MIRKA HOKKANEN: Will Write and Illustrate for Cookies Plus Giveaway


Plate of Cookies




I love all of my Will Write and Illustrate for Cookies guests…but it’s always special when the guest is someone I know really well. Today’s guest will always hold a cherished spot in my heart – she is the illustrator of FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN! It was Mirka Hokkanen’s fabulous woodcut art that brought my text to life in such a unique way. We’ve been CPs and kept up our friendship as Mirka moved across the world. Thank goodness for the world wide web!

Mirka Hokkanen is a Finnish-American printmaker, illustrator and entrepreneur with over 15 years experience. Her prints have been shown in galleries around the world and her illustrations have been featured on products from picture books to home goods. Her quirky and retro inspired art highlights the beauty in the mundane, focusing on the flora and fauna that surrounds us. You can learn more about Mirka and her projects and connect with her at: http://www.mirkah.com/ and, if you want to see FABULOUS items that she creates, please visit her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ShopPicaDoodlePress

ME: WELCOME, Mirka! I’m so thrilled you were able to stop by to chat with us and share a little bit about yourself and your Brand-New Author-Illustrator Debut Book, MOSSY AND TWEED: Crazy for Coconuts…a copy of which, thanks to your generosity, my friend, is up for grabs as the giveaway (readers, make sure you leave a comment and share the post for extra tickets in the giveaway hat).

So, let’s get started.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

MIRKA: Looking back at what I remember, it wasn’t as much authors or illustrators, but the types of books I looked for. I loved anything that had flaps or pull tabs, like Eric Hill’s Spot books, and books that had some sort of a magical/surreal element, like The Munchy Bunch or Barbapapa. And I loved Richard Scarry illustrations, especially when it was a cutout of something! I think one thing that all those had in common was that I felt like I was being let in on a little secret when I could see behind or inside things on a flat page, and it was easy to imagine myself in these worlds. I still love all those books and pick up new ones when I see them.

And speaking of gnomes, my grandmother had a pop-up book of gnomes by Rien Poortvliet, and I treasured it! I would read it on my belly on the floor, with the book in front of my nose, like I was a little gnome inside their world. There was a page in that book that even had a little gnome on a swing suspended with two threads, so when you turned the page, it could swing back and forth.   

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

MIRKA: I always felt that writing was hard, but with the help of events like Storystorm, and lots of practice it has gotten easier. I wish some one had told me that generating ideas is a skill like any other, and the more you practice the better you get at it. I thought for decades that I was not able to come up with ideas for books, but the truth was that I had not been taught how to generate ideas. I wish I would have realized that when I was a teenager. But back then the internet was just starting out, and we didn’t have the communities and resources available that we do now. So we live at a great time for realizing dreams and reaching goals.

And for anyone who wants to pop over to the Storystorm post that Mirka wrote for Day 2 of the Challenge, please click on the hyperlink.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

MIRKA: I am scatterbrained, and writing is a hard task for me to settle into. I usually schedule several days or a week to write or edit a manuscript. One, because I am also figuring out visuals as I go and it makes it slower, and two, because I need a few days of procrastination to kick myself into the right headspace. I always have a cup of tea, and often write in Google docs on my iPad in the living room chair. I’ll most likely have a stack of reference books next to me in case I feel stuck and a lot of times before I start writing, I’ll flip through my favorite books in there for encouragement and inspiration (and procrastination LOL).

ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

MIRKA: For actual manuscript writing, I often write in the late morning after I drop my last kid off at daycare and walk the dog. Then I know I’ll have a few hours of uninterrupted time before the first one comes home from school. And if I got into a good start, I’ll often continue at night after kids go to bed, also knowing that I won’t be interrupted.

As a parent for 3 kids, I schedule myself time to write when I need to. I have learned not to wait for inspiration, because it always shows up after I sit down and get to work. But before I get to that point, I usually turn an idea around in my head for a long time, sometimes over a year, looking at it from many angles, thinking about possible plot points, before I write much about it. I take short notes of those thoughts on my phone, especially when the ideas hit me at night when I’m already in bed. It’s a great time to mull things over because it’s dark and quiet and I can really work on an idea and not be distracted. I tried journals, but misplace them regularly, and they are never where I need them, so using Evernote on my phone seems to fix that, even though it’s not the greatest to then go back and look through stuff logged in over the years.  

ME: Why do you write for children?

MIRKA: As a visual person I never grew out of picture books. I’m happy to have kids to share them with now, but the books I buy for them are bought just as much for me. Having children also changed picture books for me. Instead of a very personal experience of how much I liked reading one, it became a bonding and sharing activity. We’ve created so many precious memories around reading and books, and I want to share and create those moments for others. I hope that parents who read my books will be able to have the same kinds of experiences with their kids that I‘ve had with mine; lots of laughs, cuddles, being curious about our world, using your imagination, and learning new things.     

ME: Also, if you have anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.

MIRKA: My debut author-illustrated book, MOSSY AND TWEED: CRAZY FOR COCONUTS, was created for young kids just learning to read on their own. The text is simple and the funny action-packed illustrations fill in to tell the story even if the reader might still be struggling to understand some of the words. I hope that this series is an easy way to lead reluctant readers into the world of books and reading. MOSSY AND TWEED: DOUBLE TROUBLE the sequel publishes in 2024, and I hope these are just the first two books of a longer series.

For extra activities after reading, I have created a free downloadable PDF, that includes Mossy and Tweed mazes, scissor skills, coloring pages, and math and story structure work sheets. They can be downloaded on my website at mirkah.com/books. If you’d like to receive updates on upcoming books, please sign up for my newsletter while there.

Other discussion and hands-on activity ideas to go with the book:

Friendship: Grownup-led discussion. What is a good friend like? Was Tweed a good friend? Was Mossy a good friend? How can you tell? What happens when you have a disagreement with a friend? What would be a good way to solve a disagreement?

STEAM: Brainstorming ideas how kids would solve cracking a coconut and then writing or drawing about it.      

STEAM: Using recycled materials (coconut shells if you can get them!) build a new house for Mossy and Tweed.

WOW…thank you for sharing so many activities for parents and teachers to use with their kiddos!!

I want to remind everyone to make sure they leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of Mirka’s brand new book, MOSSY AND TWEED: Crazy for Coconuts.

Well, that’s all folks! I know we usually have a cookie/treat recipe, but somehow I must have missed the one that Mirka sent…I’ll check in with her and add it when I have it. In the meantime, be healthy and eat fruit! And on Tuesday, please help me celebrate the launch of the board book edition of Pippa’s Passover Plate – I’ll be over at Erin Dealey’s wonderful blog – doing a Q&A with the other members of the #JewishBoardBooks group!
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

18 thoughts on “MIRKA HOKKANEN: Will Write and Illustrate for Cookies Plus Giveaway

  1. Great post Mirka & Vivian! I am really excited to see Mirka’s new book. I think my grandparents had the same gnome book. I hope you get lots of pictures from kids about the new houses they built for Mossy & Tweed. (I shared on Twitter.)


  2. I love your illustrations in Vivian’s Four Otters Toboggan and I’m thrilled to know you are now writing your own books. Your extra activities for young readers are a wonderful gift. I’ve been participating in Storystorm for years and love it. Thank you for this interesting interview, Vivian.


  3. Great interview! I can’t wait to read Mossy and Tweed, and thanks for sharing the fun kid activities too. My kids will love them!


  4. Mirka, Loved hearing about the books you read as a child. There is definitely something about lift the flap and/or pull tabs that appeals to kids. Hooray for your series. It looks and sounds perfect for early readers.


  5. Hi, Mirka and Vivian! Mirka, it is so refreshing to hear that someone else “takes time to settle in” when they write. It’s the same way for me! I’m always a bit anxious to start the work, so I dawdle a bit at getting started.

    Thanks for this interview–I enjoyed it very much. Congrats on your auth/illo debut!

    –Jessica Whipple


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