Ada’s Ideas + an interview with Fiona Robinson


by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Here is a look at a stunning new book about Ada Lovelace, from a stunning illustrator whose work I have completely fallen for. I got to talk to Fiona about her new book, and I’m excited to introduce you to both of these leading ladies! And so:

How did you come to know and love Ada Lovelace’s story?

I first came across Ada Lovelace in a slightly circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by a lead character, Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. Though she seemed an impossible character, I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.

Later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science as the world’s first computer programmer. Thomasina existed!

The more I read about Ada the more I fell for her…

I’m so happy that Ada’s Ideas is in our gallery of Undies. Is there a story behind how the case cover evolved for your book?

I’m so excited that the case cover for Ada’s Ideas is in The Undies Gallery! Initially we were thinking of stretching the horse image around the book, but the proportions didn’t fit the format. I’d already made the endpapers, based on Jacquard loom hole-punched cards, which were what Ada’s program was based on. The endpapers seem to me very abstract and elegant. I first saw such cards when visiting the Silk Museums in Macclesfield, UK, and adored them then.

Abrams designer Alyssa Nassner suggested we take the endpapers to wrap around the entire case cover, and I loved it! The contrast between the cover and case cover really encompasses the spirit of the book to me – imaginative young Ada on her flying horse, then the cool but beautiful math of the hole punched cards.

Can you tell us about your process?

With the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture a little of the Victorian era, and the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life.

This involved drawing out the images, then painting them with my favorite Japanese watercolors.


I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!


Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using my son’s Lego bricks and glued them in place.


Then each spread was photographed.


Who are some of your story heroes?

Hmmmm, story heroes…

My all time favorite children’s book has to be Humbert by John Burningham. It’s about a carthorse who dreams of pulling the Lord Mayor’s golden coach in a parade. It’s truly wonderful.


One of my favorite pages has Humbert’s owner, Mr Firkin, drinking a pint in the pub (that’s not a scene we’d see nowadays in kid’s books!). But I loved the book as a child because Humbert is a working class hero. And John Burningham’s illustrations are still captivating to me.


I’m also a huge fan of Edward Lear, especially his Nonsense Botany!


What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have a few pieces of art at home I treasure, but at the moment my favorite is this cyanotype (or sun print). I created it with my boyfriend Jay. We coated paper with two mixed chemicals, then placed the paper out on a fiercely sunny day with some anemones I’d just bought from Chelsea Flower Market laid on top. We left them in the sun for 4 minutes, then washed the paper in cold water. And we got this. It was quick, simple and I love the end result!


What’s next for you?

My next book concerns cyanotypes too!

Again I’m researching a Victorian woman for a non-fiction picture book… and I’m really excited about it!
This time the story is that of Anna Atkins, who created the world’s first photographic book. In 1843 she put together a book of cyanotypes of British seaweed. It is stunning. There’s only about 13 left in the world, but I got to hold and look through one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year.

Here is an image from my research (note my gloved hands!):


I’m still in the early stages of doodling and sketching for the art. Here’s a few samples.

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I may even do the illustrations as cyanotypes, hand tinting them, as below.


Thank you, Fiona! Such an honor to have your work here today.



Thanks to Fiona Robinson and Abrams Books for Young Readers for the images used in this post.


Life Without Nico


by Andrea Maturana, illustrated by Francisco Javier Olea (Kids Can Press, 2016)


If you’ve ever had a very best friend, this scene sums it all up. Looking away from each other, but always to one another. Navigating a trip to the stars.

Until a different trip steamrolls in.

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If a moment can be simultaneously sweet and bitter, this is the very time. These kids who want the whole world, now separated by it.


And then what creeps in is the hole where Nico once was. It’s in the faraway sky that she can’t quite reach. It covers her heart even though all you see on her shirt is a star. And it’s in the way of making a new friend.


Except, it’s not really. Because the hole someone leaves when they are left behind is sometimes space to let someone new in. And it doesn’t mean that the hole is gone. It just scoots over a chair.


This tale is a look at love and loss and love again in a way that never lessens that hole. An important thing for both kids and those of us that are a little older.

A keeper. A whole world in a book.


Thank you to Kids Can Press for the images in this post. Click them to enlarge, the tiny details are worth a closer look.

A Long Way From You – Book Trailer

How about a book trailer?

I recently had the privilege to read (!) a sweet contemporary YA about love and friendship and dreams and art and Texas and New York City and it was just absolutely delightful. Kitsy Kidd is the kind of girl I would have madly wanted to befriend in high school. The author, Gwendolyn Heasley, is just as wonderful as Kitsy, and you should probably-definitely-right-away check her out as well.

Check out the trailer, and mark your calendars for June 5.

Fun, right?!

This book was a really fun package on which to tie a few design ribbons.

The opening scenes of the trailer reflect the book’s prologue, where we get a glimpse into Kitsy’s heart and motivations. I thought it would be fitting to reveal the pursuit of her dream with color, transforming from a bland and quiet past to the bright lights and colorful energy of NYC. Also, some of the later moments are a mixture of highly saturated photographic scenes and the same scene as portrayed in Kitsy’s sketchbook. She is an artist with both a pencil and a camera, so combining colors that way was a perfect fit.

I also wanted to nod to the title cards’ copy with the design element of shape.

If wishes can come true anywhere, it’s here.

But no matter how far you are from home, it always has a way of finding you.

That sentiment struck a clear visual with me, so the circle made a recurring appearance over the course of the trailer. As a subtle character, that shape reminded me of Kitsy’s journey, and her connections with home.

Don’t miss this book! Or Gwendolyn’s companion novel, Where I Belong. This summer, pour yourself a glass of lemonade, and pull up a chair on your front porch or penthouse balcony. Wherever you are, A Long Way From Home will be a good friend.


Something really great is coming on Monday. Something that has to do with this tweet and my unabashed love for these two:


Do YOU need a book trailer? Holler. I’d love to help.

Picture Book Month 2011 Trailer

You saw that amazing trailer first thing yesterday morning, right? The one that you woke up early to watch? And then proceeded to watch eight more times in rapid succession, until you could pry your eyes away from the action to tweet about it? The one that gave you chills and made your pulse race and want to re-read each book on your bookshelf?

No, not The Hunger Games trailer….this one!

I had the amazing opportunity to create this trailer for the very first Picture Book Month, and I kinda love it. I’ve been so interested in this movement this year, because duh, I love picture books, so I reached out to Dianne de Las Casas because I knew I could help spread the word.

Why did I make it look like that? Here are a few reasons why:


LINE: Obviously, a dotted line winds throughout the piece. My goal was to use that line to direct your eye from one moment to the next. But also, because this trailer highlights quotes from the Picture Book Month essays, I thought it would make sense to connect them together, almost blending one into the other. Each quoted champion stands alone as an ambassador for picture books, but together they are a mighty, mighty team, linked by a single mission. I debated between a solid line and a dotted one, and ultimately chose the dotted one because there was a bit more quirk to it; it felt more lively. I also liked the way the dots played off of the tiny stars as a similarly weighted graphic element.

TEXTURE: I wanted the background to have a rich, but subtle texture. Inspired by the texture and feeling of the printed page, I chose the look of heavy, pulpy paper.

SHAPE: Joyce Wan‘s sweet logo had a handful of bright and cheery stars, so I used those as a motif to anchor each quotation. By using these as recurring elements, the piece has a sense of unity.

COLOR: Why blue? I took this cue straight from the Picture Book Month website, in order to stay within their brand and already developed style. I feel like the shades of blue create a sense of calm and quietness, and because this is a a piece with a deep message, that color makes so much sense. And it’s pretty. But also, remember the end resolve with the logo and website address? The logo has warm reds, oranges, and browns, so I added text in those same colors. Overall, the piece finishes in a quasi-blue-orange-complementary color scheme. Because of the vibrancy in their contrast, colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel create bold color schemes when you want to signify something’s importance. Like here. Picture Book Month. So important.

TYPOGRAPHY: I used Gotham Thin juxtaposed with Gotham Bold. Gotham is currently enjoying somewhat of a trendiness in graphic design, but I don’t care. I love it. I think it’s beautiful, easy to read, and very pleasantly shaped and formed. AND! I didn’t realize this, but Gotham was inspired by architectural signage in New York City. This is fun to think of as NYC is one of the great homes to childrens’ book publishing. I love the idea that words are (duh) foundational to books, and the typeface to frame these particular words was inspired by something to guide and help people. A stretch? Sure, but I realized it after I picked it and it’s still cool, right?

Off to curl up with a picture book. Or ten.

The Red Book

The Red Book is a 2004 Caldecott Honor book by Barbara Lehman. Despite being an incredible honor, I picked this image of the cover unmarred by the regal silver medal. It is so bare and yet so rich, which is exactly what you can expect to find inside.

Plus, how adorable is she all bundled up and ready to run? Don’t you want to know why she has such a hop in her skip in her jump?

The Red Book is entirely told in pictures. Wordless books are such a unique platform from which to tell a story. I find that my impatient and anxious self slows down immensely in order to breathe in the life of each and every page. Each page alone is a work of art, and when connected together, they take you, the picture-reader, on a journey. A little girl finds a red book buried in the snow while journeying to school, and upon close inspection, realizes she is seeing a boy far far away…reading a red book…about HER. Prepare to get your Inception on in a sweet and childlike way when you read this book. {Spoiler Alert: Leo DiCaprio does NOT appear in The Red Book. You can leave your totem in your pocket.}

Element of design: Color

This is an obvious choice, right? I mean the book is called THE RED BOOK after all. So…duh. But let me back up for a minute because one of the things I love most about the design of this book is the window motif. The geometric skyline on the title page shows a cluster of buildings with an endless pattern of windows. Each illustration is also contained in a pane, leaving white space surrounding it. It’s really designed brilliantly to enhance the wordless-book-in-a-wordless-book concept.

But, color. The Red Book. It’s visible on nearly every page, and clearly the unifying subject throughout. Let’s go back to Psychology 101. {Or not really. That means sophomore year at William and Mary, when I had enormous eyebrows and way too many Dunkin’ Donuts.} The infamous psychologist Carl Jung said, “colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.” While that may be a tad too heavy for your morning-coffee-blog-reading-routine, let’s just consider color psychology for a moment. Understanding even a little of this branch of color theory is helpful as a designer. The question to consider is whether colors affect our emotions as a result of their cultural or societal meaning, or whether there is a direct and more intrinsic link. Say what? This: traditionally, red is associated with danger, anger, passion, power…STRONG feelings. Similarly, color diagnostic tests have been used since the 1940s to determine how personal color preferences affect an individual’s personality traits. Crazy, right? People who choose red as their favorite color are most likely defiant and aggressive, but warm and exciting.

So do the blah-blah-blah-important-words-about-color-psychology even matter? Maybe. Probably, even. What if this was The Blue Book? Or The Black Book? You might have very different feelings towards it. But, red! Bright, warm, inviting red!

I want to crawl inside that book.