Once Upon a Story
June 14, 2013

Buzzeo_Just Like My Papa (2)-1Just Like My Papa  by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by: Disney-Hyperion

Release date: April 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

A cuddly and determined lion cub emulates his father, the King of the pride, in many different ways in this gorgeously illustrated picture book set on the African savanna.

My thoughts:

Need a last-minute Father’s Day gift?  You know how I feel about the lasting power of giving books as gifts, right?  And this one is just perfect.

From the time the sun starts to rise, little Kito is by his Papa’s side.  Whether they are dozing from the hot sun, playing on the savanna, or helping the females with the evening hunt, Kito and Papa are a team.  And when the sun goes down and the moon rises again, Kito and his Papa stand guard together, current and future king.

This story has a very warm and cuddly feel, more traditional in nature.  And the acrylic illustrations are stunning.  Full page spreads of the savanna at different times of day, a giant king and his small son. It’s almost larger than life.

Toni and Mike were kind enough to answer a few questions.  Here’s a little more about this wonderful team.

Toni Buzzeo author photo_credit Sasha Salzberg(1)Toni Buzzeo is the author of nineteen picture books for children, including Stay Close to Mama, a companion to Just Like My Papa, the Caldecott Honor winning One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small, and No T. Rex in the Library, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. For sixteen years, she worked as a Maine school librarian. She combines her knowledge of children’s literature with her love of children to write about characters of all stripes (including lions, giraffes, dinosaurs, penguins, loons, and human children) who explore their worlds, their relationships, and themselves in a variety of settings.
Toni works both from a writing cottage just past the gardens at her colonial farmhouse in Buxton, Maine and from her sunny winter nest in Sarasota, Florida. Visit her at www.tonibuzzeo.com.
Mike Wohnoutka (www.mikewohnoutka.com) grew up in Spicer, Minnesota. His dad, an engineer, would bring home reams of paper with highway plans on one side. Mike filled the blank side of the sheets with drawings of race cars, snowmobiles, baseball players, super heroes—everything he was interested in. In high school his art teacher encouraged him to pursue art as a career. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a B.F.A. in illustration. Mike has published books with Random House, Dutton, Clarion, and Holiday House. He enjoys visiting schools and talking to students about illustrating children’s books. He currently resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.
 And because I’m always curious about what goes on behind a story, I asked if Toni and Mike would mind answering a few questions.  They were very generous with their time, and offered a personal peek behind the inspiration for Just Like My Papa. 
Read on!

Toni, a strong sense of love and pride (no pun intended) comes through with this story. As a parent with two young children, I can relate to the relationship between Kito and his Papa.  You also have a son, now grown.  Was this book in any way a walk down memory lane for you?


Just Like My Papa was very much a memory walk for me, yes! My grown son Topher, who is just now planning to start his own family, has always been very close to my husband Ken. When he was a little guy, Topher loved to work right alongside his dad—especially when TOOLS were involved.

Topher and Ken remodeling2-2

As Topher grew older, though, he transferred his passions to computers, and he seemed less interested in being glued to Ken’s side during our never-ending renovation projects. Instead, the two spent time hiking together and pursuing interests out of doors.

A year ago, however, Topher and his wife Caitlin bought a condo and suddenly now there are long weekends during which the old tool-toting duo resurfaces, with Topher eager to learn everything his dad knows about wiring, plumbing, carpentry, and general household refurbishing. In fact, for Christmas last year, Ken built an amazing workbench for Topher, complete with storage space for every tool a guy could want. It’s such a pleasure to witness this renewed interaction between my own Kito and Papa!


This is your second collaboration with Mike Wohnoutka.  Your first, Stay Close to Mama, also has an African setting and a main character with a Swahili name.  Do you have a personal connection to this region?

I have a very personal connection to Kenya, Africa. I first visited for a month in 1995 and fell in love with the country and the animals. In fact, it was there that I found the germ of the story for Stay Close to Mama! I was lucky enough to return in 2012 to speak at the International School of Kenya in Nairobi after a weeklong visit to the International Community School of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. As a gift to ourselves, my husband Ken and I took three additional days at the end of our journey to return to Amboseli National Park in the shadow of Mount Kilmanjaro. What bliss! And because Just Like My Papa was underway, Mother Nature gave me the honor of spending time with the Papa Lion you see right here.

Toni Buzzeo photo_Lion 2 in Amboseli National Park

Had I been brave—or is the proper word foolish?—enough to reach out the window of our open-air vehicle, I’d nearly have been able to touch him!

Our next book, entitled My Bibi Always Remembers, is also set in my beloved Kenya and will be graced with Mike’s gorgeous illustrations. It tells the story of the elephants of Amboseli and the loving matriarch, Bibi, who in a time of great drought, cares for her family and teaches her grandchild everything she needs to know to become the family matriarch herself someday.


Mike, the full-spread illustrations in the book are stunning.  As an urban dweller, I don’t get to see skies like the ones you have depicted here very often.  I’m guessing your hometown of Minneapolis doesn’t get skies like these very often either, so where does your inspiration for this book come from?

Thank you!

Whenever I start a new book I get lots of visual reference, but there comes a point when I need to put all of that reference away and make the illustrations my own.  My inspiration often comes from the emotion of the story.  Fortunately Toni’s beautiful stories are full of emotion. The sky for me is the emotional core.  So when Kito is asleep on his father’s paw there is only subtle contrast between the billowy clouds and sky giving the piece a calm stillness.  In comparison, when the lionesses are chasing the wildebeests there is much more contrast (in color and value) in the sky to add to the drama of the scene. It’s a matter of painting and painting until I feel that I’ve captured that specific emotion I’m looking for.

Mike KitoSleepingWeb

Illustrations © 2013 by Mike Wohnoutka from Just Like My Papa

Mike Chasing

Illustrations © 2013 by Mike Wohnoutka from Just Like My Papa

Mike, you have two young children, who are prominently (and adorably!) displayed on biography

portion of your website.  While they may not be learning how to lead a pride, or bring down a wildeb

Mike Family

Mike and his family at a publication party for Stay Close to Mama

Thank you, again!

Unfortunately, my father was not patient and I have no memory of him playing with me.  So I was really nervous about becoming a father.  I didn’t want to be an impatient, angry dad always yelling at my kids. Shortly after my son, Franklin, was born I took many ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) classes. This helped immensely.  Having an amazing wife helped, too!

I want my kids to be loving and curious. Hopefully they will learn some of this from me.  They will learn this by example, but also, I believe, through books.  We read together so much as a family. I think this is one of the most important things I can do for them.


Toni and Mike, Just Like My Papa, is a story about a child (or cub’s) personal hero.  Every child needs one of these.  Did you have a personal hero in childhood?

Toni: My personal hero is the man to whom Just Like My Papa is dedicated, my Uncle John Mackey. I love him for who he is—a strong, capable, and endlessly curious man—and for who he has always been for me, my rock, the source of unconditional love through some mighty difficult times. How lucky I am to have him in my life still and to have the opportunity to spend time with him every week during the winter months I spend in Sarasota, Florida. Even now, as he struggles with a devastating loss of eyesight, I learn from his resiliency and his optimism. He really is my hero!

Mike and Mr Chase

Mike and his art teacher, Mr. Chase (left) at a booksigning.

Mike: I would have to say my high school art teacher, Mr. Chase.  He is the first person to instill the love of drawing in me.  His humor and fun-loving personality was infectious. But he also pushed me and made sure I never took my talent for granted—there is always room for improvement.  He was also the first person to tell me that if I worked really hard, someday I could actually make a living creating art!


Thank you so much to Toni and Mike for your time!

And thanks to the generosity of Disney-Hyperion, I have a signed copy of Just Like My Papa to give away! (Open to U.S. and Canada). Just fill out the Rafflecopter below between now and FRIDAY, JUNE 28th. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


For more Just Like Papa fun, visit the other stops on the tour.

Children’s Book Review – http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
Kid Lit Frenzy –  http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
As They Grow Up –  http://www.astheygrowup.com/
Susan Heim on Parenting – http://susanheim.blogspot.com/
Mundie Kids – http://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – http://insatia blereaders.blogspot.com/
There’s a Book – http://www.theresabook.com/
Momma Drama – http://blogginmommadrama.blogspot.com/
One Book at a Time – http://onebooktime.blogspot.com/

4 responses to “Interview and Giveaway: Just Like My Papa”

  1. I love the scaredy squirrel books! THank you for the contest. i love the illustrations.

  2. stacybuckeye says:

    I wish I had read this in time for Father’s Day. Both my guys would love it.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    Can I call Harry (w the purple crayon) a hero? His creativity is something I want my son to aspire to 🙂

  4. Erica says:

    I was recently reminded of a few Roald Dahl books and I think Matilda Wormwood is a fantastic heroine!

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