Palos Verdes' Mathieu Cailler always wrote for adults, publishing short story and poetry collections over the years, but his latest creation, “The (Underappreciated) Life of Humphrey Hawley,” is a children's book that stars a beetle who yearns to be a ladybug.
“He sees the way that ladybugs are adored by humans,” said Cailler, who will give two readings of the children's book on Thursday, Dec. 13, at both Redondo Beach libraries.
“I feel like ladybugs are the only bugs that humans love, maybe butterflies too, but we can't really hang out with butterflies because they fly away. We let ladybugs crawl on us when we wouldn't let any other bug crawl on you.”
Humphrey goes to “extreme measures to be something he's not.”
“After a few days and some discovery he ends up feeling empowered to be himself a beetle,” Cailler said.
Cailler said he feels many children books “seem really infantile,” so he wanted to create a story, with some science blended in, that didn't talk down to children. He also wanted to create a story that parents could enjoy.
“Humphrey” is published by Texas-based About Editions, a publishing house focusing on books for the LGBTQIA community. Cailler said illustrators Carrie Louis Wood and Rebecca Wood brought the book to life with their water color, ink and sharpie drawings.
“I think we've all worn masks at points in our lives and this is kind of striping away the mask, a love of self and kind of being proud of oneself, self love,” Cailler said.
Cailler's interest in writing began when he started with jokes at 13 years old, when he was inspired by Richard Pryor and read Jerry Seinfeld's best-seller “Sein Language.” But when he got older he realized he wanted to write about everything.
Cailler has spent most of his life in Palos Verdes. He pursued philosophy at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He fell in love with writing again when he took a creative writing class his senior year. He was teaching elementary school in the inner-city and getting a master's degree at LMU, but his job was eliminated during budget cuts since he didn't have tenure. He then applied to the Vermont College of Fine Arts where he studied writing.
Aside from his work being published in numerous magazines, he published the poetry books, “Shhh” and “Clotheslines” in 2014, the short story book “Loss Angeles” in 2015, and another book of poetry in 2017, “May I Have This Dance?” Cailler was awarded the Short Story of America Prize for Short Fiction and a Shakespeare Award for Poetry, as well as poetry winner of the New England Book Festival.
Cailler said “Humphrey” is about being “proud of who you are.”
“It takes a long time to get there,” Cailler said. “I want to show children, 'Hey, we all have been called weird' … it's more important to strip that veneer away because everyone has something to offer.”
Cailler will be reading from “Humphrey” at the Redondo Beach Main Library at 10:15 a.m., and the North Branch Library at 1 p.m., on Dec. 13. He also plans readings at children's hospitals like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital.