just thought, ‘That is a great title for a picture book.'”
Surprisingly, the book also dovetails with Tillotson’s previous life.
“In my first epidemiology course, our professor said, ‘As an epidemiologist, you count. That’s the job,'” she recalled with a laugh. “So, really, this book does tie into epidemiology and biostatistics.”
The project was brought to life by Lourenço, a Portuguese illustrator living in Ireland. Despite spending countless hours together working on both Counting to Bananas and its forthcoming sequel, the two have only ever met through Zoom.
“I hope to meet her in person someday,” Tillotson said with a chuckle. “She’s really wonderful, and I was so excited to be able to work with her on this book. Her work is amazing, I feel so lucky to have gotten paired up with her.”
The pair’s next project is B Is for Bananas: A Going Bananas Alphabet Book and is due out from Flamingo Books next spring. In this story, the lovable and opinionated Banana returns to now disrupt the conventions of a bedtime alphabet book.
For more information about Tillotson and her work, visit carrietillotson.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @carrietillotson. Counting to Bananas is now available online and wherever books are sold.
Tillotson will be hosting a book launch and storytime in Canby at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 23, at The Book Nook, 249 NW 2nd Avenue.
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