Category: I Pray Today

How a Children’s Book is Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

How Children's books are Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

Being an author is a funny thing: everyone has heard of your job. (Unlike my husband – a systems architect.)

But people don’t know what it is I actually do. (My husband and I have that one in common.)

Whether you’re a writer hoping to publish a book or a kidlit lover who is curious about the process, this series is the place to find out what really goes into making books for kids.

 


 

I’m a writer, not an illustrator. So it may seem odd that I would start off a series on making picture books by talking about illustrations.

Yet, when I tell people about being a children’s book author, the number one thing people ask about is the illustration of my books.

It comes up in a variety of ways:

  • How did you meet your illustrator?
  • I want to publish a book – how do I find an illustrator?
  • I’m an artist – can I illustrate your next book?
  • How did you know what to put on each page?

But however the conversation starts, it inevitably leads to me dropping this truth bomb on them:

Children’s book authors do not pick our illustrators.

And then comes the flurry of questions:

  • Wait, then how do you get an illustrator?
  • How does the illustrator know what images to make?
  • But…. what if the illustrator gets it wrong?
  • And why does it work this way?

So let’s tackle these one at a time.

 

How Do You Get an Illustrator?

Editors and Art Directors are matchmakers. Once they acquire a manuscript (i.e. decide to publish it) they find the right illustrator to match with the text.

Sometimes they will ask the author’s opinion. Usually not.

Yes, this can really stress authors out – especially the first time around.

For I Pray Today my editor paired my manuscript up with Amandine Wannert who had already illustrated books for them in the past. I’ve never met Amandine – she lives all the way in France! But personally, I think it was a perfect match for this book.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers

 

How Does the Illustrator Know What Images to Make

Ready for another shock?

The illustrator decides what art to put on the page – along with the editor and art director. 

Note that the author is not in that list of people.

Authors can give general guidelines. For instance, when I sent my editor the query for I Pray Today, I told her that the manuscript

“follows a child through his day, from waking with a “Good morning, God,” to getting tucked in at bedtime – always with a prayer on his lips:

Good morning, God. The day is new. I say my first small prayer to You.         

Lord Have Mercy”

The last part is the opening of the manuscript. I never told them what to put on the page with it, yet it turned out perfectly.

I PRAY TODAY interior illustration

Author’s can (very very occasionally) include an art note to explain what illustration needs to go with a piece of text. This is reserved for cases where the text doesn’t make sense without the art. Giving a note helps the editor to understand the text in the same way that a reader would – with both text and art together.

For example, one part of I Pray Today includes the text:

Dad says dinner’s piping hot. I stuff in food, but – oops, forgot. 

Why does she say “oops?”

What did she forget?

Once you see the artwork, it makes perfect sense:

 

I PRAY TODAY interior spread 2

She forgot to pray first! In my manuscript, I included an art note to explain this: [ART: Kid starts eating before prayer.]

That’s the only art note in the whole manuscript because that’s the only one that was needed. Even then, I kept it to just what was needed to understand the text. I still left most of the decisions up to the illustrator: Who is at dinner? Are they at home, a restaurant, somewhere else? How will you show that she forgot to pray?

This came up recently. An adult reader contacted me on behalf of his child wanting to know: what are they eating? 

Good question! I really had no idea, since I hadn’t made that decision. So I sent it off an email to my editor who said:

Good question! And she emailed the illustrator to find out.

I had fun polling my friends on social media while I waited for the answer. Most people guessed chicken nuggets with either fries or green beans.

Well, we were a little bit right:

The Illustrator answers our burning question: what are they eating
the illustrator answers our burning question: Dear Jane, I like this question, it is really cute! Without colours, it is hard to guess… The little girl is eating “haricots verts et pommes noisettes”: french beans (green beans) and hazelnut potatoes (round french fries). Best, Amandine”

 

All in all, it was a lot of fun finding out the answer. (Also, I really want to try those pommes noisettes.)

 

What If the Illustrations Are Wrong?

This is the whispered question that everyone is dying to know but nervous to ask.

Aspiring authors especially seem to struggle with this. It’s scary to give up control of something you have worked so hard on.

Ready for another shocker?

It’s not just your book. It certainly feels that way – as an author, you come up with a concept, agonize over every word, and revise until your fingers fall off. But with a picture book or board book, text and illustration work together. They’re a package deal.

And also: It almost always works out wonderfully. I have worked with three different illustrators over seven books and, each time, I was blown away by their work. Every. single. time.

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

This spread from Goodnight Jesus is a great example. I gave the editor general guidelines for the form of this book, just like I did for I Pray Today. I told them it was a bedtime story focused on giving kisses – a child works their way toward bedtime but giving, and eventually receiving, kisses. But I didn’t specify how that should be shown. In my head, I imagined the child in their family icon corner kissing icons then moving toward bed giving out kisses as they go.

Instead, the illustrator put the child into the icons. I had imagined a static version, but he made it interactive. That makes for a more engaging illustration and book. Plus you can see both the love the child is giving AND the love the child is receiving. That’s a deep theological statement – but boiled down to a child’s level.

The two images together in ways I didn’t consider. Notice how the position of the two babies are mirror images of one another. Even Jesus’ body language mirrors Mary’s – each is cuddling a baby they love. That makes the images work together both on an aesthetic level,and a theological level.

The illustrator didn’t just show my story, he added to it in ways that deepened it. He brought a fresh perspective that allowed him to expand the story in meaningful ways. Which bring us to our next question:

 

Why Does it Work This Way?

Separating the text decisions from the illustration decisions isn’t a cruel thing done by evil editors. They are giving both artists – author and illustrator – the freedom to do their best work. I am not a visual artist. I don’t have the training or experience to make decisions about artwork.

No, the child in your book probably won’t look exactly like your granddaughter. The illustrations may not match what you envisioned. That doesn’t make it wrong.

If you can go in with an open mind, you’ll be able to appreciate the exceptional artwork that has been carefully crafted to enhance your story.

Secretly, I think that the editor’s and illustrator’s jobs are to make the author look good. The editor wants this book to succeed. The illustrator wants to produce excellent illustrations. All of which makes my book stronger and better than I could make it on my own.

So, no, authors don’t have illustration decisions about their books. But that’s just fine.

 

Next time I’ll share what the illustration process looks like for illustrators. We’ll pick up after the editor has paired them with a book text and see what it’s like from that side of the equation.

 

Happy New year! Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

New Year 2019

It’s nearly the end of 2018, folks. It’s been a great year for me writing-wise.

 

Looking Back at 2018

 

2018 in Writing

I published my second board book, I Pray Today, and I had my first-ever blog tour.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers  Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

I revised my novel and got two new work for hire picture book contracts – six books total. I’m finishing up the fourth now and the other two will ring in the new year.

I officially won the 12×12 challenge for the second year running by writing 13 new picture book drafts.

 

2018 in Reading

2018 Goodreads reading challenge - 267 books of 500

I didn’t quite hit my goal to read 500 books again this year, but I’m still really happy with my total. In the past, I hit those high numbers because I read a lot of picture books, but this year I shifted my focus to more middle grade. I hit my goal of reading 75 middle grade or longer works.

 

2018 Author visits and more 

I got to teach classes at Purdue University on my favorite subject: writing for kids!

My Kidlit Karma project to blog reviews of books each month went really well! I reviewed or hosted reviews nearly every month.

 

Looking Ahead to 2019

2019 is already starting to fill up! My 2019 is likely to be just as busy as 2018 was. I have two more work for hire picture books to finish by the end of February, I was invited to join a small writers’ group for the first few months, and I’ll be finishing up my novel and begin querying it.

It’s likely to be another roller coaster!

 

Right now I’m working on setting my goals for 2019. If you’re doing the same, you might want to check out these posts on setting resolutions and goals.

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work  DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

 

And if you’re a writer or a planner, make sure to sign up for my mailing list so you can get my free bullet journal printable.

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers

Not sure what a bullet journal is or how it will help you meet your goals? I have a whole blog series that covers the basics of bullet journaling, my magical monthly spread, and collections just for writers.

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

2018 Successes – And Why Writers Sometimes Need to Brag

Right now I’m participating in the 12 Days of Christmas Challenge for Writers. Each day there’s a small reflection.

Yesterday I shared the Day 2 reflection on Instagram.


 

Today is Day 3 when we share our writing successes for the year. All of them. In public. GULP.

Although it makes me feel like a Braggy McBraggypants, I decided to bite the bullet and submit to my blog. Not because I want others to pat me on the back, but because acknowledging my successes is important for me personally.

Writing can be an emotional roller coaster, and most (all?) writers struggle to keep up their confidence and resolve in the face of constant rejection. Having the courage to openly acknowledge our accomplishments helps us see ourselves as successful and capable – things we need to keep going in this pursuit.

A lot of my successes this year happened because I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. So **deep breath** let’s do it again and list it all out in public. In no particular order:

  1. Published my second kid’s book!
  2. Did my first author visits and readings. (I have anxiety about public speaking, so this was big for me.)
  3. Wrote FOUR Work For Hire picture books which is double my previous yearly total. I have two more due in 2019.
  4. Got to be a visiting scholar! I spent 4 days teaching college classes, giving an invited talk, and joining in on lab meetings. My first career was in academia, so I had a blast!
  5. Blogged book reviews (almost) every month!
  6. Tripled my newsletter subscription. (Which sounds impressive until you see the numbers. Lol.)
  7. Got 52 rejections! (That includes agents, editors, mentorship programs, awards, etc.) Here’s why getting a lot of rejections is a good thing for writers.
  8. Submitted to award and mentorship programs for the first time.
  9. In Pitchwars, I got two requests and a champagne rejection for my middle grade novel.
  10. Did a major overhaul of my author website.
  11. Did a blog tour for my new book.
  12. Completely revised my middle grade novel. (Like, burned it down and rebuilt from ashes. It was intense.)
  13. Wrote 13 new picture book drafts as part of 12×12.
  14. Finished Renee LaTullipe’s Lyrical Language Lab course which was excellent.
  15. Attended one online conference, one workshop, and one regional conference.
  16. Plotted out a new novel and did research for it. (Haven’t had time to write yet because of my book launch and work for hire books.)
  17. Kept up with THREE critique groups. Phew.
  18. Supported KidlitNation so they could host free monthly webinars and award scholarships so POC could attend a regional SCBWI conference.
  19. Did a webinar on KidlitNation.
  20. Blogged consistently! (Big accomplishment for me, lol.)
  21. Had my middle grade novel beta read for the first time and got good feedback. I’m rounding up more Beta readers for after the holidays.
  22. Was invited to be part of a writing coach’s new coaching group for women. She’s been coaching one-on-one for a while but we’re her beta session for doing it as a group, so I get to do it for free. Yay! And she reached out to me because I’m “a committed writer who is actively working on her craft”. Which was a nice compliment. 🙂
  23. Read 275 books this year! Usually, I hit higher numbers (500 in 2017) but after many years of focusing on picture books I made a conscious effort to read more MG this year since I write that as well. I’m currently at 73 books that are MG or longer and around 200 picture books. So the overall number is down, but I’m really happy with it.
  24. I won Storystorm in 2018!
  25. Ran an online accountability and support group and participated in another.

FREE: Printable Bullet Journal Inserts for Writers

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers

2018 has been a great year for me – for starters, I published my second board book: I Pray Today!

I’ve been wanting to share a little love for all the writers who have helped me along in this journey. So today I’m sharing a free printable version of my Bullet Journal spreads.

I’ve developed this system over time to help me meet my goals with more joy and less stress. 

Getting it is easy: sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll send it along as my way of saying THANK YOU!

 

GET THE PRINTABLE

 

BIG List of Books for Kids: 2018 edition

2018 List of Books to give to kids: Kids books for every age and stage: Baby to Teen and everything in between

It’s that time of year again: where I try to convince you to buy books for every child you know this holiday season.

This is my fourth year putting together this list (!!!). It’s always a lot of fun to look back at what I read over the year – like revisiting old friends. I hope you will find some new friends on this list.

I’ve added some codes to help identify particular types of books:

NF = Nonfiction

H = Humor

Memoir

S = Series

 

And if you somehow don’t find a book on this list, check out the extra lists at the bottom of the post.

 

Babies and Toddlers

(Board books: Babies and toddlers)

I Pray Today book cover artBook Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park   Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

I Pray Today and Goodnight Jesus (You knew this was coming, right?)

Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard (This series is great for toddlers)

See also: Roundup of 12 board Books

 

Child

(Picture Book: Age 3-8)

Book Cover: All are WelcomeBook Cover: Are we pears yet?Book Cover: Be KindBook Cover: The Day you Begin

All Are Welcome

Are We Pears Yet? NF H

Be Kind

The Day You Begin

 

Book Cover: the Diamond and the BoyBook Cover: EscargotBook Cover: The FieldBook Cover: Starring Carmen

The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall NF

Escargot H

The Field

Starring Carmen H

Book Cover: This is not a normal animal bookBook cover: We Don't Eat Our Classmatesbook Cover: When Penny Met POTUS

This is Not a Normal Animal Book H

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates H

When Penny Met Potus H

 

New Readers

(Early Readers: Age 6-9)

Book Cover: Super Happy Party Bears 1: Gnawing AroundBook Cover: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School

Super Happy Party Bears H S

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School H S

 

 

Graphic Novels

(Age 3-99, younger children will need an adult reader)

This July I did a round-up of these 6 great graphic novels. Check out the post for a full description of each book and find out why I think graphic novels should be a part of a child’s balanced reading diet.

Book Cover: Catstronauts: Mission MoonBook Cover: El DeafoBook Cover: Ghostsbook Cover: Phoebe and her Unicorn

Catsotronauts H S

El Deafo Memoir H

Ghosts

Phoebe and Her Unicorn H S

 

Book Cover: Real FriendsBook Cover: Zita the Spacegirl

Real Friends Memoir

Zita the Spacegirl H S

 

Tweens

(Middle Grade: Age 8-12)

Book Cover: Amal UnboundBook Cover: Counting by 7sBook Cover: Lockwood and Company Book 1: The Screaming StaircaseBook Cover: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Amal Unbound

Counting by 7’s

Lockwood and Company: The Screaming Staircase S (Note: this book is sometimes classed as Young Adult but, besides some creepy ghosts, does not contain mature content that would be inappropriate for tweens.)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

 

Book Cover: The Parker InheritanceBook Cover: Shark LadyBook Cover: The World's Latest DetectiveBook Cover: York: The Shadow Cipher

The Parker Inheritance

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist NF

The World’s Greatest Detective

York: The Shadow Cipher S

 

Teens

(Young Adult: Age 13+)

Note that these books have mature content (roughly equivalent to PG13). This post gives tips for determining if a book is appropriate for your child.

Book Cover: The Astonishing Color of AfterBook Cover: The Poet XBook Cover: Turtles all the way down

The Astonishing Color of After

The Poet X

Turtles All the Way Down

 


Need more ideas? Check out these:

 2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

200+ Children's Book Reviews

 

Announcement: Visiting Scholar and October Author Visits

I don’t know about you, but September was a whirlwind!

October is looking to be just as chaotically and beautifully busy. I’ve got a full load of travel and speaking engagements this month.

This week I’ll be at Purdue University as a visiting scholar! I’m leading workshops for a picture book writing class and giving a public talk:

Screenshot of Purdue talk description. Title: A Peek Inside the Children's Book Industry

I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom. Better yet, I get to talk about kidlit for nearly a whole week!

The only thing better than talking about kidlit, is sharing my books with real kids. I’m also working on scheduling author visits to parishes in Louisville, Kentucky, and Chicago, Illinois. Check back for details!

If you’re interested in having me visit your parish or class, contact me to find out details.

 

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

Earlier this month, I Pray Today, my second book for babies and toddler was published. Today is the last day of the blog tour to celebrate.

I’ve been working on book reviews all year, though. Each month I gather up a few books I love and share them with my readers. I call it Kidlit Karma. This month I’m sharing some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers. I’m also going to dive into child development to explain why these books work.

 

Simple Art

Babies can’t see that well. Newborns’ vision is hazy – they like high contrast because it’s easy to see. You’ll often find the youngest babies staring at, say, a black object against a white background. Or a dark ceiling fan moving against a white ceiling.

By a few months old, babies vision has improved a lot but they often have a hard time understanding 2-D representations of objects.

So, books for babies and toddler often have high-contrast, easy-to-interpret pictures. For the youngest, single images on white backgrounds can be a good choice.

Book cover: RhymOceros

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

 

Even for toddlers, simple graphics are easier for them to understand.

Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman and Alex Griffiths

 

Faces Are a Fave

Babies love faces for pretty much the same reasons we adults do: they give us a lot of important information. We look at a person’s face to identify them and to tell what that person is feeling. Watching someone’s face while they talk also helps us figure out what they are saying. For babies who are still learning speech, it’s doubly helpful. That’s probably why babies are hardwired to stare at faces.

So books with lots of faces are a winner, especially with the younger babies and toddlers.

Book Cover: Making Faces: A First Book of Emotion

Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions

 

Babytalk and Rhyming Books

Babies love “baby talk” and it’s good for them. Forget what Great Aunt Bertha told you about only talking to your baby like a grown-up. Baby talk exaggerates the sounds of speech which makes it easier for babies to figure out the sounds they’re hearing and put those together into words. So go ahead and talk to babies in whatever way feels natural to you.

The sing-songy cadence of many rhyming books, help capitalize on this tendency. (Writers: be aware that babies are not less discerning than adults. If you write in rhyme, it needs to have PERFECT rhyme and meter.)

Book Cover: Moo Baa La La La

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

 

Repetition

Babies love repetition. They drop the same toy over and over to see if dad will still pick it up, they never tire of peekaboo, and they will gladly have you read the same book over and over and over. While at times it’s infuriating (like the 5th time the bowl of oatmeal gets dropped to the floor), it has an important purpose: babies and toddlers learn best through repetition.  Like little scientists, they’re testing if the oatmeal really drops every time. They’re also learning social information: “Will dad pick it up every time?” “Why is his mood changing as I keep dropping this?”

So many books use some kind of repetition: like the repeated phrase “Ciao!”

Book Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Shaefer and Lauren Tobia

Or a repeated action like “besos.” (Kisses.)

Book Cover: Besos for Baby a Little Book of Kisses

Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena and Blanca Gomez

 

Toddlers Need to Move

Speaking of actions, getting a toddler to sit still is a lost cause. They’re busy little beings. It’s easy to read with an immobile baby – harder to keep a toddler still and focused. So many books for toddlers include some kind invitation to action to help keep them engaged with the book. 

That could be an action built right into the page, such as lifting a flap or holes designed for little fingers to poke into.

Book cover: Do Cows Meow?

Do Cows Meow? by Salina Yoon

Or it could be an invitation to action: mentioning movement is a natural invitation to move.

Book cover: Barnyard Dance!

Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton

 

Sturdy Pages and Rounded Corners

Babies will put pretty much everything into their mouth. It’s a way for them to explore the world by adding the sense of taste and touch (lips and tongues are very sensitive).

Babies and toddlers are also still working on fine motor skills – such as the ability to grasp and flip a book page without tearing. They need to explore the world and practice these fine motor skills – but it can be murder on a book.

So most baby and toddler books are board books – those chunky cardboard-style book pages that can withstand chewing, banging, other forms of baby love. They even have rounded corners to prevent an eye or mouth from being poked.

Photo of book: Goodnight Jesus with corner chewed off by toddler
Photo courtesy of Summer Kinard at https://summerkinard.com/2016/11/02/goodnight-jesus-board-book-review/

 

Adults Have to Like Them Too

Since your baby will be asking to reread the same book 10,000 times (and they will), books also have to please the adult doing the reading. A newer trend is to write book series’ that focus on topics of interest to a parent (like science, great literature, etc.), but at a level simplistic enough for a baby. No, your toddler won’t be doing astrophysics calculations in their crib. They’re in it for the baby faces and birdies, but the parent can appreciate the science.

Book Cover: Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering by Ruth Spiro

Book Cover: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Putting It All Together

Most books will have a few of these features. Take my two books, Goodnight Jesus and I Pray Today.

Book Cover: Goodnight Jesus

Goodnight Jesus has:

  • beautiful, but simple art
  • faces on nearly every page (yay, icons!)
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated action (kissing) that little readers can do
  • sturdy pages

Book Cover: I Pray Today

I Pray Today has:

  • beautiful, simple art
  • faces on every page
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated phrase (Lord have mercy.)
  • which can be an invitation to a repeated action (saying the prayer and making a cross)
  • sturdy pages

And like a baby book on astrophysics, both of mine have bigger ideas at their core. That gives them a long lifespan for little readers and makes it interesting for the adult readers.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s book tour! I’ve had fun writing on a lot of different topics on a lot of different blogs. If you missed them, you can still find them here:

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

 

I PRAY TODAY Blog Tour Day 4

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

It’s day 4 of my blog tour! If you haven’t already, check out the Day 1 post at Raising Saints, the Day 2 post on Orthodox Motherhood, and the Day 3 post on the Time Eternal blog.

Today I’m over on Charlotte Riggle’s blog talking about using children’s books for teaching kids. Check it out:

 

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