I have zero artistic talent. I mean, I'm not so bad at stick figures, but anything beyond that? Forget it. So the idea that an artist can create these pictures that are meaningful, beautiful, and fun blows my mind.
My favorite illustration from my series of nonfiction picture books is the first one that Hui Li did for us. I am extremely lucky that I also work as an editor for the publishing house (Nomad Press) that published my books, so I got to be a part of every single step of the process, from concept to illustrator search to editing to checking final proofs. And I'm pretty sure my absolutely favorite moment in this entire process was when the team took a look at the dozens of entries we received from our call for an illustrator.
While many of these illustrations were truly gorgeous, one stood out. It was a spread of two kids watching out a window as a woman walked by with her dog. Red cheeks, button noses, and an adorable dog, a loud radio—four of us from the design and editorial teams stood at the design studio table for half an hour to point out new elements we kept spotting. It was the kind of picture that kept drawing you in, that you could look at for a week and still discover something new. It was filled with motion and color and energy.
There was really no contest.
And Hui kept impressing us, all the way through the illustrating process.
But with all of the illustrations she did across four books (!) it's that first one that makes me smile every time. Because that's when the book was truly born.
Thanks for reading!
WAVES by Andi Diehn, illustrated by Shululu (Hui Li)
Nomad Press, March 2018
I absolutely love the artwork in my debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH. My illustrator, Sandie Sonke (http://www.sandiesonkeillustration.com) expanded on the essence of the story with her beautiful illustrations. Sandie truly understood my vision, and exceeded my expectations. I always thought that the magic of a picture book occurs when the pictures meet the words, and now I know this is true. When I first saw the illustration that became the cover, I stared with tears in my eyes. I keep a photo of the cover on my phone and peek at it quite often!
Here are two of the inside illustrations that I particularly love:
The first page spread introduces the story. Sandie shows Scarlet, with her red hair and flower wreath, holding the magic paintbrush. Scarlet’s expression is full of joy. The brush radiates its own distinct personality thanks to Sandie’s depiction. On the opposite page, Sandie shows paintings of a princess, unicorn, and fairy. The color palette Sandie chose is soft and vibrant. And Sandie’s placement of Scarlet’s pet dog here on this first spread and throughout the story is an extra visual interest that young readers will enjoy.
I am also fond of this second spread. Here, Sandie depicts the moments after Scarlet loses her magic paintbrush. Readers will notice Scarlet’s dejected expression. Even the dog is hiding under the table. I hope that kids will be able to relate to this experience of losing something important to them. Also, I was delighted to see the cat clock hanging on the wall. I had the exact same clock hanging in my room when I was a little girl. I know that whenever I open the book to this page I will smile.
As something to look forward to, the final spread is a total masterpiece!
Thanks for reading about these enchanted illustrations from my debut picture book – I’m so excited to share the entire book with everyone soon!
SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
by Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Sandie Sonke
Clear Fork Publishing, August 2018
Available for pre-order at https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p66/ScarletMagicPaintbrush.
With an amazing illustrator like Elizabeth Baddeley, it’s hard to choose a favorite illustration!
From sketches to proofs to F&G, the whole process was new for me. What fun to see the story go from my imagination to something much grander! The illustrations are bursting with life, humor, and historical detail. Ben and Noah are captivating, and Elizabeth’s creative surprises depicting spelling issues are delightful.
So how do I choose? Each illustration is endearing in its own way, but I have to admit to some favorites that just blew me away - because of the amazing creativity, or the energy, or the details that support the text and provide context. I don’t want to share my favorite at the end – I’d rather leave it for you to explore and discover.
But just because you took the time to read this, I’ll share one in the middle that I find totally irresistible. It’s jam-packed—full of energy and internal conflict (what’s more fun than that?) and subtle humorous details for those with a patient and keen eye. This basic scene of Noah Webster at his desk appears several times in the book, but is different each time. As much as I’d love to point out all the features of this illustration that I adore, I’ll ZIP IT and leave it to you…..
What an honor to have this amazing illustrator bring life to my text!
Thank you, Elizabeth Baddeley!
AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION by Beth Anderson, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 25, 2018
Now available for preorder.
10 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured five damselfly species and five dragonfly species.
I’ve always loved dragonflies, and I was fascinated when I discovered damselflies were a different species than dragonflies. Why weren’t there any children’s books about the differences between the species? I thought I’d write one. My writing group convinced me more insect variety would make the story pop.
9 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured cosmos instead of yarrow.
But farrow and yarrow sounds so much better than cosmos and yarrow! My writing group also pointed out that all the other rhymes really worked, but cosmos and farrow just didn’t, even if I really wanted it to. After all, I love fuschia and pale pink cosmos. There had to be a way to work them into this book. But since there aren’t any insects called gizmos, at least not that I know of, I had to weed out the cosmos and plant yarrow. Then, Suzanne Kaufman worked her magic!
8 drafts ago 100 Bugs! featured two dragonfly species, two damselfly species, two butterfly species, two bumblebee species, ladybugs and lightning bugs.
Walkingsticks, leafhoppers, spittlebugs and katydids weren’t in the picture. When Susan Dobinick, the original FSG editor who eventually acquired 100 Bugs!, first contacted me, she told me she wanted me to revise and include ten different insects. She also stipulated that I definitely had to include the bug all the kids liked, then she blanked on the name. Thank goodness “walkingstick” came to her before the end of the conversation because I had no idea what bug she was talking about. All of my favorite bugs were already in the book!
She also said she wanted scientific back matter for the ten different plants and the ten different insects. Finally, she acknowledged that I had a full-time teaching job and a family, but told me she needed the revision within a month’s time. Did I panic? Maybe a tiny bit, but becoming a published writer was a goal I’d been working toward for twelve years. I was willing to go to any length to do what needed to be done. So, I researched a couple of hours before work and a couple of hours after work each day. A month later there were ten different bugs, and back matter for all the insects and flowers.
7 drafts ago 100 Bugs! only featured a boy, not a girl.
But that changed when editor Janine O’Malley brought Suzanne Kaufman on board to illustrate the book. Not only did the boy gain the cutest little sister ever, he also scored a dog all in the same draft! Happy boy!
6 drafts ago 100 Bugs! started with the walkingstick spread.
It’s true. I swear it. I know it’s hard to believe that the super cute opening spread with the brother and sister in bed didn’t exist, but that’s the truth. Originally, the title page had the brother and sister leaving the house. The old title page resembled the current walkingstick spread. But Suzanne had already come up with the gorgeous sunrise and sunset end papers. So, Janine wanted the story to start with the kids waking up.
I reached out to Melissa Stewart, April Prince and Joannie Duris to help me brainstorm the verse. We sent emails back and forth, but nothing seemed quite right. So, I went to bed. When I rose with the sun the next morning, the phrase, “Explorers, explorers rising with the sun,” streamed into my head and a new beginning dawned.
5 drafts ago 100 Bugs! A Counting book ended with the lightning bug spread.
But that was before we started with the explorers in bed. The beginning has to hold the end of the book. So, I wrote the “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” spread so that Suzanne could showcase the explorers back in bed at the end of their day.
4 drafts ago 100 Bugs! didn’t include the brother and sister holding the book 100 Bugs! in their hands.
That was all Suzanne and Janine’s idea. That’s the best part about collaborating on a book with other people. Their ideas and modifications create a much better product than it would have been had they not been involved in the book
3 drafts ago 100 Bugs! A Counting Book was titled 100 Bugs Out and About.
Yeah, my original title was playful, but it didn’t emphasize the mathematical concepts in the book enough. So, we tried some other titles that were way too mathematical: 100 Bugs! 10 Ways to Count to 10 or 100 Bugs! Counting by tens to 100 or 100 Bugs! 10 groups of 10. Finally, Janine and the marketing department suggested 100 Bugs! A Counting Book—an inviting, but not confusing name.
2 drafts ago 100 Bugs! counted by tens on each spread.
But that didn’t work because there was no way to illustrate all those bugs on each spread. So, I came up with the idea to create a single spread near the end of the book that would feature all 100 bugs! Janine liked the idea and passed it onto Suzanne.
The first draft of that spread didn’t work because it alternated between a line of illustrated bugs and a line of text counting by tens. It was hard to see the number of bugs growing. So, I put the spread up on a SMARTboard at school to see my teaching colleagues’, Kristin Milton, Pam Trefry and Teresa Zuckerman reactions. They looked as confused as I felt. But, as always, they had a solution—move all the text to the left-hand side, the verso, and move all the insects to the right-hand side, the recto.
It was a great solution but how could I explain it to Janine and Suzanne? I decided to draw up a mock spread. I copied and pasted the counting by tens lines into one document, printed them and glued them down onto the left-hand side of a piece of graph paper. Then, to save time and because I’m not the world’s best artist to say the least, I used exes to represent the bugs in the array on the right-hand side of the book.
Then, I emailed it to Janine who emailed it to Suzanne. Somehow I hadn’t communicated clearly to Janine that the exes were supposed to represent fully drawn bugs. So, when I saw the new spread, it had all the text on the left-hand side and 100 exes on the right… oops!
I laughed out loud and explained what I had meant. The third time worked, and Suzanne created a gorgeous spread.
1 draft ago 100 Bugs! didn’t feature any perched damselflies.
What’s the big deal? Who cares, right? Well remember back in the beginning I told you that I wanted to write a book that distinguished between damselflies and dragonflies? Well, one of the easiest ways to tell them apart is to look at the wings of a perched dragonfly or damselfly. If they’re straight and open, you’re looking at a dragonfly. However, if they’re partially or completely closed, you’re looking at a damselfly. That’s the story of how one damselfly came to perch on the edge of the wishing well.
It’s also the story of how 100 Bugs! A Counting Book transformed from a manuscript in my computer to a book on your shelf.
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK by Kate Narita illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Farrar Straus Giroux June 12, 2018
Available for Pre-order Now