By Rachel Breitweser ’03
Author Booki Vivat didn’t set out to write a book. In fact, she never intended for her work to be seen. It was during a team dinner at Harper Collins Publishing where she was exposed as an illustrator after one of her coworkers saw her planner.
Her planners, which had kept track of her daily activities and deadlines since she was in grade school, had evolved into a pencil-and-ink diary of an illustrated avatar.
“There’s a story here,” said an editor, passing around Vivat’s planner, filled with bold hand lettering and personal pictorial vignettes of her travels, achievements and trepidations. This was the inspiring story Vivat shared with students this spring as writer-in-residence at Punahou.
“It’s a dream come true,” gushed a fifth-grader seated in the first row as Vivat was introduced in Bishop Learning Commons, one of a handful of places on campus where she spoke to over 400 students from fourth grade to the Academy.
The author was on campus to talk about the creative process behind her debut novel, “Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom.” The novel, which she wrote and illustrated, follows the life of Abbie Wu as she enters middle school and explores the eternal questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my Thing?
Vivat shared with students the parallels between herself and her character. She talked about how Abbie’s perseverance through uncertainty was directly inspired by Vivat’s own experiences and, at times, feelings of being “overwhelmed and underprepared” throughout life.
Like Abbie, Vivat’s journey started in grade school. “There were kids in my art class who were good, and I didn’t think I was one of them,” said Vivat.
Later, when “jazzing up” her planners and doodling with friends, she realized she could incorporate art as a means to express herself. “I went back to simple forms, like stick figures,” said Vivat. “This, I can do,” she told herself. “Even though I wasn’t an artist, I could convey a lot of emotion,” she said.
Vivat demonstrated to students how she translated her planners into a narrative, offering to draw Abbie reacting to a scenario of students’ choosing.
“When I work, I ask myself two questions: How is the character feeling, and what is the character reacting to?” she shared.
Illustrating on an electronic drawing pad for students to see on a large screen, Vivat showed how she could display anger through the change of an eyebrow or confusion by substituting spirals for eyes. She also showed how she incorporates text, which she writes as she illustrates, rather than the conventional way of creating a manuscript first.
“Frazzled” is the first of a three-part series. Vivat gave students a sneak peek of the new novel as she flipped through her sketchbook.
In an afternoon session open to students, faculty and staff, many left commenting on how fully Vivat captured emotion in her sketches, adding so much to her story.