Exclusive Kidsbook Friends Illustrator Interview: Leslie Stall Widener


While attending a SCBWI Illustrators show in Dallas, I had the opportunity to meet Leslie and her husband Terry. Their artwork drew me to them. I have such a respect for the authors and illustrators I meet and their work. After fourteen months of attending writing conferences and blogging, I am learning what goes into a children’s book. All I can say is “Wow!”. I look at kids’ books so differently now that I know the journey from a manuscript and sketches to a published book.

Leslie’s interview will show you some of the creativity and commitment that goes into a book: “I worked  most of 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for approximately 3 months. . . Before the actual painting began, I made “paper dolls” of each character.”
Enjoy meeting Leslie and her rendition of Chukfi Rabbit and friends:


What experiences, people, and /or books were influential in your life, leading you to illustrate children’s books.

My mother is an artist and early on, I learned by watching her. She and my dad always encouraged me by providing a multitude of art materials for experimenting, formal art lessons and many trips to the local art museum.

Reading was (still is) my second favorite pastime. Libraries have always been like heaven for me. We made regular trips there and in the summertime the bookmobile came to our neighborhood. I was usually first in line, waiting in the church parking lot for it to pull in and park. There were a few times when reading turned hazardous. I tripped over curbs, more than once, as I read while walking home from school.


When did you begin illustrating children’s books? What was your first book and with which publishing agency?

I began as illustrating professionally in the 1990’s when my children were young. I produced  work for a variety of school book publishers, children’s magazines,  and  in 1993, I illustrated a (now out-of-print) children’s book for Summit Publishing, authored by Louise Mandrell and Ace Collins.

Have you written anything and has it been published?

In 2013, I wrote a short story, One Mississippi Clay Pot. It was published in the anthology, Touch My Tears; Tales from the Trail of Tears.


What was the inspiration for the characters in your book?

I heard Greg Rodgers entertain at a storytelling festival with his tale of Chukfi Rabbit and had the opportunity to listen to his inflections and watch his expressions as he told the story. As I drew the character, I would imagine them as he characterized them. This helped me to “see” their faces as the story progressed.


How long did it take you to illustrate your book?

The sketches for Chukfi Rabbit’s Big Bad Bellyache took about 2 months. Much of that time, I was researching the clothing, food, symbols and locations for accuracy. Even though it is a whimsical picture book, it’s important to me to get the details correct. I want to accurately represent Choctaw culture as it would have been years ago.

Once the sketches were approved, I worked  most of 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for approximately 3 months. The watercolor and ink paintings are rendered full size. Before the actual painting began, I made “paper dolls” of each character. I kept these next to me as I painted the illustrations. This helped me to keep each character consistent on the colors, clothing and expressions, as I worked through the book.

What advice can you share with children reading your book?

This book is an entertaining read, but it also teaches about hard work and about Choctaw/Native American culture, traditional clothing and food.

What advice can you give to those of us who are working to write/illustrate/publish children’s books?

This business isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is very rewarding to see all your hard work come to fruition. My advice is to do your homework. Even if you are working on a picture book, remember that children are very observant. Inaccuracies will be noticed.


What are three hobbies/interests you have besides illustrating?

  • Reading. I usually read (and listen to) 2-3 books at a time.
  • Writing. I’m currently working on a middle grade novel.
  • Pottery. My husband and I are going to pottery classes where traditional Choctaw pottery making is taught. It’s great fun and our house is filling up with pottery!


Please leave us with a quote.

I love this quote by Theodore Roosevelt. I keep it by my desk. “Do things. Be sane. Don’t fritter away your time; create, act.”

2014-10-09 20.58.31

Terry & Leslie Widener, Angela Henderson


Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache: https://kidsbookfriends.com/2015/04/21/chukfi-rabbits-big-bad-bellyache-whats-better-than-butter/

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