Category Archives: The Original Art 2011 series – a peek behind the scenes

We found The Gingerbread Man!

Here's where "The Gingerbread Man: Loose in the School" story begins! Words + Pictures = Magic!  The best picture books are the epitome of the smooth teamwork between author, editor, artist, and art director/book designer. Here’s one case study of such a collaboration.

Many kindergarteners around the country have been successfully averted from first day jitters at school when the alert goes out that a cute little gingerbread boy is lost on the school grounds, and must be found!

Author Laura Murray relates one cookie’s side of the story in The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, corroborated by Mike Lowery‘s action-packed illustrations.


click to enlarge

Joy Chu:  Tell us about the genesis of The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Where did it all begin?

Laura Murray:  I was a teacher before becoming a writer. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School was inspired by a Kindergarten Gingerbread Man unit I taught at the beginning of each school year.

We compared and contrasted different versions of the Gingerbread Man story and used Gingerbread Man activities for each subject.

JC:  Which versions of the Gingerbread Man story were covered in your class? This is of particular importance to beginning illustration students — that traditional tales can have a unique perspective, dependent upon the story-teller and/or artist.

LM:  The teachers that do the GB Man unit use different versions of the story to compare and contrast, but I personally liked versions that had variations in setting, plot, main characters, illustration style, or culture.  We used Venn diagrams to discuss similarities and differences of each version. The titles I typically used were:

The Gingerbread Man  by Jim Aylesworth (traditional tale)
The Gingerbread Boy  by Richard Egielski (set in New York)
The Cajun Gingerbread Boy  by Berthe Amoss (Cajun “flavored” version, different characters and setting)
The Gingerbread Baby  by Jan Brett (different characters and ending)
The Masubi Man: Hawaii’s Gingerbread Man by Sandi Takayama (different setting, characters, ingredients, etc.)

[clockwise, from top left]

Various versions of "The Gingerbread Man"

But at the end of the unit, our freshly baked Gingerbread Man always managed to escape from the classroom!

JC: Funny!

An excerpt from the Teacher List of Clues for the Gingerbread Man School Hunt
Detail from the
School Hunt List
(click to enlarge)

LM:  We hung missing posters and searched the halls, discovering crumbs and dropped candies, as we asked school staff where he might be. But he always found his way back to our classroom on his own — “one smart cookie!”

JC:  So it’s really a CONSPIRACY!!! The entire upper grade student body plus faculty are in on it.

LM:  Yes, the faculty knew that the GB Man would escape on a specific day and they would  join in the fun, often letting the class know that “he just ran through the office, or that they had tried to catch him but he was too fast…”

My students absolutely loved this unit and would come back years later asking if the Gingerbread Man had escaped yet. Even though we read many versions of the Gingerbread Man story during the unit, there was not one that mirrored the fun of our school Gingerbread Man chase. So I decided to try and write a new version.

I started wondering what adventures the Gingerbread Man might have had while he was out and about, and then I began to ask what if. . . ? What if the story was set in a school? What if the story was told by the Gingerbread Man himself? What if he was trying to find the class who made him, instead of running away from them?

Those “what if” questions helped me imagine a Gingerbread Man adventure that was sprinkled with fresh, funny twists to set it apart from the traditional tale.

I wanted the story to be from the Gingerbread Man‘s point of view, so I started asking him questions. What did he want? What was getting in the way of what he wanted? What exciting, funny, or mischievous things could he do in a school?

I joined SCBWI… and then a local writing critique group. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School went through over 50 drafts before it was submitted to a publisher.

Author Laura Murray at a school visit for "The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School"This is the school library where they recreated scenes from the book (above);  a kitchen area with pretend ingredients to make him;  his “cozy” house that the class made him;  the GB Man stuck on the ball . . .

. . . the missing posters on the windows (above);  and a finger play poem on the pad behind me (below). Amazing!

Background image created by the class for Laura Murray's school visitIt was quite spectacular and SO much fun! They even rented a GB Man costume (see below, left) and had him greeting the kids as they came into the presentation in the gym!

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

[Mike Lowery, illustrator, and Cecilia Yung, Art Director, joins us for the discussion that follows. —JC]

JC:  How was Mike Lowery chosen for this project? Did you review illustrators with the editor?

click to enlarge

Cecilia Yung:  Ryan Thomann (the book’s designer) had a poster from Mike Lowry of a pirate bunny (left) that we all loved.

We were at first concerned that he doesn’t show much setting in any of his samples. But we decided it might work if we can find a more graphic way to show the school, and that’s how the floor plan idea came up.

JC:  What form did the original manuscript take?  In other words, was it typed like a screenplay, given that the final book is a hybrid graphic novel/picture book?

LM:  I submitted it to Putnam as a four page, typed document, with rhyming couplets. It was approximately 900 words — which is long for a picture book, but I thought it worked in this case,  because there is so much action.  It did not include art notes. I hoped that the text was vivid enough to “paint the pictures” in the editor’s mind, and to lend itself well to an illustrator’s vision.

[See the first page of what the manuscript format looked like (below left). Note that the book title subsequently changed from this version.— JC]
A detail from the original manuscript of "The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School"

A detail from page one of the original manuscript (click to enarge)

CY:   The plot is mainly a chase scene, so we really could not have covered the story with the usual scenes and spots. 

JC:  Was it envisioned as a comic strip hybrid at this point? Or did this evolve through many thumbnails and book dummies?

Mike Lowery:  I had been working on the manuscript as a straight-forward picture book, with the illustrations on each page or spread focusing on one tiny segment from the text. It wasn’t working at all because there were so many great, little actions, descriptions of characters, etc.

I just had to figure out a way to break up the text and show a LOT more on each page.  After almost a year of working on it like this, I finally had the idea to make it into the sequential or “comic book” format.

CY:  Mike suggested the sequential comic book format, and we agreed that it really solves many of the problems.

ML: From there it was a breeze, and the book became a lot of fun to work on.

JC:  I love the opening line:  “I began in a bowl. I was not yet myself — just a list of ingredients pulled from a shelf….  It’s funny! Were you amazed at how the text was broken up, and the decisions behind the pacing? There’s 75 separate pictures panels total, from very small multiple-series to stand-alone single-pagers, plus one double-page spread.

LM:  Thank you. I love that line too because it pulls readers in, as they wonder  “Who begins in a bowl?” I revised the beginning many times with my critique groups, but I was determined to keep that first line.

I story-boarded the text during revision and before I submitted it, to see where possible page turns might occur and to check the pacing of the story.

The format of the text in the book is actually very close to how it was submitted in manuscript form — in couplets or four-line stanzas.

JC:   Who was the editor?

CY: Nicole Kasprzak shepherded this through the initial manuscript, sketches and most of the final art, and Susan Kochan finished off the project at the end.

ML: I pitched the idea [of the sequential comic strip format] to Nicole initially with some fairly worked-out drawings, as opposed to rough sketches, because I definitely wanted the crew to get on board with the idea. They did, and the book turned out much better because of it.

For some reason I was incredibly nervous that they wouldn’t like the idea, and I’d get stuck working on something that I just wasn’t happy with.

CY:  We suggested the floor plan so that we can move through the school. We asked him to differentiate the various types of spaces—cafeteria, gym, nurse’s office, art room etc.

The evolution of text during the making of a picture book (above): The text changed for the first floor plan illustration, after the GB Man finds the school nurse. It went from “Your class passed my office just minutes ago” to “Your class turned the corner just minutes ago” because it worked better with the floor plan illustration.


JC:  Did the editor share all illustration sketches with author Laura Murray? Or perhaps you [Cecilia and book designer Ryan Thomann] and the editor collaborated on what guidelines to best support Mike Lowery with?

CY:  I think Nicole shared sketches with the author at key points.

LM:  As an author, it is like Christmas when you get to see the first sketches! You know your characters well, but it is a bit of magic when an illustrator brings them to life!

Yes, I loved Putnam’s floor plan idea and Mike’s comic-panel format!

And yes, the character dialogue was in the text from the very beginning. Since the book is written from the GB Man’s point of view, I wanted the story to have lots of active dialogue rather than just narration.

CY:  I believe that this was Mike’s first or second book, so we worked very closely with him at every stage. This book took quite a while. There were many, many rounds of sketches and final art almost two years from assignment to delivery of the final loose ends. We made a lot of suggestions for developing the characters, finding different ways to show the school setting, and varying the scale and the vantage point.

We worked with Mike extensively on the final palette for consistency and legibility. We also proofed and press proofed sample pages to determine the reproduction of the color.

JC:  I like the fonts selected! Did Ryan Thomann work with Mike as to what to hand-letter? And what text to colorize?

type sample of the "Dr-Eric" font, used for the title display

"Dr-Eric" font, used for the book title (click to enlarge)

CY:  Mike started off hand-lettering the text, but we were worried about the mix of caps and lower case for such a young reader. Ryan worked with me and the editor to find a font that looks hand-lettered. Mike then combined that with hand-lettered words in color, for emphasis.

Bokka-font, used for the text.

Bokka-font, used for the text. The illustrator provided key words, hand-lettered and colored (click to enlarge)

LM:  It was awesome to see how well the chosen font fit, how certain words were bolded or colored to give emphasis, and how capitals were used to set the dialogue apart — a lot of thought and work from the illustrator and design team! 🙂

JC:   The Gingerbread Man himself — he is endearing, with that round head. Whose idea to make him childlike?

ML:  We went through several stages of revisions for the character. From the beginning none of us were really pushing for him to have the standard gingerbread “cookie” look.  When I spoke with Nicole at the very beginning of being asked to take a look at the manuscript, she made it clear that she was drawn to the personality of the characters that I draw. So I wanted to work that style into the gingerbread man, for sure.

CY:  We went through many rounds of character sketches. My comments to Mike at the time: “It may be useful to think of this as a cookie with personality, rather than a cookie made with dough and icing by kids that comes alive.

Developing a character through facial expression...

Developing a character through facial expression...(click to enlarge)

This means that he could have a full range of human facial expressions. The mouth can be be dimensional and mobile: opening, closing and smiling really wide. The eyes are better once they are able to close and lower, but perhaps the position of the eyes and the pupil can move, and we can hint at the presence of eyebrows to help convey a wider range of emotions.”

JC:  Beginning illustration students (and creative writing beginners)  always ask this:  Did the text get altered in any way as the drawings evolved?

CY:  Yes, the author made quite a few changes to the text as Mike developed the sketches.

LM:  Nicole showed me Mike’s work prior to starting on Gingerbread Man. She also shared the initial character sketches, the first round of book sketches, the colored version of the sketches, and the F&Gs. I was able to comment, look for consistency with the text, and shout out my enthusiasm for the illustrations at each stage :-)!

JC:  Laura, do you recall communal decisions? Discussions [between the book collaborators] of what actually happened at your school?

LM:  Mike and I actually did not get in touch with one another until after the book came out. I think publishers like to give each artist his/her space to create a unique interpretation of the work.

Gingerbread Man exploring the school

I was fine with that. Mike gave the illustrations layers and elements that I could not have imagined. I didn’t expect to, nor did I want to, have a say in his creative process.

If I had comments or questions, I posed those to my editor.  So, I don’t really recall discussions about specific details with this book.

I hoped that my vision written in the text was clear enough, yet open enough, to allow Mike his own unique interpretation of the visuals, along with guidance from the wonderful art design team at Putnam. But I would certainly be open to any questions or discussions on details, etc. with future books. 

JC:  That is awesome! A true collaboration, and what sparkling results!

[Specal note:  A sequel is in the works. Yes! — JC]

LM:  There were a few small alterations to the text that did not change the plot, but flowed with the illustrations and dialogue a bit better. The one that we pondered over for a while was the text for the MISSING poster illustration. The original text mixes the GB man’s narration with the text of the childrens’ Missing poster, and it made the format of the illustration tricky. So the text was changed from. . . .

The poster said MISSING: From Room 23.
And right underneath was a drawing of me!
If found, please return him as soon as you can.
We think he is lost. He’s our Gingerbread Man.


And there on the wall was a drawing of me!
The poster said: MISSING From Room 23.
If found please return him as soon as you can.
We think he is lost. He’s our Gingerbread Man.

. . . . so we could get all the narration in one place, and all the poster text to follow.  This may seem like a simple enough text revision, but it actually took longer than one might think due to the rather rigid pattern of writing in rhyme and rhythm. Here’s the final illustration:

JC:  I must confess you got me when Gingerbread Man declared “I’m in somebody’s lunch!” — and it was strategic that this scene would happen on a right-hand page. Makes you anticipate the next page turn!

LM:  Great!  And yes, this is a very natural and fun place for a page turn.

JC:   What did the art look like in person, at the Original Art Show (at the Society of Illustrators Annual 2011) Exhibition)? The copyright page says it’s “… rendered in pencil, traditional screen printing, and digital color.”


ML:  The drawings always start out really rough with just pencil.  I draw over that with pencil again on tracing paper.  From there my process goes in a few directions.

Mike Lowery at work

Mike Lowery at work (click to enlarge)

For some of the larger areas of color, I mask out an area on a screen printing screen using tape, and print out large areas of flat color.  I scan in these prints, and overlap the drawings that I made in pencil.

For a lot of the smaller areas of color, I wouldn’t have time to print out every single piece, so those are finished in Photoshop.  I have lots of old screen print textures scanned — I teach this as part of one of my classes at SCAD, so every quarter I add 30-40 new textures to my collection — that I use in my final illustrations.

CY:  Mike delivered digital files. The Original Art Show displayed a framed giclée print of the final art.

JC:   Cool and groovy endpapers! Whose idea?

CY:  Ryan worked with Mike to put this together.

Endpaper sample

Endpaper sample (click to enlarge)

JC:  Tell us about the teacher’s materials that’s offered at the author’s website, and the poster.

LM:  Some of Mike’s artwork from the book was used in the teacher’s guide on my website. A wonderful author/teacher colleague, Natalie Lorenzi, prepared the 28-page guide of curriculum-linked ideas and activities for me to include on the website as a resource for teachers/librarians/parents. Putnam also has it available on their website.

Laura Murray’s FAQs about writing (click here)

Mike did quite a bit on the poster, providing the maze, coloring page, and all the artwork.  I provided the text for the Gingerbread Man School Hunt and the cookie recipe.

One teacher, Margaret Oliver, has been in touch with me and was SO enthusiastic about the book and her student’s reaction to it! She even sent me a GB Man bingo card they created for the classroom and Missing posters that her students colored.  I have them hanging on my office wall. Here is one (below):
Missing poster colored by students

“Gingerbread Man Loose in School is the complete package! It’s fun, engaging, full of action, and it has extras – a removable map in the back of the book, and a website with even more ideas. As a teacher, I appreciate its strong use of visual supports and rhyming to increase comprehension for young readers. Laura Murray has immediately become one of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait for her next book!”  — Margaret Oliver

The Horn Book‘s book review
(they LOVED it!)
Read more reviews here

@ Everyone:  Questions? Post them in the comments box below!

Comments? Post them here! . . . . and do check out Mike Lowery’s projects and sketches at his blog . Why? Because it’s

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More highlights of Original Art

This week we’ll sample more selections from The Original Art Exhibit, featuring highlights from the best illustrated children’s books of 2011.


jacket from "Coral Reefs" by Jason Chin

Jason Chin takes picture book nonfiction into the realm of lyrical realism in his latest book, Coral Reefs.
The jacket gives a hint of what’s to come — a young girl exploring an underwater kingdom. We are presented with real-life marine biological facts through the text, visually told as an undersea adventure.

[click images to enlarge]

Jason Chin:  “The girl in this book is the daughter of a friend who used to live in Vermont, where I now live.”

Jason Chin:  “My illustrations are done in watercolor, the same size as they appear in the book.

To do research for the book, I visited in the coral reefs of Belize and learned to scuba dive so I could experience the reef first hand. . .”

“. . . Being underwater affected me emotionally — it was exhilarating to visit such an otherworldly place, but the reef itself was serene and mysterious . . .”

“. . . After my initial excitement, I looked around and felt very, very small and it was very peaceful.  I tried to bring what I saw, and also what I felt, to my illustrations–to make the images both visually accurate and emotionally honest.”

“. . . A girl stands in a library room [the renown Rose Reading Room of the 42nd Street New York Public Library] and removes a book from a shelf entitled Coral Reefs. As she reads we see the text below each image. The book explains how reefs are formed, who lives in them, and what their future may be. As we read along we see the girl’s library suddenly flooded. New York City is now underwater and the girl observes firsthand the lagoons, the feeding grounds, and the food chain at work. By the end she stands on the library steps utterly wet, and some other kids get to read the book world beneath the sea for themselves. . . It can be no easy task to show what the underside of the ocean looking up might be, or to pinpoint what shadowed underwater light looks like. From the endpapers of the fishies to the animals you spot around the reef, Chin has taken his time with this book to make it absolutely marvelous. . . “  — Elizabeth Bird, Fuse #8 Review, November 29th, 2011

Medium: Watercolor
Publisher: Macmillan / Roaring Brook Press / Neal Porter Books
Art Director: Jennifer Browne
Editor: Neal Porter
Author: Jason Chin
See Jason Chin’s previous book, Redwoods
Jason Chin’s website and blog


jacket from "Cookiebot!" by Katie Van Camp, illustrated by Lincoln AgnewLincoln Agnew creates the most amazing cookie-grabbing robot ever via Cookiebot!, the second adventure featuring Harry and Horsie, written by Katie Van Camp.

Agnew’s style is an homage to pop art, retro signage, and action comics, complete with Harry’s original blueprints for his cookie-seeking robot. Irresistible fun!

[click any image to enlarge]

Here’s Harry. . .

Here are his blueprints for his cookie-seeking robot. . .

Cookie wars! Horsie flies to the rescue…

How awesome is Harry, I ask you. . .

Fascinating factoid: Harry is the real-life son of David Letterman and his wife, Regina Lasko, at age 5. AuthorKatie Van Camp, who was their au pair for several years, says that her adventure tale Harry and Horsie started out as a poem she wrote for Harry, but it blossomed into a book, with the Lettermans’ blessing.

An interview with Lincoln Agnew

The official Harry & Horsie website
Medium: Digital
Publisher: HarperCollins  / Balzer + Bray
Art Directors: Martha Rago and Dana Fritts
Editor: Donna Bray
Author: Katie Van Camp


Original sample for "Blue Chicken"

Reality blends into a mind bending romp, mixed in with artful color lessons plus  pithily minimal verbiage via Deborah Freedman‘s original vision . Blue moon, kind of blue, and undo the blue with Blue Chicken!

“A moo wakes the chickens. They’re peevish and blue. They dump the red wheelbarrow, dropping that chicken who just wanted to . . .”

Deborah Freedman:  “I drew and painted each spread ‘by hand’, but as many separate elements, which were later pieced together in Photoshop. . .”

“. . . As you can imagine, splashing paint all over a finished drawing would be pretty risky! So I spent lots of time experimenting with pipettes, syringes, straws, and old toothbrushes – but on separate pieces of paper – before I layered the splashes over and under the rest of the artwork.”

[@ my students: This is an excellent tip . . .  what a time-saver Photoshop can be for your original artwork!—Joy]

Check out Deborah Freedman’s blog here.
Seven-Imp interview with Deborah here!
Deborah’s books and portfolio here.
Deborah’s  Blue Chicken blog
What is “Sculpey®”? Find out how Deborah found her models here.

Deborah molded her own Sculpey® white hen — the model for "Blue Chicken" (click to enlarge)

Medium: Watercolor and digital
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Imprint: Viking Children’s Books
Art Director: Jim Hoover
Editor: Catherine Frank
Author: Deborah Freedman




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Wanted: One Lost “Gingerbread Man”…

Follow our posse as we join Laura Murray and Mike Lowery to piece together their search for The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, plus many more yummy surprises from The Original Art 2011 Show, next week. Spread the word…

Double-triple-quadruple happiness, and more….

It’s a double blessing to encounter Ed Young‘s childhood memoir, The House Baba Built (see my earlier article here); and to follow up with Allen Say‘s memoir of growing up with his mentor, in Drawing from Memory (illustrated below), when selections from both books are also in The Original Art Show.

In his feature in the N.Y. Times Book Review, Terry Hong writes:

“… Both books describe how family can guide artists in their early years. In Say’s case, it was a chosen family;  for Young, the extended family into which he was born …”

From Allen Say's "Drawing from Memory" (click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

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Medium: Watercolor, pen, ink,pencil and photography
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Imprint: Scholastic Press
Art Director: David Saylor
Editor: Andrea Davis Pinkney


An interview with Allen Say
A list of Allan Say books
Illustration by Nancy Carpenter (below) from Imogene’s Last Stand

When artist Nancy Carpenter was asked what she did for relaxation, she replied “Fix lamps and rearrange my furniture.”

This aptly describes the spunky exuberance of her visual story-telling, coupled with superb draftsmanship, plus an innate knowledge of how a child’s mind operates.

I asked her to share highlights with us from her Original Art Show selection, 11 Experiments That Failed, and she sent the following images, alongside her comments.

figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Nancy Carpenter:  This is a close up of the opening experiment, (figure 1, left) “Hypothesis:  Ketchup and snow are the only food groups a kid needs.”

The protagonist here starts out with the exuberant confidence she displayed in 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to do Anymore  (Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter‘s previous book together).

figure 2 (click to enlarge)

The experiment is having some effects on her and her brother after what could be several days of the snow and ketchup diet (figure 2, right).

Here’s another experiment, called “What makes fungus grow” (figure 3, below).

figure 3 (click to enlarge)

NC:  This experiment, called “Can a washing machine wash dishes?” (figure 4, below), is very close to one I have tried (and failed at) — Can the dishwasher wash my socks?

JC:  I must confess I’ve tried that experiment too. Once…

figure 4 (click to enlarge)

Joy Chu: These pieces are so delightful and full of life. Every detail tells its own story! Do you create a foundation of sketches; that is, clean up & add ink; make scans first; then add layer upon layer via Photoshop? How’s that for a multi-layered question?

NC: I do my drawing in india ink on bristol board.  I typically draw freehand with my sketch as my reference. I like the unexpected mistakes drawing with permanent ink creates. It makes the lines more lively and spontaneous. The downside is that I often need to do dozens of drawings to get one that looks like I just sat down and quickly drew it.

I then scan the black lines and add colors with layers of collage, or layers of paint swatches with Photoshop. If you look carefully, sometimes you can see the strokes from one layer going in one direction and then another thin color layer going in another direction.

I haven’t used real paint in quite a few years. This approach is far less toxic or messy. I do, however, miss having a finished painted piece.

JC: Which one of these is the piece that’s hanging in the Original Art Show?

NC: The piece I used in the Original Art Show is the washing machine washing dishes. I felt, among all the art, it conveys the essence of the character as well as the idea of that particular experiment, without needing words.

JC: You provided a print-out, then. Who took care of the framing?

NC: I had it framed myself, with a black frame and later painted the frame a Pepto-Bismol®pink. I thought [the effect] was more light-hearted and fun.

I enjoyed your link [on the public Got Story Facebook page] to a blog article by Will Terry — Get Over ItYou’re Just Another Artist!   My sentiments exactly. At first I started out determined to win awards and be on top. Now, years later, I’m just happy to be able to do this full time, and continue to get work.

I go to the Original Art Show to see if anyone is worse than I am and still allowed to hang a piece of art. It makes me feel momentarily above average.

JC:  I can think of no one else who does smart and spunky, naughty yet charming, little girls better, nor more colorfully, than you do. Thank you for sharing your process with us.

Click here for a list of books illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Illustrations and cover from 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to do Anymore (above right), the prequel to 11 Experiments That Failed (below)

Medium: Pen and ink with digital
Publisher: Random House/ Schwartz & Wade
Art Directors: Lee Wade and Rachael Cole
Editor: Anne Schwartz


While Carter Goodrich‘s dogs, Zorro and Mr. Bud (right), won a place as a selection (and in the official Society of Illustrator’s catalog), circumstances prevented getting an original piece from Say Hello to Zorro!  on display at the show itself.

However, Carter Goodrich writes:

“I’m so happy to hear that your students like Zorro! Please tell them book number two, Zorro Gets an Outfit will be out in May.”


Check out Carter Goodrich‘s website, which includes his animation work and studies for many familiar Pixar characters.

Medium: Watercolor
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Dan Potash
Editor: Justin Chanda
Author: Carter Goodrich


We switch gears to an art style that’s soft-with-panache, via selections from two books — I Had a Favorite Dress, and Just Being Audrey, both illustrated by Julia Denos.

from "I Had a Favorite Dress" (click to enlarge)

Julia’s exquisite line work, design sense, and spare application of color displays the influence of her affiliations with advertising for luxury living spaces, alongside fashion-themed flair.

"I Had a Favorite Dress" (click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Some behind-the-scenes commentary from Julia herself:

“…Boni Ashburn wrote a lovely story with a very fun cadence to it. Right from the get-go, it made me feeling like dancing;  I wanted the text to dance, and I wanted the art to dance…(I’m not gonna lie, I had a sweet summer soundtrack consisting of Animal Collective /jazz blasting, so I did a lot of dancing around).  Boni’s words, “SNIP SNIP, SEW SEW” helped me feel playful enough to want to cut up, collage, get messy…”

“…I spent my weeks in a blissful world of little dresses, buttons, city scapes, and thread……”

“…A very SERIOUS struggle to find the right pink…”

“…[art director] Chad Beckerman helped turn these thumbnails into something that made sense…”

“…[here’s the] cover sketch on the light box…”

Medium: Watercolor, colored pencil on hot press paper
Publisher: Abrams/ Abrams Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Chad W. Beckerman
Editor: Maggie Lehrman
Author: Boni Ashburn


Earlier in her blog, Julia walks us through her creation process for Margaret Cardillo’s picture book biography about Audrey Hepburn, Just Being Audrey:

“…While working on the book for Audrey, I’ve been lucky enough to get to research her dreamy era for cues on dresses, buildings, streetcars, hats and important places like the old Fulton Theater in New York … As an added bonus in making biographical art, I feel I have made a dear new friend. Audrey did not have an easy life by any means, but seemed to glean joy from most any circumstance (which is not always easy!) making her luminous…”

“…Here’s a peek at some of my desktop reference I was looking at as I finished painting the interior art … Dreamy reference, right?…”

from "Just Being Audrey" (click to enlarge)

Medium: Watercolor, colored pencil on hot press paper
Publisher: HarperCollins /Balzer + Bray
Art Directors: Carla Weise and Jenny Rozbruch
Editor: Alessandra Balzer
Author: Margaret Cardillo

“A” is for Amy and the Original Art …

I was delighted to learn that this year’s chair for The Original Art 2011 was Amy June Bates.

Her skill in drawing people and animals is superlative. You want to know how children move differently from grown-ups? Seek out the people in her books, and peruse her renderings closely. Prepare to be enthralled.

a cross-section of the many books illustrated by Amy June BatesI became acquainted with her work while working as a free-lance  art consultant, with an editor who ultimately selected Amy to illustrate  I Will Rejoice (Zondervan Publishing) written by Karma Wilson.  She conceived a visual subtext about the joys of a typical day in one girl’s life to complement accompanying verse.  The vitality in her line work is based on solid anatomy drawing skills.

(click on any of the images below to enlarge)

from "I Will Rejoice" from "I Will Rejoice"

Here (below) are images from her most recent book, The Dog That Belonged to No One (published by Abrams) written by Amy Hest.

Amy June Bates’ interview with Julie Danielson* can be found here.

(* special thanks to Jules for the Hest and Original Art Jury images —JC)

cover and text illustration from "The Dog That Belonged to No One", by Amy Hest & Amy June Bates_____________________________________

Here’s Amy (back row, 2nd left), with the rest of the 2011 Original Art jury:

Jury for The Original Art 2011: (front row, left to right) Hyewon Yum, Julie Danielson, Sophie Blackall (next year’s chair), Cecilia Yung, Erin Stead; (back row) Scott Gustafson, Amy June Bates, Sean Qualls, John Bemelmans Marciano. (photo by Laurent Linn, last year’s chair)


And now, on to more Original Art selections to share. . . .

Little girls can be inspired to ditch their princess gowns, in favor of dressing as great women in history by perusing Selina Alko‘s book, Every-Day Dress-Up (Knopf). And you dear reader, can see original pieces at the Original Art!

Amelia Earhart spread from "Every-Day Dress-Up"

Amelia Earhart spread from "Every-Day Dress-Up" (click to enlarge)

Here's Selina's daughter, dressed as Amelia Earhart

Here's Selina's daughter, dressed as Amelia Earhart

cover image from "Every-Day Dress-Up"

cover from "Every-Day Dress-Up"

Medium: Gouache & collage
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Melissa Greenberg
Editor: Erin Clarke
Author: Selina Alko


It’s a family affair! Selina Alko‘s husband, Sean Qualls, has images from two books at the show.

art from "Giant Steps to Change the World" by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee

art from "Giant Steps to Change the World" written by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee (click to enlarge)

Here’s Sean demonstrating his steps in creating his illustration  from Giant Steps to Change the World.

Medium: Acrylic, gouache, pencil, & collage
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Laurent Linn
Editor: Courtney Bongiolatti
Authors: Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee

Visitors to the Original Art will also preview selected originals prior to official publication date, such as the following piece from Sean Quall‘s Freedom Song, due in bookstores January 2012:

art from "Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown" written by Sally M. Walker

art from "Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown" written by Sally M. Walker (click to enlarge)

Medium: Mixed media on paper
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Art Director: Martha Rago
Editor: Anne Hoppe
Author: Sally M. Walker


Beware of catching a cold (a funny one, that is) from the pen of artist Nora Krug at the Original Art Show. When she’s not creating art for children’s books, graphic novels, and other international publications, you’ll find her professing illustration at Parsons The New School for Design.

cover from "My Cold Went on Vacation"Medium: Brush and ink and digital
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Inc./ G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Art Director: Cecilia Yung
Editor: Nancy Paulsen
Author: Molly Rausch


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The picture book as memoir

In a recent School Library Journal article, Anita Silvey reflects on the current state of affairs regarding children’s books. She writes:

“…Our children need picture books — all kinds of picture books. I can’t imagine a children’s book world without this glorious form. We’re demographically moving into a new baby boom. . . . We need real stories, and long stories, that can be read more than once…”

The picture book as memoir offers infinite possibilities. Reminiscences about family are an invaluable treasure trove of ideas.

Sharing stories can unplug a well-spring of long forgotten tales from family and friends that might not otherwise surface. Yes, you can collaborate with your family on a picture book story!

Here are a few examples:


click to enlarge

I’ve been a long-time fan of Marisabina Russo‘s work, from her early beginnings as an artist for newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, to her current career as picture book author/illustrator.

(click to enlarge)

Here is the trailer for her latest book, I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II (Schwartz & Wade/Random House), about being separated from one’s father and fleeing into the mountains against the backdrop of the Holocaust. It’s a true story, as told to the author by her grandmother.

Her debut, The Line-Up Book (Greenwillow), was a well-worn out family favorite in my household. It recalls one special day in the life of a mother and son. Still in print (first published in 1986), it continues to strike a universal chord. Revisiting that story brought back a rush of remembrances of how inventive my little son was during his cozy ‘alone’ moments at home.


click to enlarge

Encountering the above mentioned picture book memoir  brings to mind Giselle Potter‘s  The Year I Didn’t Go to School (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz).  Of particular note is the clear voice of the narrator, who doesn’t find it unusual to take a year off from school to join her bohemian family with a circus troupe in Italy. I felt the concern of the grandparents through the illustration, as they watch Giselle’s family take off at the airport.


Ed Young shares vivid memories of his childhood in Shanghai during WWII in The House Baba Built(Little Brown)Cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books of 2011, it is also a Junior Library Guild Selection.  It also garnered wide critical acclaim plus  starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

The book is chock full of rich anecdotes, sumptuously illustrated with torn and cut paper, pencil, chalk, pastel, ink, paint, and photographs. A labor of love, it features eight (yes 8!) gatefolds.

jacket illustration from "The House That Baba Built" by Ed Young

jacket illustration from "The House That Baba Built" by Ed Young (click to enlarge)

As World War II was approaching Shanghai, Ed’s father worked on a plan to protect his family. From The House Baba Built :

“…The safest part of Shanghai was where the embassies were. . . . But the only land for sale there cost far more than my father could pay. So he offered to build a big brick house on it, with courtyards, gardens, a swimming pool, and let the landowner have it all. . . “

provided that Ed’s family could live there for twenty years. The landowner agreed.

Ed’s father, a trained engineer, draws up the plans…

One of 8 gatefolds, featuring an overhead view of the house Ed Young's father built, with swimming pool (click to enlarge)

The house was transformed as needed to a place for games, for relatives to gather, and to be safe.

The house was transformed as needed to a place for games, for relatives to gather, and to be safe. (click to enlarge)

Cousin Sonny spontaneously draws the cowboy Ed describes, as more relatives are sheltered in the house.

Cousin Sonny spontaneously draws the cowboy Ed describes (click to enlarge)

See Ed Young discuss children’s book illustration and his previous work on Shanghai Messenger, written by Andrea Cheng, published by Lee & Low (below).

Medium: Mixed media
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Saho Fujii
Editor: Alvina Ling
Author: Ed Young

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wait, wait, there’s more! 

If you’re in NYC, don’t miss your chance to view an Ed Young original up-close, from The House Baba Built at the Original Art Show.

Also on display is an illustration from Giselle Potter‘s latest book, The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (Schwartz & Wade), written by Anthony L. Manna and Soula Mitakidou.

And watch for more from our series covering The Original Art Show, right here at the Got Story Countdown!

cover from "The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece"

Cover from "The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece" (click to enlarge)

Medium: Watercolor
Publisher: Random House/Schwartz & Wade
Art Director: Lee Wade
Editor: Anne Schwartz
Authors: Anthony L. Manna and Soula Mitakidou


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Scratching an Scratchbord™ surface…

I had some nosy questions for Rosalyn Schanzer about the preparation of her artwork for Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Joy Chu:  What is the final size of your art? That is, you worked up-size?

Rosalyn Schanzer:  I worked very slightly upsized.  This is really easy to show you in person, but it’s almost impossible to explain in words.

The actual size of a two-page spread in my printed book is 10” wide x 7” high, and the actual size of a single page in my printed book is 5” wide x  7” high.

I used Scratchbord™  (yes, that’s exactly how they spell scratchboard — it’s a trademark).  One of their stock sizes is 16” x 20.” It’s expensive.  So if I cut a piece of it in half to make two 16” x 10” pieces, I could enlarge the artwork for a two-page spread to 12” wide x 8 -3/8” high.

That way I could make two up-sized 2-page spreads using one piece of Scratchbord™ and still have some space left over to add a couple of spot illustrations.

Or I could cut the Scratchbord™ into four pieces and make four single page illustrations that were 6” wide x 8 -3/8” high.  Are you asleep yet? (Nah… I love this kind of info! — JC)

These up-sized pieces of art have to be done in the correct proportion *so that they will fit.

Applying art sizes to your scratchboard

Applying given size dimensions to your scratchboard (click to enlarge)

[* Rosalyn coordinated the correct size dimensions with David, so that all pieces could be sized proportionally at the same percentage. Illustrators must always work closely with their art director on these technical details. — JC]

JC:  Did you send Nancy’s team [at the publishing house] your originals, or scans?

RS:  If I remember correctly, I just sent in the scans, and David Seager, my art director, eventually enlarged them so that the powers that be could take a closer look.

JC:  Did you use scans to indicate where to put in those hot red highlights?

Overlay taped to original art with registered crop marks

(Figure a)   Tissue overlay is taped to original art with registered crop marks (click to enlarge)

RS:  After I did the finished art (in black and white), I taped a removable tracing paper overlay on top of each picture.

I drew crop lines on the tracing paper (figure a, right), applied to line-up perfectly with the crop marks on the original  b&w artwork; and then on the tissue overlay, I used a red marker to show exactly where I wanted the red areas to appear. I also wrote specific instructions on each overlay.

David, in turn, applied the red via his computer. Using high-resolution scans of my b&w art, he added a separate layer using computer software (Photoshop);  inserted the red highlights following my tissues; and then sent me the results.  Most of the time, he got it just right. If I thought the red was in the wrong place or didn’t fit a space the way I wanted it to, I asked him to change it.  (It’s teamwork! — JC)

(click to enlarge)

In celebration of Original Art…

Illustration by Rosalyn Schanzer, from WITCHES! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem Starting next week, we will launch into a series featuring selected works from the Original Art 2011, the annual exhibition that honors the fine art of children’s book illustration.

Behind every picture book project is a team. For our first series feature, we meet both the editor and the art director behind Rosalyn Schanzer‘s Gold Medal winner, Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem  (publisher: National Geographic Society).

title page spread from WITCHES!

title page spread from WITCHES!

We will continue with more selections that feature   the story behind making of  many other wondrous pieces, over the duration of the exhibit at the Society of Illustrators / American Museum of Illustration, October 27- December 31st, 2011. We will have surprise guests from the industry, discussing each selection. You won’t want to miss the banter. And you can add to the conversation.

The show features 150 books published in 2010-11, chosen from 590 entries submitted nationwide. The official press release featuring Gold and Silver Medal winners can be found here.

The Opening Reception is followed by an Awards Ceremony. In addition to the Gold Medal, there are Silver Medallists, plus one Founder’s Award.

So if you cannot make it to the Original Art show itself, visit The Countdown, from now through the end of 2011, and experience a sampling of the Original Art Show vicariously with us…

Kadir Nelson (Silver Medalist)

Lane Smith (Silver Medalist)

Zachariah OHora (special Founder's Award)

This year’s distinquished jury:
Amy June Bates (chair), illustrator
Julie Danielson, blogger, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Kirkus Reviews
Scott Gustafson, author/illustrator
John Bemelmans Marciano, author/illustrator
Sean Qualls, illustrator
Erin E. Stead, illustrator
Hyewon Yum, author/illustrator
Cecilia Yung, art director and vice-president, Penguin Books for Young Readers