Finding the real Knut

I wanted Josh to be ‘real’ to readers. I can draw cartoony people pretty easily:

Illustration for the inaugural BookWiz, organised by the Children's Book Council (WA Branch)

…but I wanted to have a character that was a bit more realistic than my usual style- still a simple drawing, but with more accurate body language, proportions, and the little quirks that real people have.

I needed to practice drawing kids, so I figured- why don’t I ask a boy about Josh’s age to help me out? I knew there was a blond-haired boy living opposite my parents, who seemed about the right age. His name was Nick (and it still is, I don’t think he’s changed it).

One afternoon, my Dad and I walked across the road and floated the idea with Nick and his parents. “The story is about a boy who wants to be a viking,” I explained. “The boy makes a costume, builds a ship out of a fridge box, and goes on adventures.” I showed my research sketches, including the very first watercolour sketch of Knut I had painted on Rottnest.

Nick was excited. His dad asked him to fetch the things he’d been making. Turned out Nick was as inventive as the boy in the book. He brought out a homemade wooden guitar (shown in the background of the photo below). He’d also made some cardboard armour and a wooden shield.

Nick- cardboard engineer

The Viking costume was almost complete already- Nick had beat me to it. All that was missing was the Viking headgear- so we added some cardboard horns to an old bike helmet. The costume was complete- this is how it turned out:

Nick in character

Then a funny thought occurred to me. In the story, Knut builds a viking ship out of a fridge box. I had just bought myself a fridge, and the empty box was sitting on my verandah. What if Nick and I built a viking ship using the fridge box, just like Knut does in the book?

So we did.

It took us a whole day to do, and I’ll show you the process over the next 3 weeks 🙂

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at .

5 thoughts on “Finding the real Knut”

  1. Hey Norm,

    Look forward to seeing you and your peeps’ success with this and maybe the opportunity to rep it! 🙂 Looks like a great storyline…..

    Good Luck Mate!

  2. Nice work James – and Norm – every success in this !
    Always knew you could draw more than Quokka’s mate …………

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