As many of you know by now, I have a special interest in children’s literature. As an artist and writer, the story of how a picture book comes alive with the addition of complementary illustration never ceases to fascinate. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! Today Sarah Ackerley joins us to share how the newest book from Little Pickle Press came to her drawing board, and how she developed a seemingly dry subject matter – how your brain works – into a fantastically humorous and delightful book for children ages 4 and up.
Dani: Sarah, first tell us a little about how you prepared for a career in picture book illustration.
Sarah: I studied fine art at the University of Texas at Austin where I focused mainly on drawing and painting. UT doesn’t have an illustration department, but I always had it in my mind that I would like to some day pursue picture book illustration. After graduation I began to build an illustration portfolio, attend SCBWI meetings, and read everything I could about the world of picture books. It took several years before I made any kind of breakthrough, but it was the most rewarding day when my first book was published in 2008. I have been working as an illustrator ever since, and I really love what I do.
Dani: Where did the idea for the necktie-wearing bird and mouse duo come from?
Sarah: When I got the manuscript for Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, I immediately thought of author/illustrator Laurie Keller and her goofy take on the somewhat dry subject of dentistry in Open Wide, Tooth School Inside. She livened things up with a bunch of silly, joke-cracking teeth, which I loved. So I decided to give Your Fantastic Elastic Brain its own goofballs, and thus a necktie-wearing owl and mouse duo was born.
Dani: How did you approach this scientific topic and what was your inspiration for your approach?
Sarah: Art director Leslie Iorillo really opened my eyes to the best way to approach this scientific book. She told me to make the kids in the illustrations the main focus. For example, on the pages where the parts of the brain and their functions are explained, the brain illustration is relatively small and the children take the spotlight. I think that was the best piece of advice I got, and I really tried to make the illustrations in the book something our kid readers could relate to and identify with while they absorbed the scientific content.
Dani: What is your illustration process?
Dani: What was the most fun part of illustrating this book? The most challenging?
Sarah: The most fun part of creating any book for me is doing the thumbnails and fleshing out the book in the very beginning. It’s so exciting to watch things take shape, and this stage is very creative and energizing. I spend a lot of time looking at other picture books during this phase, and I am constantly jotting down ideas so I don’t lose them. The most challenging part of creating this particular book was that I only had 3.5 months to do it. I essentially had words on a page in late June and had to conceptualize and create an entire book from those words by mid-October. I work 3 days a week as a nanny, too, so there was that additional time constraint. It was the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on in my life… I think my own fantastic, elastic brain was stretched to the max during the process!
Dani: Mine is stretching, too, Sarah. At my age, that’s a really good thing! Thanks for sharing your process and thoughts with us today.
Readers, if you have questions for Sarah please leave them in the comments.
Also, be sure to leave a comment to get into the book drawing – you must leave us an email so we can contact you! You could win a copy of Your Fantastic Elastic Brain written by noted preventive psychologist, JoAnn Deak Ph.D. and illustrated by Sarah Ackerley... but only if you leave us contact information.
If you want to order the book now, and get 25% off as well, click here and use coupon code BBTPENCIL at check-out.
Then go over to the Little Pickle Press blog by clicking here, where they have a Grand Prize drawing for FIVE books in a special eco-friendly recycled plastic bag!
Tomorrow for stop #6 of this blog book tour, we visit fellow Red Pencil, Helen Ginger, at Straight From Hel, with a publishing story that’s, well... straight from hell.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil blog, an artist, writer, editor, environmentalist, and sometime Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. She also teaches blog book tours classes which prepare authors to plan tour stops like this one. The next class begins 2/1/2011 and you can sign up here.