Tough Guys + an interview with Keith Negley


by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

The kind folks at Flying Eye sent over a preview of this book, thinking it was right up my alley.

It’s right up my alley.

The theme: yes. The design: yes. The snappy, bold, in-your-face look at tough guys plus the snappy, bold, in-your-face look at feelings: yes.

I chatted with Keith Negley, and learned a lot about this debut effort. I hope there’s more from him, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the brain of a picture book creator.

toughguys-4 toughguys-7

Hi Keith! Can you talk about where this story came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

It all started when my son Parker who was 6 at the time stole a soccer ball from a friend during soccer practice and his friend got upset and they fought over it. Parker was angry at first, but then felt embarrassed and ashamed because he knew he did something wrong. I could tell he was struggling with how to handle all these new emotions that were happening to him at the same time. He walked away from the group and sat down to be by himself because he didn’t want anyone to see him cry. Later that night, I explained to him that it was totally natural to cry and that everybody does it. I told him sometimes even I cried, and he looked up at me and asked, “grown ups cry too?

It blew his mind that even adults cried because he thought it was something only kids did. I wished I had a book I could read to him that let him know that frustration and crying is a natural thing not to be ashamed of. The next day the idea for the book popped into my head.

You’ve done a lot of editorial illustration, but this is your first children’s book. Can you tell us the how and why you got into books?

I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.

Your tumblr tag line is spectacular: part man, part negative space. Can you explain where that came from and why it represents you so well?

Ha, I find tragedy to be the greatest muse. The subjects I enjoy working with the most are the ones that break my heart. It’s cathartic somehow, and I feel like I really get to put a piece of me into the work. What ends up happening is I have a portfolio of rather depressing subject matter. But I’m always striving to create beautiful images with it. That juxtaposition is challenging and rewarding for me.

Add to that I tend to utilize negative space as a compositional tool fairly often and so I thought it tied the content in with the image making nature of the blog.

toughguys-9 Who are some of your story heroes?

I’ve been a huge fan of Lane Smith for years and years. Jon Scieszka is another one. Ezra Jack Keats. Jack Kent’s Socks For Supper is one of my all time favorites as a kid and it still holds up today.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my mom reading them to me and how she would make different voices for all the characters. I try to do that for Parker but he’s not into it at all unfortunately.


What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

Not sure if this counts, but I like to make music in my spare time and I’m a huge nerd for vintage synthesizers. I currently have a 1979 Korg 770 sitting in my studio and just looking at it makes me very happy. I consider them works of art.

What’s next for you?

Trying to schedule some reading events for the fall/winter and I’m in the middle of working on my second book for Flying Eye which should be out in time for Father’s Day next year!


Thank you, Keith! And vintage synthesizers totally count as works of art.

PS: Congratulations to the winner of the The Story of Diva and Flea giveaway, Ashley! And thanks to Flying Eye for the images used in this post.


Rabbit Seeds

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

by Bijou Le Tord (Four Winds Press, 1984)

Did you know I am a school librarian? I’m in my third year, at my second school, and have done it for about a decade with a break for graphics in between. Hashtag old.

And speaking of old, that’s what my current school is. That’s great for things like traditions and history, but it’s really great for things like stories. I’ve had a bit of a triage situation on my hands, and the thing that has taken the biggest chunk of time is massive weeding and collection development. (And undoing the work of the packiest rat that ever packed.)

I’ve been brutal in nonfiction and biographies because poor old Pluto has had better days and a 1970 biography of Peggy Fleming isn’t triple-lutz-ing off the shelves. But then there are picture books. And I haven’t tossed a single one. I need to, for reasons of both space and sanity. But when your library is old, there’s a lot that sparkles under all that dust. And I want to be careful because of things like early, early editions of the Nutshell Library.

Here’s one I found that I’d never heard of before, and wow. If you can get your hands on a copy, it would be a great pair with The Little Gardener.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

This is the story of a rabbit, a gentle, shaky, line of a thing.

And it’s the story of his garden. He bids adieu to the snow and ice, and welcomes the warming sun.

These beginning spreads are so simple, so uncluttered, so spare. Those black lines on white, framed by spring’s pastels.

And the words! So unfussy. So beautiful.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

When the day cools, he waters his seeds. The sun and the earth begin their work.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

He patiently waits, and watches for a first ripple or a crack on the ground.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

He patiently sits, until the first seedlings shoot up.

That last spread has a surprising detail, one that fits perfectly into the rabbit’s world but one that is unusual for this particular sequence of images: that star. The sun has been a small circle, hovering over the garden, doing its work. But while the rabbit waits, a star. It must be night. He’s taken his picnic basket and he’s patiently sat, and when the sun dropped, the star showed up.

The seasons take over, as they do, and soon it’s time to welcome back winter. The last time we see the rabbit, he is happy. His work is done.

This rabbit and his work are both sweet and slow and dear, and this book is a quiet little wonder.


Coco and the Little Black Dress

Username or e-mail: Password: CREATE NEW ACCOUNTFORGOT YOUR PASSWORD? Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen (available 10/1/15, NorthSouth Books)

Here’s a fun book: a stylish story both in look and in theme.

That cover, the signature shape of Chanel No. 5, juxtaposed not-so-glamourously with a girl scrubbing floors in a raggish kind of dress. The title, a crash course in fashion.

Coco Chanel.

This book was originally published in the Netherlands, and coincided with a museum exhibition of some original Chanel designs. Yet even apart from that collaborative effort, this book is a beautiful glimpse at the life of a girl who saw things a little bit differently.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

First up: endpapers. From beginning to ending, from scraps to something refined.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Coco, fragile as an eggshell, a mistake, a nothing, an orphan.

But the nuns saw her talent for sewing, and Coco was happy.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

When she grew up, she surrounded herself with fancy ladies in crazy hats. How can you think with a dead pigeon on your head?

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Coco was a problem solver, and when she saw these fancy ladies riding sidesaddle in complicated skirts, Coco figured out how to sew trousers.

But when you sew trousers and are invited to the races, you need a fancy hat. One without a dead pigeon on your head.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

So Coco created a hat shop. She created comfortable, easy clothing for women.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

And the women tossed out their corsets.

With her little black dress, Coco figured out how to celebrate what a woman looks like, when it’s the woman you look at and not her clothes.

Her angel-like sewing skills, her observation and celebration of women, and her style: iconic.

Though if you want biographical information on Coco Chanel, you might want to supplement this book–it’s quite literally a lovely place to start, but there is no author’s note or bibliography of sources available for the reader aside from a small paragraph on the back cover.

But for everything this book is, it’s a luxurious simplicity.


I received a review copy from NorthSouth Books, but all opinions are my own.

The Little Gardener + an interview with Emily Hughes (part i)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Friends, I am beyond awe with this conversation with Emily Hughes. If you aren’t familiar with her work yet, I guarantee you will fall in love with it, with her, with a storytelling brilliance that is out of this world. Here, she lets us know both where stories come from and why they do.

And a note, you’ll definitely want to click on all of these images to enjoy them at their full resolution.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes Can you talk about where this book came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

Lots of things were swimming around in my head when The Little Gardener was being made. 
I was back home rereading a book I love, The Growth of the Soil, about a simple self-sufficient man dealing with societal pressures that seem unnecessary. He was the symbol of The Little Gardener, he’s not the personality powerhouse Wild is, he is really just a symbol for the everyman, the underdog, you, me, (my brother thinks the 3rd world) our place as a human. It’s not about him, it’s about his vision, his hopes.

There are a lot more nuances to that, but that is what it is in a very small nutshell. 
The process for Gardener was an outpouring, I drew and drew and drew. Because the images are so dense it was a meditative book to make- almost like making a mandala. The story process took a while, but with the images I worked on steadily through, and luckily they worked out with little drafting. That isn’t the usual, but this one felt natural to make, intuitive.

brainstorm001 gardeny 1

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture book? What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

If you look at my bedroom, my backpack, my email inbox, my general manner, you would be able to figure out a good deal about me. Totally scatter-brained.

It is an affliction that makes it tricky to get work done in general.  What makes children’s books an appealing medium for me is that there is text to dance with. There is the written skeleton to adhere to- oftentimes my stories have layers that I have built up depending on where I am or what I’ve been thinking of while I work. There is not just one story being told in The Little Gardener. Having text keeps my brain focused when there are other ideas floating about. Because I also draw, I am able to tell the other story lines as well- they are quieter, but are still present for others to interpret if they have patience. It is a good compromise for me.

Narrative has always been an interest, I think telling stories is what I like to do- so the things I’d compare it to would be film, theater, animation, etc. I like doing illustrations for picture books because it’s 2D and doesn’t move. However, if you are really invested you can move them within your head and expand it’s boundaries to a world you truly are interacting with. The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

One of my favorite things is the cola can that says MADE IN HILO, HI on it. I know that’s where your roots are, and I wonder how that home has shown up in the work that you do? Or if there are other easter-egg-y things that you stick in your work?

Good spotting! Hawaii is always present in my work. I left home for university in England when I was 17, and at that time I was eager for new experiences. Nevertheless, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I miss the Big Island always. Drawing things from home is indulgent for me- it is time spent reminiscing, it is a means for me to keep connected, grounded.

The cola can was initially modelled after a local company- Hawaiian Sun. The label looks nothing like the original (and I used the non-existent ‘cola’ because I thought it would be easier to translate), but the sun made a symbolic appearance. Those cans are always around- refreshments after soccer games, trips to the beach, the park with cousins. It reminds me of happy outings. I’ll add this bit to my advertising resume…

The house that the humans live in is based on my family home. It’s a plantation-style house that my Grandmother grew up in, as my siblings and I have also done. It’s a special place.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

In the scene where the gardener is chasing away the snails, there’s a ‘rubber slipper’ (you guys would call it ‘flip flop’- Hawaii’s preferred footwear of choice) strewn about. It even has the ‘Locals’ tag on it which is the same kind you get at the grocery store. There’s lots of little things from home hidden. I like having the sentimentality there, even if it’s for my own benefit.

It seems like the girl in Wild and this little gardener have some sensibilities in common, like the hope and comfort in this un-tapped-into nature. Are there big-picture-stories you are drawn to creating, both in text and in art?

There are a lot of stories I’d like to tell. I think I start off with a general character and theme and it evolves- the writing is the last part, I think the feeling needs to be understood first. 
In my journal these are a few themes I’d written that I want to explore:

Does ‘evil’ exist? Really?

You can, will, should feel every horrible emotion and that’s fine

Kindness trumps all

Looks vs Expectations

It’s all chance for me I think- I might read something, or watch something, or sit blankly staring at the wall even, and most times it is nothing but a murmur. But once in a good while something speaks up.

As for Wild and Gardener, nature serves as a backdrop because it is an ideal to be in sync within our most natural of habitats. Something we all still strive for- a place where we’re needed.  Wild is about acceptance and tolerance, issues I was trying to practice myself. Gardener was about keeping hope alive when I was faltering with my own.

They are stories coming from a place of trying to understand, rather than a place where it is understood.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

Carter, here.

You guys. I keep reading these answers over and over and feel like it’s such a gift to get this glimpse into a storyteller’s heart. Because Emily is fascinating and brilliant and our conversation gave me so much to wrestle with and enjoy, there’s more! Come back tomorrow for the second part. More pictures, more process, more book love.

Whatever you do, get your hands on this book as soon as you can, for hope and home and heart.

Huge thanks to both Emily and Tucker Stone at Flying Eye Books for the images in this post!



Pool by JiHyeon Lee

by JiHyeon Lee  (Chronicle Books, 2015)

Hello to you! And you! And you!

Here I am, ready to flip my g o n e  f i s h i n g sign back around.

First, have you had a nice summer? I have been away from the grind, sitting on a deck, writing books and reading them, and it’s been so very nice to be off the grid for a while. But I do miss my books.

You might have seen today’s floating around this summer, and I can’t think of a better one to celebrate the season.

Pool. The word itself conjures up both serenity and splashing chaos, and both of those things exist inside this book.

At its heart, this is a tale of a friendship. Even as grownups there’s a dance to the early moments of togetherness, and this story is that thing in book form.

A boy at the edge of a pool, all the hope of his day before him. A crowd, scary with its wacky floats and almost-tentacles.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

That’s when he dives, under it all and to the quiet, and that’s when he meets his friend. And that’s when things get weird. Isn’t that how it is with friendship? You see new things together, you name the new things together, you create a new kind of community together. The fish and plants and the world under the crazies is bizarre to us, but is it to them? Perhaps not.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

That’s the beauty of finding a friend in the quiet places, whether or not you were looking.

And at the end, when the crowd is exiting to the left, the friends leave to the right. Those two, going forward. Together.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

This is one of those books that I fell in love with when I first saw the cover. And it’s worth wondering why.

I love that the face could belong to either the girl or the boy. I like to think it’s after the magic, both because of the sweet smile and the still-dreamy fish, reflected and real. And I love that by staring at us, it’s almost an invitation. To play, to swim, to step away from the crowd at the edge of the pool.


Can’t get enough of this book? Me either! Here are some other places I loved reading about it. Danielle at This Picture Book Life paired it with the most adorable pool floats (ice cream sandwich!), and there’s still enough summer left to make that dream a reality! JiHyeon Lee is over at Picturebook Makers talking about the story behind the story and shares some process pictures, which I can’t ever get enough. And you can download some free Pool wallpapers at Chronicle’s happy home online. Enjoy the swim!

Thanks to Chronicle for the images in this post!


Ellie by Mike Wu by Mike Wu (Disney Hyperion, 2015)

Before anything else, this (full screen!):

Ellie’s endpapers start us off like this: long and lonely and barren.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu There she is, a little hint of her. And if you want another one, take the dust jacket off to reveal the case cover.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ok.

We learn quickly why the zoo was so sullen and gray. Because the story happened visually, to start, we don’t need to linger in introductions and routines and the way of this world.

We know.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Heartbroken.



Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie, and a hint again, carrying something with her trunk, wishing and wanting to help.

But a small elephant isn’t a tall giraffe or a burly gorilla.

She’s just Ellie.

Ellie by Mike Wu But in that curlicue grip, that same hope.

Does she see it? Do you?

Linked by color and purpose and quite possibly definition, this happens next:

Ellie by Mike Wu Does she notice? I don’t know. I’d like to think she did.

Watching and waiting, a wise little elephant.

Ellie by Mike Wu This is the first spread without Ellie in it, without her sweet, sad eyes.

But now we get to see through them, and I’d bet a reader’s eyes do the same awe-pop that hers must be doing right now. That’s something I’m sure is true.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Turns out, Ellie found her thing.

And here’s where I’d recommend finding a copy of this yourself, because the final spreads are something you should see and feel through your own eyes. But be sure to notice the back endpapers and their stark difference to the front. The progress is literally told in colors.

This book is rectangular, and so open, it’s an expanse. That trim size gives the zoo a little room to breathe, to extend, to become the physicality of Ellie’s journey. There’s space in that shape, space in the story.

Mike Wu’s film background (did you notice the zookeeper’s name?) may have influenced that trim size. What we call trim size they call aspect ratio, and aspect ratios in film are far from the standard definition of once upon a time.

Maybe? I don’t know. But I’d guarantee a visual storyteller thinks of those things, and it’s for us to appreciate, to wonder about, and to call beautiful.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ok.


I received a review copy of Ellie directly from the author, but all opinions are my own.

Everything Under a Mushroom

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes (Four Winds Press, 1973)

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

I’m not a real wild-and-crazy kind of person.

Last Saturday I took a Pilates class at 3:30, and the teacher said it’s always such a weird time because most people like to spend their afternoons at the beach or the ballpark. Or perhaps they have to get ready for their evening cocktail hour, and finishing close to 5:00 doesn’t work. But I told her that it’s my favorite time, because then I can be home in pajamas having sort-of-flat champagne before it’s even dark out.

She looked at me funny.

But on some of those pajamas and champagne Saturday nights, I go vintage book shopping online and find things like this.

I love this book.

I love Ruth Krauss.

I love the way her words describe the bizarre and complex world of kids’ heads. And their perfectly simple and sensible world. It’s kind of all wrapped up together for kids anyway, which is strange and endearing and other-worldly.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each spread has one line, a bright orange to the illustrations’ muted browns. The only other color is the blue on the cover.

And the page turn acts as a sort of puzzle: the last bit from the page before starts the new thought.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each thing is little. Each thing snuggles up right under the towering mushroom. Each thing is so firmly kid.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

The tiny stories ramble on underneath, in those playful monologues that might seem like nonsense. This is where kids are experts.

Grownups, consider this. You might not understand. You might not have any use for a little potato. But, as the girl with the bow in her hair promises, “Little potatoes are especially nice.”

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

It’s weird. It’s wonderful. And if it fits under a mushroom, it’s fair game.



Beastly Verse

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

by JooHee Yoon (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge)

This book is something. A mashup of poetry and pictures, washes of color and words.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

Some thoughts from JooHee on the art and creation of Beastly Verse:

I wanted to create a book that not only tells wonderful stories, but one that is beautiful to behold. For me, the design of the book is just as important as its content; they are inseparably linked. I believe all elements of a book–its paper, binding, size and weight–create an atmosphere that plays an important role in the experience of reading.

The printing process fascinates me. Not only traditional printmaking, but also industrial processes as well, since these are just a further development of the old printmaking techniques. I have always been drawn to printmaking, and rather than mixing colors on a palette and putting them on paper, I enjoy working with flat color layers overlapping one another to create the secondary colors. My experience with printmaking informs almost all of my artwork today. I wanted to take advantage of the industrial printing process so the printer is not just reproducing the image I make, but in a sense creating the image itself.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

This book has been printed using just three colors. The areas where the main colors overlap create secondary colors, resulting in a book that seems very colorful even though only a limited palette was used. Seen alone, each layer is a meaningless collection of shapes, but when overlapped, these sets of shapes are magically transformed into the intended image. To me the process of creating these images is like doing a puzzle, figuring out what color goes where to make a readable image.

I am very inspired by books from the early 1900s – 1950, when artists were forced to work with spot colors since reproduction methods weren’t as developed as they are today. It is amazing what some artists could do with just two or three colors, and this is exactly the same process I am using, but one from choice rather than necessity. There is a luminous brilliant quality to the colors when images are reproduced this way that I love.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

It’s fascinating to pull the curtains back on an illustrator’s process, and I’m thankful to JooHee for her words here. Her explanation of something so simple, so exquisite, and so complex is as brilliant as those colors she creates.

And the book itself is definitely a work of art. Uncoated, thick pages. Slightly oversized. There’s a non-uniform feeling to the ends that isn’t quite a deckled edge, but a bit more raw and tactile. Hand-crafted almost.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge)

Beastly Verse’s dedication reads simply, For the Reader.

Here, the reader is also the design enthusiast, the art collector, and the wordsmith. A book for book lovers.



Huge thanks to Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion for the images in this post. 


Once Upon a Cloud

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

by Claire Keane (Dial Books, 2015)

Here’s one to hand to any kid that still can’t get enough of Frozen. And when you do, give them a little wink-nudge that this book’s creator worked on what Elsa and Anna’s world looked like. And she worked on Tangled. And then they will see the lush purple cover anyway, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

(click to enlarge)

Meet Celeste. She wants the perfect gift for her mom. Big eyes. Big dreams. (Sweet bear expression. And do you see those little shoes she’s kicked off? Even sweeter.)

Celeste is stumped. When she’s about to fall asleep, the Wind carries her away.

She sparkles with the Stars and then meets the Moon and the Sun.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane (click to enlarge)

There’s something musical about the pace of the pictures here. Sweeping and epic and enchanting. The colors wash over Celeste’s celestial quest, slowly spinning one into another.

And then, she’s home again. But her heart is new and her eyes are fresh, and the same things that have always been there shine a bit more than they did before once upon a cloud.

Simple in story. Arresting in art.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane



Review copy sent by the publisher. 

Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

by K.E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora (Chronicle Books, 2015)

From the publisher:

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.


I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour celebrating the release of The Water and the Wild, which includes a chance for you to win a copy of this beautiful (literally and figuratively!) book.

First, let’s hear from K.E. herself. Welcome, K.E.!

K. E. Ormsbee

Visualizing Limn: The Real-World Inspirations Behind Lottie Fiske’s World.

In The Water and the Wild, twelve-year-old Lottie Fiske travels through the roots of an apple tree into the magic-soaked world of Limn—a land filled with bustling cities, dense woods, magical yew trees, and giant spider webs. World building Limn was one of the most fun and challenging aspects of writing The Water and the Wild, and my inspiration for the look and feel of the fantasy landscape came from very real places.

Today, I’d like to share some of those inspirations and take a moment to gush about just how perfectly artist Elsa Mora captured the magic of Limn in her cover art and illustrations.

New Kemble – York, England

I’m a huge anglophile, and one of my favorite places in all of England is York. The city is rich with layer upon layer of history, as evidenced in its walls, its giant cathedral, and its winding streets. I remember first setting foot in The Shambles and feeling certain that something ancient and magical was at work there.

When I first drafted The Water and the Wild, the story actually took place in York. Over time and a number of subsequent revisions, York became New Kemble, a fictional island town off the coast of Massachusetts. But the inspiration for New Kemble remained thoroughly English. I still envision The Barmy Badger—home of Lottie’s best friend Eliot—on a street similar to The Shambles. And Lottie’s home in the boardinghouse on Thirsby Square is based on the real St. Paul’s Square in York.

St Paul's Square - Personal Photo

Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

When Lottie first arrives in Limn, she stays at the home of the Wilfers—an old money family with royal connections and a fair share of secrets. The Wilfer family home is called Iris Gate, and Lottie is overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the place. When describing Iris Gate, I tried to capture the intimidation I felt upon first walking into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore is an imposing mansion even to full-grown adults, and I was ten when my family visited. I remember gaping at the soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and sprawling gardens. Though Iris Gate is nowhere near as extensive as the Biltmore, its architecture and landscaping were written to resemble that of the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate - Taken From Biltmore Official Website

Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills, black fences, and horse farms. It experiences four distinct seasons, and the springtimes there are lovely. In my neighborhood, there were many dogwoods, magnolias, and Bradford pear trees. When all of those trees were in bloom, white petals would blow loose into the wind, and everywhere I turned the world seemed awash in white. I called it my Warm Winter.

I never shook those springtime images, and when I was creating Wisp Territory—home to the mysterious will o’ the wisps—I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic. The world of the wisps is, by and large, colorless. The grass, the trees, and the leaves are all white. The royal home is made entirely of glass. This wintry appearance does not vary with the seasons, and it’s my homage to the Warm Winters I experienced as a kid.

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Clearly, I have some very distinct ideas about how the world of Limn looks. What I was most nervous and excited about during the publication process was seeing how an artist would render a world that had for so long existed only in my imagination. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When Melissa Manlove, my fabulous editor at Chronicle Books, first gave me Elsa Mora’s name, I of course went straight to Google to do some major image stalking. After only a minute, I knew I was in the best of hands.

Elsa’s papercuts are pure magic. There is so much detail, care, and whimsy in each of her creations. The cover of The Water and the Wild conveys not only the fantasticalness, but also the danger of Lottie’s journey. The way in which the characters and their natural surroundings blend so effortlessly captures my own attempt to make the world around Lottie as much a character as she is.

Inside the book, you’ll find a papercut plant accompanying each chapter heading. These illustrations reinforce the importance of the natural world throughout the book. And, you know, they just so happen to be GORGEOUS.

It’s been almost seven years since I first wrote down the image of a magical green apple tree. Now, as Lottie Fiske’s story officially hits bookshelves, I couldn’t be happier with the way that image and others came to be realized in the art and text of The Water and the Wild.


If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to read more about Lottie and Limn. So! Tweet this post anyway you’d like on Twitter, and include the hashtag #dpb for a chance to win a copy! I’ll be in touch with a winner in a week.

Check out The Water and the Wild’s teacher guide here, and a sneak peek at its beginning here.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour at Green Bean Teen Queen, where K.E. talks libraries!