Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

thunderboy

by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown 2016)

I am so excited to share this guest post with you today! Please welcome Alvina Ling, esteemed editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, sharing here about the collaborative process that brought this beautiful book to life.

Enjoy!


Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

by Alvina Ling

It’s said that we’re “stronger together,” and that’s certainly the case when it comes to bringing a children’s book into the world.

Collaboration is especially apparent when working on picture books, and I thought I’d give you all a peek into how a book gets made while outlining the publication process of the picture book Thunder Boy Jr. , written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Most picture books start with a manuscript. Sherman, associate editor Bethany Strout, and I went through a few different ideas, and a countless number of drafts and revision to get to the text that ended up in the book. He sent the initial idea for Thunder Boy Jr. in as a text titled I Want a New Name in July 2013, and we had a final manuscript and the new title by September, which is relatively fast.

Once we had a manuscript ready to share, we set about finding an illustrator. At Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (LBYR), we always ask the author if they have any ideas. Sherman suggested an illustrator, and I worked with our Design department to come up with some additional ideas to share with him, too. Ultimately, two different people at LBYR separately suggested Yuyi Morales. Yuyi’s Niño Wrestles the World had gained a lot of attention that year, and when I showed the book to Sherman, he was instantly in love. He even wrote a letter to Yuyi to entice her.

Dear Yuyi,

I am sitting in the Little Brown offices looking at picture books, searching for potential illustrators, and I just saw your Nino book, AND I AM IN LOVE.

I would very much love to work with you.

Please.

Please.

Please.

Um, please.

Sherman Alexie

I hadn’t known it at the time, but Yuyi had been planning to focus on her own work, as opposed to illustrating other author’s work. But it turned out that her whole family was huge Sherman Alexie fans. In fact, for Christmas one year her son had given his grandparents copies of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Yuyi was IN! And, we were all ecstatic. It felt meant to be.

Once Yuyi was on board, the next step was sketches. Yuyi sent us very rough thumbnails first. Here are a few spreads:

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As you may be able to see, in the early thumbnails, Thunder Boy Jr. had a bunch of friends that he interacted with. The art director, Sasha Illingworth, and I reviewed the sketches and decided that they were a little too busy and confusing at times. The funny thing with collaboration is, oftentimes you don’t remember who came up with what idea, but we ended up throwing out to Yuyi: instead of all the friends, what if Thunder Boy Jr. had just a sister instead? Yuyi loved the idea of bringing in a little girl, and focusing on Thunder Boy Jr’s immediate family.

Once sketches were in, we circulated them amongst design, copyediting (in this case, our managing editor Andy Ball), and editorial. Each department reviews the sketches carefully, looking for things like continuity, pacing, the gutter (the middle of the spread where the pages are bound together), the “bleed” on the edges (during the book’s printing, the pages aren’t always cut exactly right, so we ask the illustrator to include a quarter inch extra art, or bleed, around the edges just in case, so that nothing gets cut off), and more.

Here were the comments we sent Yuyi on the spreads above:

Spread 9:   The scene on the left is a bit close to the one on spread 11. Is it possible to change this one up a bit? This is a quieter moment in the story. We’d also  love to add mom into this scene. On the right side, we’ve love for Thunder Boy to be bigger, and would love for him to be leaning in, perhaps like he’s whispering, or gesturing to us that he’s telling a secret.

Spread 10: We LOVE this! We don’t want to lose too much of Thunder Boy’s head so it would be great to move him up a bit. We also don’t want to lose the snake in the gutter, could you shift his head to the left?

Spread 11: We’d love to see a little more action in the right hand side. Maybe make him larger in scale as well? Have him be in a more powerful/active pose?

Yuyi sent us more detailed sketches—you can see how the art has developed:

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Isn’t the little sister adorable?! For those of you who have read the book, I think you’d agree that she steals the show. And to think she almost didn’t exist!

We also sent these sketches to Sherman, who loved them so much. “Oh the sketches just made me cry!” He was also inspired to make some text changes in response to Yuyi’s art—for example, he added the little sister character into the text, and we also worked to get the ending just right.

In this case, these are the comments we send Yuyi on the three spreads I shared above:

Spread 9: LOVE

Spread 10: Need lots of bleed especially on the bottom so we don’t lose too much

Spread 11: GREAT. Love little sis hanging on Dad’s leg!

As you can see, not too many comments—Yuyi was given the go-ahead to go to final art.

In the meantime, Sherman and I continued to work on the ending—we felt that the resolution was happening too quickly. Here’s the previous ending text:

I do not want the name

they gave me when I was born.

I do not want to be Little Thunder.

I don’t want to be small.

Hey, wait.

I just had a great idea.

I know how

to fix this thing.

My Dad will stay Thunder

But my name will be Lightning.

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Sherman thought about it, and decided that he wanted the new ending to deepen the father’s role. Here was his revision:

I love my dad but I don’t want to be exactly like him.

I love my dad but

I want to be mostly myself.

I love my dad but I want my own name.

What do I do? What do I say?

“Son, I think it’s time I gave you a new name. A name of your own.”

My dad read my mind! My dad read my heart!

“Son, my name will still be Thunder but your new name will be…”

LIGHTNING!

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Even though we often like to have the child solve a problem in children’s books himself, in this case we felt the new ending rang more true—it seemed fitting for Thunder Boy Jr. to declare his will of wanting his new name, and for his father to help grant his wish in the end. Yuyi suggested having both the father and son say “Lightning!” at the same time, which made for a satisfying ending.

Because we expanded the ending, we now needed to condense some of the beginning. Here’s a revised spread at the beginning with new text including the sister:

6-can-i-tell-you-a-secret-detailed-sketch

Ah, there’s Mom!

If you look at the finished book, you’ll notice further art changes to the composition that were made, even after this sketch. It’s always a work in progress.

7-can-i-tell-you-a-secret-color-sketch

And then comes the part that is still one of my absolute favorite parts of my job—when the final art starts coming in. In this case, Yuyi sent in scans of her art.

This is one of the first pieces Yuyi sent in:

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Absolutely gorgeous.

We sent a few test pieces into the printer to start picking paper and proofing. At this stage, we’re working closely with our production department—Erika Schwartz supervised the production of this book. We got in test proofs with the art on both coated and uncoated paper, and then reviewed both carefully. Personally, I’m a sucker for the texture and feel of uncoated paper, but it really depends on the specific art style and book. In this case, it was unanimous: we decided to go with coated paper, because it made Yuyi’s colors really pop.

In the meantime, Sasha was coming up with different fonts for us to choose from, and then placing all of the art with the text in a file called mechanicals. Printouts are circulated once again from design, to copyediting, and to editorial, with each department marking corrections and queries directly on the printouts. The mechanicals circulate until there are no more corrections needed. The mechanicals are also sent to Yuyi and Sherman for review.

The final mechanicals are sent to the printer, and we get color proof back. These we review to make sure the color reflects the original art. If an illustrator is local (like Peter Brown or Jerry Pinkney, for example), we’ll invite them into the office to review the proof for color—we have a color review room in our office with special lighting for this purpose.

Otherwise, as with Yuyi, we mail them the proof and ask them for comments, which we’ll incorporate into our own in-house review of the art. Editorial, production, and design are involved in the color correcting.

Once again, we go as many rounds as needed to get the color right.

So many discussions and decisions go into the making of a book. The cover image, of course—at LBYR we have a jacket committee where our Sales, Marketing, and Publicity directors all weigh in. We bring in sketches, then final art, and discuss details down to how the bylines will read.

Here’s an early cover sketch:

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A few early comps:

10-cover-comp-a 11-cover-comp-b

And the final cover:

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Other things to decide: What will the endpapers look like? (circles with the colors Yuyi used throughout the book to highlight emotions) Should we include an author’s note? (We thought the book was perfect without. Also, Sherman and I felt that once the book was out in the world, it belonged to the readers and we liked the idea of different children—brown and otherwise–seeing themselves in the book without knowing the story’s inspiration.) What special effects should go on the cover? (spot gloss and embossing on the title)

The book is now out in the world. It has received six starred reviews, was an instant New York Times and IndieBound bestseller, and best of all, has been pronounced my countless kids to be their favorite book. We couldn’t be prouder of how it’s been received.

As I hope I’ve illustrated, it takes a village to create a book—and of course there are countless more people who touch the book and make it what it becomes. It’s a labor of love for everyone involved, and, ultimately, it is the readers who play the most important role of all.


 

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The Bus Ride

the-bus-ride

by Marianne Dubuc (Kids Can Press, 2015)

This delightful, mind-stretchy book is by the creator of one of my 2014 favorites, The Lion and the Bird. Remember that one?

And this book has been out for over a year, but it’s taken a while to wrap my brain around its brilliance.

It’s a little bit sweet and a little bit surreal.

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There’s our girl, a little Red of sorts. Waiting at the bus stop with her basket, on her way to visit her grandmother. Of course. And the book itself, a trim size perfect for a bus ride. A long stage for the passengers to be the stars of this show.

And red endpapers, of course.

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What’s so interesting (and challenging!) about this book is that the scene never changes. The bus stops and starts and new characters come and go, but the bus itself is the same.

Well that, and this sloth.

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This cat lady knits a scarf, a red one, that gets a teensy bit longer as the journey continues. That turtle hangs his head in boredom and the sloth sleeps.

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And on the wheels go, through a forest seen right through the windows.

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The turtle gets spooked by the tiny mole baby, and the sloth still sleeps.

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And when the bus goes into a tunnel, there’s a rumble-jumble on the bus. (According to the paper’s headline, which is a treat for any reader’s eagle eyes.) It’s a rumble-jumble that invites a prowler inside and bumps the sloth to another shoulder to sleep on.

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After the darkness, a pickpocketer. A big box. A sloth hug. A stop.

A grandma’s house.

This is a story about courage, everyday kindnesses, and adventures that are as simple as sharing shortbread cookies. I could get on that bus, couldn’t you?

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I Know a Lot of Things

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

by Ann and Paul Rand (Chronicle Books, 2009; originially published in 1956.)

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

You might remember how much I love this pair’s Sparkle and Spin, and this one is just as playful and just as true. That case cover surprise is an a delight, and complementary-colored endpapers start this book with a bang.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s graphic genius is so well-matched by the simple and spare words of his wife, Ann. The text and the pictures both glide through that magical reality of childhood. Things that might seem daunting to someone bested by time are small and accessible. Things that may seem obvious or forgettable are ripe for play and adventure.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

It’s a reminder to slow down, listen, and watch. The world is built of wonderful things. The big picture is as beautiful as the details.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Here, the sentiment is the whole of this person. I’m not sure there’s an ending more perfect, not for kids or their grownups. There’s so much more to know, but what you carry with you can stay.

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The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2014)

The Promise is on this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Books list and I’m so glad it captured a spot. I imagine weeping and gnashing of teeth to pare down a year into a handful of notables, but they got this one so right.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Here you have bleakness. Bare and raw. And a girl who doesn’t have much but the desolate things. The words themselves pierce the brightness.

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The people, too, dry and dusty.

And then.

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Some seeds and a promise and a reluctant okay.

 I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Everything works in this book. The text is exquisite. The pictures haunting and heartbreaking and hopeful. The paper is luxurious. The case cover differs from the jacket itself. Dig in. Look around. Don’t miss the endpapers that start as stone and end as spring.

There’s a little Frog Belly Rat Bone here, in this fragile world in need of color and life.

(Also, there’s a lot of great stuff about this beautiful book here, and this post is so, so lovely as well.)

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And PS! Add a comment by Wednesday, December 3rd to this post for a chance at winning all ten of those books from Chronicle. Don’t forget your pledge to #GiveBooks this year!

 

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend written and illustrated by Karen Stanton

published 2014 by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan

When I first saw the art for this book, a teeny jolt of whoa hit me right in the heart. I mean, look at the endpapers! The calendars sprinkled throughout! The swirls of smells and thoughts and words! Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonThen I read the story and the teeny turned into titanic. This is a tender tale of love and home and broken families.

Henry Cooper lives in two houses. So does Pomegranate, his dog. Mama and Papa are two and a half blocks and worlds away. At Mama’s they dance, and at Papa’s they sing. In both, there is love and warmth and safety. Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonWhen Pomegranate goes missing, Henry Cooper knows exactly where he is – right at the big yellow house where the family once lived together. Home.

And then Henry becomes the hero, leading Pomegranate back to where the love lives. There’s a lovely ambiguity of which house it is. Because really, does it matter?Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonKaren Stanton’s art is layered, rich, and colorful. And is there a better art choice for brokenness than collage? I doubt it. Thank you, Karen, for sharing these spreads with us! Click any image to enlarge. Enjoy!

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Line 135

by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}

I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

That’s why this book is perfect for this time. And isn’t that always why picture books are perfect? There’s something magical about those moments that are captured, when the polaroid’s positive sheet has just pulled away from the negative. That moment, exposed. That’s the one I mean.

CLICK TO READ MORE

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku

Written by Lee Wardlaw {winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for California/Hawaii!} and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin {winner of a 2012 Newbery Honor Award for Breaking Stalin’s Nose}

In other words, the people who created this book are no joke.

Lee Wardlaw tells a full and sweet tale of an adopted cat entirely in haiku. The language is sparse, yet rich. Each word of each haiku is perfectly placed which yields an expertly paced read, despite its unconventional storytelling.

In design, contrast highlights the differences in two items. Varying color, shape, or size, can call your attention to any one visual element due to its difference from another.

In Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku, most of the illustrated spreads contrast colors on either side of the gutter.

With so few words peppering each page, it would be easy to breeze through each page, not giving the words the attention they deserve. {Although this may not be true for every reader, but I confess this is a huge flaw in my reading: too fast, too furious.}

However, the contrasting colors cause your eye to slow down a bit, to hop from one side of the gutter to the other, and to really savor the book slowly. Contrast here helps to create a very strong and symmetrical sense of balance to each illustrated spread.

And of course, it just looks so much prettier that way. {That’s some serious art criticism right there, I know.} Haikus have so few words, but because each one packs such a tight little punch, it only makes sense that the illustrations carry on the same sense of oomph. {Again with the fancy art critic words…}

Read this haiku out loud. Seriously. Lee Wardlaw really knows how to whip her words into shape! Just as she says ‘mice snap‘ I love the way the sounds snap, the and the syllables sing. {And I seriously love the bright yellow cover that wraps around just a bit to abruptly meet the red dust jacket. Contrast. So cool.}

Stuck

It’s IMPOSSIBLE to not love Oliver Jeffers. Remember his mustache?!

Well, listen to him read Stuck, and prepare to be enchanted:

I can’t follow an act like that, but let me tell you a few things I love about this book.

1: The endpapers. What a great grid of all of those THINGS that Floyd flings up into the tree.

2: The type.

The handwritten text is an excellent choice for the pictures. The scribbled words have a tactile, lifelike quality that matches the vibrancy of the art so perfectly.

3: The easter egg.

I’m not one to linger on copyright pages since my librarian days are behind me, but check out this little gem straight from the mouth of Oliver Jeffers:

{The art for Stuck was created by compositing various scribbles and blotches of paint, made on small pieces of paper,  all together inside of my computer. This is because I needed to move studios in the middle of making the art, and using this approach seemed like a good idea.}

4: This line.

5: This fakeout mess-up.

6: This spread, that texture, those clouds.

7: That it’s FOR SOMEONE NICE.

Someone like you! I have two copies of Stuck, which is certainly due to having no self-control around picture books and many looming stacks. I’d love to send it to you, and I promise not to throw it in a tree first.

I’ll assume the mailman got down out of that tree in order to deliver it to you.

Just comment on this post by Tuesday, June 12 at midnight PST. I’ll draw a winner with the help of my trusty buddy, random.org, and you can add this to your own looming stack of picture books. It will be a great addition, promise.

Me Want Pet

Me love Tammi Sauer.

Me love Bob Shea.

You love book now.

Cave Boy had lots of things.

Rocks.

Sticks.

A club.

But no pet.

“Me sad,” said Cave Boy. “Want pet.”

Me love colors. Desaturated. Dusty. Me feel like part of family.

Me love lines. Animated. Anxious. Me love boldness.

Me love endpapers. Me draw bad. Bob Shea draw like caveman.

Me want read again. Again. Again. OOGA!