36 Finalists Blog: Mike Wohnoutka

Mike Wohnoutka, illustrator of How to Apologize by David LaRochelle 

Children’s Literature Category, sponsored by Books for Africa

Each week leading up to the 34th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why?

I‘m proud that David had me in mind to be the illustrator for this book while he was working on the story. David and I have been close friends since I joined his critique group 12 years ago. When he brought How to Apologize to one of our critique group meetings, I knew I wanted to be the illustrator. I thought it was brilliant, hilarious, and timely.  

Since David is a very talented illustrator himself, I always feel a little silly telling him I want to illustrate one of his stories. But I told him anyway, and was thrilled when he enthusiastically said he thought I would be the perfect illustrator for the book. Yay!  

I’m also proud that my paintings help tell the story in a cute, fun way. (Now I do feel like I’m boasting). 

What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?

I think we can all use some brushing up on how to apologize. David did such a wonderful job of coming up with the clever and humorous scenarios, that hopefully nothing in the book comes across as didactic. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category? 

I think it’s a good idea to get to the library and check out lots of picture books to see what’s being published. Also, showing up is the key. The only way I’ve come up with story ideas is to consistently sit down and write every day. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes. Try to carve out a little time each day for your writing and often times 20 minutes will turn into 2 hours. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known.

I have always loved to play tennis, but I’ve really gotten into it more over the last year. In the summer I try to play a few times a week and this winter I’ve been taking classes and going to clinics.

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. Has COVID-19 (and its fallout) impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past two years influenced your writing output in any other ways that you can pinpoint? 

I don’t think my writing output has changed in any significant way since the pandemic, but my working environment has changed quite a bit. The biggest way Covid has impacted my writing life is that I no longer have our house to myself. My wife now works out of the house too. We have two kids in Minneapolis Public Schools, so for a year and a half they also were home every day. So the isolated writing and illustrating life has not been so lonely – which is good and bad! 

Mike Wohnoutka has illustrated over 30 books for children, many of them with David LaRochelle, and is a Minnesota Book Award-winner. He has a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and lives in Minneapolis.