KMP: For those readers who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell us about some of the themes in your books?
PH: Almost all the characters in my picture books are animals. From a fly, mouse and birds to an elephant. I like drawing animals and it's easy for little children to identify with animal characters. I try for my books to be fun, but equally I like to have some message in the book. My books are about friendship, love, and belonging. Blue Penguin is for example about being different.
KMP: When did you start illustrating stories for children? Was there a children's picture book illustrator who particularly inspired you growing up?
PH: I grew up in Czechoslovakia and books I used to have as a little child were different from the books you may know. One of my favourite illustrators was Josef Lada. I used to copy his drawings quite often. The book, which made me do my own picture books, was Eric Carl's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I discovered the book rather late in my life when my first daughter was born. I fell in love with Eric Carl's books.
KMP: Your illustrations have an incredible ability to come to life on the page, can you tell us about your illustrative process? Do you usually sketch your illustrations in pencil first?
PH: Yes, I don't know an illustrator who could live without a pencil. I draw a lot and it takes a long time before I'm ready to do the final illustrations. I often keep the pencil drawing clearly visible in my illustrations. I know that picture books teach children to love words and literature but equally it's teaching them to love art. Showing them and giving them a hint of how I do the artwork could inspire them and may encourage them to pick up a pencil themselves.
KMP: I love how you have the train in Choo Choo arrive at the beach at the end -- was that inspired by a particular place?
PH: I like traveling by train. As I grew up in Czechoslovakia I didn’t see the sea until I was teenager, so the seaside would be just the ultimate destination for my journey by the train. When I arrived for the first time in Weston Super Mare I thought: "this is like traveling through my board book".
KMP: Do you have any upcoming publications that you can tell us about?
PH: My latest picture book is The Greedy Goat. It's a rather funny book, but it also teaches children the days of the week and colours. I’ve just came back from the Edinburgh International Book Festival where I was also promoting A First Book of Animals. It is written by the amazing writer Nicola Davies. I did the illustrations.
A First Book of Animals is a bit different from what I normally do since I hardly ever work with another writer, but this book was such a pleasure to work on. I only saw the printed version a couple of days ago and I was very pleased with the printing quality of the book. I enjoyed working on the book very much. My next book which I'm now finishing will be another story of Little Mouse, but it's going to be published in the spring of next year.
KMP: For every author there's a long list of favorite childhood stories -- would you share some of yours?
PH: Well the answer is in a previous question. I grew up with books you wouldn't know, but I wish I would have known the Winnie The Pooh stories when I was a child.
KMP: Lastly, if you had to recommend five of your books for a child in the 0-3 age range to start with, which would they be?
We talked about board books, so I'll start with them Strawberries are Red and Run Mouse Run are my favourite board books. For the picture books I would choose When the Moon Smiled, A New House for Mouse and definitely Elephant.
KMP: Many thanks to Petr Horacek for sharing his work with us! My son is a big fan of his books. To my readers: do you have a favorite?