Marcela Ferreira & Mark Chambers: Bear Vs Dragon

Bear vs Dragon
Marcela Ferreira & Mark Chambers: Bear Vs Dragon

About Author

Marcela Ferreira was born in Rio de Janeiro, and moved to London as a teenager. She started reading picture books (in English) after her children were born and hasn't been able to stop since! Her first two picture books The Treasure (Magic Cat) and The Queen Next Door (Hachette) published in 2023.

Mark Chambers is a British children's illustrator who lives surrounded by the snowy peaks of the French Alps. He was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2013 and won the Sheffield Children's Picture Book Prize in the same year. He has also been shortlisted for the AOI World Illustration Awards.



Bear Vs Dragon  (OUP Children's Books)

June 2024

Bear Vs Dragon is a hilarious picture book about a Bear and a Dragon with a difference of opinion - and the disastrous results of refusing to compromise! It's also about finding a way through our difficulties, and making new friends.

In this month's feature, author Marcela Ferreira and illustrator Mark Chambers give an insight into how the picture book developed and the key ideas that helped in its creation. 

Review:  "This is a super, quick-witted and fast-paced book."

Q&A with Marcela Ferreira & Mark Chambers exploring Bear Vs Dragon

"I think that now more than ever, we must show children how important it is to be tolerant of each other's differences.
To show understanding, compromise, and a willingness to learn about one another."

1.    How did you become an author / illustrator and what are your career highlights to date?

Marcela:   I always enjoyed writing when I was younger but at 14 years old, I had to put it all aside. A move to England meant learning a new language (and culture), and I didn't have the headspace for any more than that. There was just too much going on!

But years later, when my children were born, I found myself immersed in the world of picture books. That time spent reading to my kids became the foundation of my relationship with them today. I was always acutely aware of how important those moments were for both me and them, and I remember wanting to create moments like that for others too - how incredible it would be to be able to write stories that families could read, enjoy and explore together. That was my motivation. But once I started writing, it took 10 years to get signed!  

Mark:  I was always scribbling and creating things when I was growing up but it never crossed my mind that I would follow this career path. I wanted to be a professional Cricketer when I was 14 and then a professional Golfer when I was 18. Drawing was always something I'd be working on in the background though, and I followed this direction into University. Even then I was just happy to be creative and experiment with styles and different mediums, so choosing to do children's books wasn't an area I was looking to develop; picture book illustration was something that happened organically.

2.     What happens in your new picture book, Bear Versus Dragon, and what inspired this story about two creatures who refuse to budge? Mark, why did you decide to illustrate this text?

Marcela:   Bear Vs Dragon is about two very different characters that meet and initially do not see eye to eye. But ultimately, they realise there is more to gain by working together than apart - their biggest gain? Friendship.

Initially, I was unsure where I got the idea from. I wrote the first line straight away, and the characters then jumped off the page. It was all dialogue and I loved writing it. I think Jon Klassen is a huge influence for me.  But once I had the final book in my hands, another story immediately came to mind. The Zax by Dr Seuss is a four-page tale of two characters that refuse to move aside for one another, culminating in a highway built around the stubborn pair.

These two stories are a great example of the different outcomes of co-operation and opposition, of emotional static and growth.  There is no doubt in my mind of The Zax's influence when it comes to Bear Versus Dragon - even if it took years to manifest itself.

Mark:   I was approached by my agency with a new book from Marcela and OUP. I always like working with new authors and after reading the story and seeing how the characters interacted on this bridge, it was very difficult to turn down. I tend to get a lot of guidance from my publishers at the beginning of a project and for this book there were ideas from Marcela as well, so taking all of this onboard, Bear and Dragon were born. Bear was to be this slightly pompous, superior looking character with his feathered hat and Dragon was to be a self-assured, confident female who wasn't going to back down for anyone.

3.    What do the pictures tell us that the words don't, and what were the challenges in illustrating the story, especially as much of it takes place on a rickety bridge?

Marcela:  When I wrote the story, I never once considered the setting (I do now though!). This was mainly to do with my lack of experience, I think - you need lots of things on the page to look at when it comes to picture books, but I just focused on the dialogue, and the bridge...

Of course, my agent James (Catchpole) was all over it in a flash. He liked the story and characters, but they were always in the same place! It was a huge problem. So, I researched how other writers/illustrators dealt with this problem… and I came across a clip of Jon Klassen reading a quote by Alfred Hitchcock - about building suspense, and the difference between suspense and shock. It was a game changer. I think we all understood much better what we were trying to do, and how.

But Mark had the harder job of making a static setting look interesting, and of keeping the readers engaged. Bear and Dragon's expressions, and the subtle breaking of the bridge, were key. He also did a very clever thing: he threw two new characters into the mix - the bird and the snail. These two have been subtly included in every spread, and they add so much! I particularly love the snail - and think her reactions to what is going on really adds to the story. Her look of embarrassment at Bear's BBQ breath insult is priceless.

Mark:   I wanted to try and make the scenes as fun and as interesting as possible because the whole book is effectively set in one setting. From the outset we wanted a 'Bear vs Dragon feature film' look with different angles, a sweeping vista to set the scene on the first spread, and then zooming in closer over the book as the argument heats up and it becomes more character-focused.

It was a nice addition to do the waterfall spread as well where you have to turn the page. It gives a good feeling of impending doom, much like those cartoons where the character falls off the edge and it's a loooong way down.

The biggest challenge was definitely the continuity of the scenes. The bridge slowly gets destroyed as Dragon jumps up and down on it so I was constantly counting the number of wooden planks and how they were joined together so I didn't make a mistake and it flowed nicely. 

4.    Bear Vs Dragon is about two characters who don't want to back down. Is it important to show children that friends don't always get on and that friendships can begin in all sorts of different ways?

Marcela:    Absolutely! Friendship can blossom with anyone; all you need is to be open to it. Often, it is the ones that you least expected that can give you the greatest joy. Friendships can be fast, or slow to grow. There is no one size fits all. Where there is kindness and respect, friendship can grow.

Mark:   I think it's important to understand that we all have different viewpoints on things in life. Some of us agree, some of us don't, and never will, but that shouldn't be the cause of any friction. Our world is a fractious place to live in and you could apply Bear and Dragon's situation to all sorts of current world events. I'd like to think any situation could be resolved amicably, however naïve that may sound. Sometimes though, unfortunately, there's someone who wants to cross the bridge a bit too much and is willing to do almost anything to get to the other side.

5.    There are many moments of humour in the story and illustrations. How do you achieve this, and how important is it to make your readers laugh?

Marcela:    Funny picture books are very important. Especially at the moment. Whether they are funny ha-ha or funny peculiar - to me they are always worth having. Laughter does not only make you feel good, but it's also disarming, relaxing and just good for the soul!  Having a child giggle, or a parent chuckle because of a story you wrote is pure joy.

In Bear Vs Dragon, all the humour begins with the clash of two very different personalities. The insults are the most obvious gags, and the easiest ways to draw in the laughs. But the subtle gags are just as important - and fun - for the story. Like the Dragon Size certificate (tampered with); Bear's list of 'forest' animals ('Baboon… Albatross'), the little snail's reaction to the unfolding drama and the character's expression as they deliver some of their dialogue.

I have a 'Silly Insult Generator' activity that I do with children after a reading, which always goes down well. Giving people licence to laugh at silly words is great fun, and everyone is up for having a go. It is quite infectious.

Mark:  Most of the humour comes from Marcelas' brilliant writing so I can't take too much credit for that. I'm not sure 'Salmon Farts' and 'Barbeque Breath' have ever been written into a picture book, so no wonder people are laughing when they read it. Humour is a great tool to keep the story flowing.

6.    Other than a funny story about new friendships, what would you like young readers to take from Bear Vs Dragon? 

Marcela:    I think that now more than ever, we must show children how important it is to be tolerant of each other's differences. To show understanding, compromise, and a willingness to learn about one another. To have less on-the-spot judgement, and more appetite for co-operation and mutual support. I think we can all go further if we are willing learn these traits.

Mark:   It teaches us about cooperation and points of view. As I mentioned, not everyone is right, not everyone is wrong but there has to be some give and take sometimes otherwise we go in circles and then you both end up not crossing the bridge at all to continue your journey.

7.    Do you have any other stories planned for Bear Vs Dragon? What are you working on currently, and where do you prefer to do your work?

Marcela:    Yes, I have written another Bear v Dragon story. I was worried I would struggle, but just like before, their dialogue and personalities jumped off the page. And I had a lot of fun writing it. They are such great characters, with such brilliant personalities…they definitely have more to say!

I am always writing, always working on new manuscripts - I usually send a batch of three or four to my agent every few months or so in the hopes he chooses a couple for us to develop. I am also finalising a chapter book and have been tinkering with a YA for a good few years now.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of workspace choice. I was never a work-in-a-café sort of person, so I stick with writing in my little office space in my open plan living room. It is not ideal, but I have learnt to switch off when the kids are being loud and am always impressed about how much I can get done with chaos around me.

Mark:  When we lived in the UK I was lucky to have my own studio a short walk from my house in town. Since moving to France I have had to become a lot more flexible as space has been limited. I worked from a kitchen table for a long time due to renovation/climate (very cold) constraints, but thankfully our new studio at our house is slowly coming together (after I installed a woodburner!) and is a little less chaotic.

Current projects include a dinosaur who loves science, some children who find a magic library, a book about dogs and which one is the biggest; and I have just finished Marcela's next book with OUP about a boy who is afraid of sharks.

8.    What are your favourite places to go and what do you enjoy doing to relax?

Marcela:    Relaxing to me is reading a good book by a cool pool under a warm sun. Or having a striking view to appreciate. I am at an age where I enjoy nature a lot more than I ever did - observing changes brought by the seasons is a joy.

My favourite place is my family: when we explore a new city/country together, or simply stick with our own traditions - they make me feel settled. And after experiencing the upheaval of moving countries at a difficult age, it is a welcome feeling. The kids are growing fast, and soon things will change, so I am grateful for the time we have together.

Mark:  We live in the French Pyrénées at altitude so the seasons are very varied from cold winters to very warm/hot summers. We have just had an unusually wet spring so the veg garden is growing very slowly this year. I spend a lot of time in the garden and thankfully the sun is on the way to warm us up and dry everything out.

We are very lucky to live in our holiday destination amongst the mountains and woods of southern France so as soon as we walk out into the garden we are in a very calming, relaxed environment. Buzzards and vultures circle overhead, distant cow and sheep bells ring out from time to time, deer and wild boar run through our forest, and the distant mountains are always calling out for the next dog walk.

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