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Remixing Mother Goose
Author/illustrator Phyllis Tildes makes a new story out of old poems
"Will You Be Mine?" by Phyllis Tildes

Local author Phyllis Tildes had a dream of being a children’s book illustrator, and although she it took her until age 50 to make that dream come true, she’s made up for lost time.

Over the last 16 years, she’s worked on 18 books, with subjects ranging from cute cats to more scientific pursuits.
Her newest book, Will You Be Mine?, finds her doing double duty — creating both illustrations and the story, which she composed by cobbling together pieces from about 20 different old poems, including Mother Goose and others. What unfolds is a love story, perfectly suited for Valentine’s Day, about a cat and a poodle who decide to get married.

On Saturday, Tildes will be signing copies of the book at E. Shaver Booksellers from 1–3 p.m. We talked with Tildes last week.

Tell me about your new book.

Phyllis Tildes: Many of my books have to do with nature, pets or folk tales, but this was definitely going to be a collection of Mother Goose rhymes.The main poem the book hangs on is “Hoddley poddley puddles and fogs,/Cats are to marry poodle dogs.” That’s pretty bizarre. “Cats in blue jackets, dogs in red hats,/What will become of the mice and the rats?” I’ve got two characters, a cat and a poodle who are going to get married so it’s going to be silly and it’s going to be young. Having worked in many different styles, I just kind of chose one I thought would work.

When it came to picking poems, was it just a matter of sitting down with a stack of books and looking for choice lines?

Phyllis Tildes: I looked at well over 100 poems and probably narrowed it down to 50 to even consider. From that, I played around with what would work together, and I thought that if I start with this cat character meeting this poodle, why don’t I start out in the wee hours of the morning, that would be “Hickory, Dickory, Doc” so I had the mouse. The mouse became one of the characters. It all just sort of fell into place. It was a lot of trial and error. I did a lot of sketches, a lot of reshuffling and discussing it with my editor and art director.

How did you get started as an illustrator? Was this something you always wanted to do or did you stumble into it?

Phyllis Tildes: It was no stumble. It was a childhood dream. I started drawing when I was very young. I loved to read. I loved to make up stories. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and I majored in illustration with the intent of becoming an illustrator of children’s books. My senior thesis was a children’s book, and I tried to get that published, but didn’t have any luck. I kept trying with different projects, but I had to earn a living so I became a graphic designer and did all kinds of different work. Finally, when I hit my 40s, I asked, “what did I set out to do? And why am I not doing it?”

That’s when I got super serious. It took three years to get published. My first book came out in 1995 when I was 50 years old, and I’ve done 18 books in 16 years since. I always tell the younger folks, “You can have it all, but maybe not all at once.”

Sixteen years later, what is the key to longevity in the children’s book business?

Phyllis Tildes: I wish I knew. All of it is a struggle. Just because I’m published doesn’t mean it’s easy. I still get rejections, even from my own publisher. It just has to be the right project at the right time for the right publisher. The industry is getting more and more difficult. Publishing is in a flurry right now with where it’s going and the whole e–book thing. There’s so much competition. There are so many talented writers and illustrators out there. I wish I knew the secret to longevity. I’ve had a lucky run and I’d like to be able to keep doing more. You have to stay involved and you have to know the business. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Book signing: Phyllis Tildes

When: Saturday, Feb. 12, 1–3 p.m.

Where: E.Shaver Bookseller, 326 Bull St.

Cost: Free