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:

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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.

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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:

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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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Jill & Dragon

jill&dragon

by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.

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It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.

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That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 

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And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.

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The Bus Ride

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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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Apples and Robins

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by Lucie Félix (Chronicle Books, 2016)

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Here’s a book that is also a puzzle, an optical illusion, and a little bit toy-like all at once. Here’s what I mean.

So, then, a birdhouse: one small circle, two parallelograms, and a die-cut triangle.

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Or walls and a roof and a string, of course. Isn’t that what shapes are? Real, living, breathing things?

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But then wind blows and the sky rumbles, and . . .

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This book isn’t only clever cuts and shapes transforming into magic. It’s also a gentle arc of a pulsing spring. An apple, a reach, a bite, a worm.

A robin, a song, a home, a storm.

A mess, a basket, a watch, a wait.

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A winter, a spring.

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Edmund Unravels

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

by Andrew Kolb (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin, 2015)

A book cover nodding to old travel postcards feels like a good place to end up, right? Also, study that thing closely as you read, because I’m pretty sure you’ll find each of those locations in the letters inside the book.

There’s a moment in this book where Edmund’s parents reel him in and roll him up, and I relate so much to this right now. I’m about to bounce over to the other coast, from vacation and back to school, and I feel like my tangles are going to take a lot of reeling and rolling.

But like this book says, the end is actually a beginning, and like Edmund, I’ll try my best to keep it together.

This little ball of joy, Edmund, is yarn. And when Edmund grow bigger, he can sally forth to farther spots.

(click any images in this post to see them larger.)

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This book’s shape is expertly constructed in order to explore what happens when the edge of Edmund is far from where his heart is, and a rectangle is perfect to fit so much of that journey. Note all the horizontal lines and the compositions that highlight that stretch.

And the shapes within that shape are simple, but tell such story. The cats are particular favorites of mine, how the slightest line adjustment for eyebrows soaks story into those black circles. Do you see?

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A tomato pincushion! A bust! An unfolded map and some modern art, all made up of shapes.

This book is bouncy and cheery and playful and brave, but it’s tender and bittersweet too. There are two sides to adventures: the one who leaves and the one who’s left behind.

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb And here, even the endpapers make us feel that. On my first read, I thought, “Oh, Edmund is heading into this book, into the pictures.” And at the end, he’s going back towards the book, back towards his travels. Perhaps this is what the team behind this story intended, but isn’t it also about going forward and returning home? There’s something especially beautiful here about the tug of home pulling you back.

Heading off to college soon? Get this for your parents. They might unravel a little at the sight of it.

This is Andrew Kolb’s first picture book. I hope he makes more.

PS: Speaking of yarn, have you heard about The Yarn, a new podcast from Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp? They are in the middle of an 8-episode season right now, investigating Sunny Side Up from the many hands who made it possible. Check it out!

And thanks to Penguin and Andrew Kolb for the images in this post!

The Slant Book

The Slant Book by Peter Newell

by Peter Newell (Tuttle Publishing, 2001; originally published in 1910)

This book hopped back on my radar during my 2014 visit to the NYPL’s exhibit, The ABCs of it: Why Children’s Books Matter. (Check out the second to last picture in that post for cold, hard proof.)

It’s strange and silly and a playful use of the book’s form. Perfect, then, for a picture book.

It takes the shape of a rhomboid–not a rectangle, not a square. Because of that forty-five degree angle, the book itself drives the story.

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Where Bobby lives, there is a hill–

A hill so steep and high,

‘Twould fit the bill for Jack and Jill

Their famous act to try

Thanks to that almost-literal twist, Bobby flies away from his poor, unsuspecting Nurse, and their nice walk through the neighborhood turns disastrous in a flash.

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Page by page, to spot-on verse, Bobby leaves mayhem in his downhill wake. (And, of course, the story ends before his Nurse has to push him back uphill.)

Clever, unconventional, and a bit bizarre.

For form-lovers and geometry teachers and rhymers. For anyone who adores little weird picture books.

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Want to see it in action? The Slant Book is in the public domain, so you can hear it here and see it here.

And in case you are looking for other beautiful rhomboids, these are pretty special. Artist and blogger Joanne Mattera curated the best of the shape for a lovely post.

A few favorites from Joanne’s collection:

Gudrun Mertes Frady.Cool Blue

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Cool Blue, 2009, oil and metallic pigments on wood, 18 x 18 inches

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Doug Holst
Untitled, 2009, acrylic on wood, 12 x 12 inches

Altoon SUltan

Altoon Sultan
#13, 2011, hand-dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 11.75 x 13.5 inches

Cat Says Meow (and a giveaway!)

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt by Michael Arndt (Chronicle Books, 2014)

This book won me over when I saw it last year, and it’s one that is fun to peek into again and again. And how is that the case with something so simple, but so sophisticated? So spare, but so complex? That’s the best truth of design.

Here’s what’s happening. Each spread shows an animal and its sound. And each animal is mostly made up of the letters of that sound.

It’s a fun puzzle to unlock. The portraits are bold and saturated in color, often different than we’d see them in the wild.

But here they are, wild anyway.

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I do love an animal book that goes beyond the usual suspects, don’t you? A mosquito! Not my favorite friend by any means, but he looks good and menacing here.

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This small volume is a perfect primer on both typography and onomatopoeia.

And it’s got killer endpapers.

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A portion of  proceeds from Cat Says Meow goes to support animal rescue organizations, including the ones from where Michael’s dog (Clooney!) and cat (Aiden!) were rescued.

And for more type fun, play this kerning game and see how your eye stacks up to a designer’s. Or this one on letter forms, which is a bezier curve bonanza.

Would you like a signed copy? And these one of a kind bookmarks and vinyl stickers! You do, yes. Leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter before midnight on March 8st, PST. Good luck!

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

 

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All images are © 2014 Michael Arndt. Thanks to the artist for sharing them (and an awesome giveaway!) here. And be sure to check out his Instagram if you love all things type, animal, and lovely. It’s a great one!

 

Sebastian and the Balloon

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

by Philip Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2014)

This boy. This book.

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We know Philip Stead can tell a story. Even his Number Five Bus interview series (with wife and creative partner Erin and ‘potentially interesting interactions with fellow book people’) is like a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a blanket.

Here’s what I love about this book.

That the copyright page tells us the art was made with pastels, oil paints, and pressed charcoal. Those things make your hands dirty and rub all the story off with it. There’s a feeling of grit there that I can’t quite figure out, but somehow these drawings feel loose and messy and full of both turbulence and elegance. The color is both rich and muted, deep and spare.

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This red bird, that shows up on every single page. A constant companion to Sebastian’s wandering. A comfort. Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

That Philip Stead varies his compositions throughout, so that sometimes you are intimate with this cast, and sometimes you are pulling back for a wide shot of their world. That sometimes you are bobbing along with them and that sometimes you are floating free. That you feel the magnitude of this balloon trip, that you go with the wind too.

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This leafless tree that gets the lumpiest-in-my-throat moment when it returns in glorious color. It was hard not to show you what I mean, but if you haven’t seen this part, then see this part. I won’t wreck the magic.

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That the closest Sebastian comes to a smile is in sharing pickle sandwiches with his friends.

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The way this milky gray fog is drawn. Moody and slightly scary and a barrier between the reader and the page. You can’t warn them about the pop because they couldn’t hear you through its thickness. They have to endure the danger.

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That each character’s face is solemn and expressionless, but full of understanding. For each other, for pressing on, for seeing something. The tension there is the curiosity and the hope that they are finding comfort in their journey.

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These sisters. Because.

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This ramshackle roller coaster. Both “the most perfect roller coaster they would ever see” and chipped and faded and bent and broken and overrun with pigeons. And the pigeons, for where they go next.

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That Sebastian thought to bring a boat and a ball of yarn.

And that I have a love/hate relationship with Caldecott speculation, but that big moon and patchwork balloon would look especially nice with a third round thing on the cover.

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P.S. – Did I tell you about my spin on the Let’s Get Busy podcast with Matthew Winner and Kelly Light? That’s here if you want a listen. This book love guilt thing is no joke, because I keep thinking of other 2014 favorites that didn’t make our list, like this one. Huge thanks to book people for making great things. Don’t slow down. Also, here’s a super conversation between Philip and Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. More art! Not to miss.

Home Grown Books

Homegrown Books by Cecile Dyer and Kyla Ryman (Home Grown Books, 2014)

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books I’ve written before about how I’m a sucker for board books, but this new-to-me publisher has raised the board book bar. These books are both meaningful and beautiful, which is a touch balance to strike in a book so seemingly simple. This one, Dress Up, shows a series of cats with killer expressions donning all sorts of odds and ends. A fancy cat fastens a bow to one side, a dapper cat sports a vest. Mask! Scarf! Glasses! Cats with style, for sure.

Homegrown Books This board book is a second edition reprint, because it originally showed up in teensy paperback form as part of a 9-book Little Reader series, The Play Book Set.

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Homegrown Books See Dress Up up there with the orange cover? The insides are similar, but the pictures are bordered with white space holding the words.

Nothing in these books is too cutesy, too precious, or too simple. The art is sophisticated, accessible, and challenges a little brain’s wonderings.

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books Kids need good art, and Home Grown Books is doing a bang up job fitting that bill. (Plus, any sax-playing hen is fine by me.)

Clever packaging includes tips on how to read with the bittiest in your family. Talk about the pictures! Make connections! Everyday concepts meet rich art. It’s a lovely thing.

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Eco-friendly and recycled paper to boot! Lots to love about these new books on the block. Find a babe, stat.

Here’s illustrator Cecile Dyer talking about watching the world, interacting with young readers and artists, and of course, these these tiny, book-shaped treasures.

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Firebird

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

When you open a book to sweeping, fiery endpapers, it’s almost as if you can hear the symphony begin. The author, Misty Copeland, is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. The illustrator, Christopher Myers, is a Caldecott Honoree for Harlem and the son of the legendary Walter Dean Myers.

We are in stellar storytelling hands.

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(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

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(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Christopher Myers’s art captures the lines and shapes of a dancer’s movement. Intricate, suspended, and dizzying.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Misty Copeland’s words are fire and poetry to a timid youngster’s soul.

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I adore the anticipation in this spread, the dancer waiting for the curtain to rise, and I imagine a lump in her throat and a belly full of as many swoops as the folds in the curtain.

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Each page turn reveals a composition that is even more striking than the last. This is a pairing of musicality, movement, and a jaw-dropping array of colors and feelings. The way her words and his pictures create an animated harmony is exactly how music and movement do the same in the ballerina’s world.

A perfect pas de deux.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

For more on Misty Copeland, take a look at this. She is a lovely storyteller, both in her books and with her body.

 

 

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

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Review copy provided by the publisher.