Story Boarding


It’s a new year and the last month and a half have been really busy with life, travel, and holidays. However, Timmy’s Show and Tell is progressing well. Rose has completed the storyboarding and character sketching stage, and has moved onto the full page illustrations which I have been excited to see develop from the sketches.

The storyboarding happened in two stages. Rose and I communicated about how the illustrations would appear in terms of full, half, or multi spreads. She designed a large canvas where she drew out the pages and sketched very bare images as we continued our discussion of the illustrations. Some pages were more difficult this time to relate the images in my mind, but dialoguing with Rose helped us think through how the words and the images would work together to communicate the story.

After designing the one page storyboard, she took the illustrations and created a storyboard book sketching more detailed pictures and scribbling in words to see how the space would work. The book was great to start to see how the story would come alive in readers’ hands.

While creating the storyboard, Rose also worked on character sketches. The two main characters, Timmy and Flippy, were the ones I had the most opinions about. She had my sons demonstrate different poses that Timmy might be in at different points in the story. Sometimes they posed more reluctantly than other times. They enjoyed being part of the process though and asked many questions. It was fun seeing them become a larger part of creating the story they inspired. In terms of Flippy, I thought about a bullfrog first, but after researching bullfrogs, it appears they do not make good pets. So we went with a smaller version: the green frog (not a tree frog).


I hope you enjoy the video of the sketch book below!



And the Winner Is…


Timmy’s Show and Tell! It was close in the voting. Thanks to everyone who participated! Rose has already started on the storyboard for this book, and it is coming along great. For those of you who voted for Forest Friends in the Fall and Once My Daddy Bounced a Ball, you may be interested in knowing that as a consolation prize for those manuscripts I submitted them to Chronicle Books.

Chronicle Books is a traditional publishing company that still takes unsolicited manuscripts, the catch being that they read thousands of manuscripts a day. It can take up to six months to hear back, and you only hear back if they select your manuscript. I understand they are busy. I understand that I am probably one of a million authors submitting manuscripts to them. But they also say if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. So here’s to throwing my hat in the ring.

Rose and I have begun to collaborate again with the story Timmy’s Show and Tell (if you haven’t read the excerpt you can read it here). My plan is to blog about our stages as we go along for anyone interested in the process behind the creation.

The first stage has been finished, which is writing the initial draft of the manuscript. This manuscript I wrote a while ago, but have recently come back to it and edited some of the sentences. The editing process of the manuscript for a picture book can be layered over the process of illustrating because as the stages of illustration begin, the manuscript will be revisited over and over again to make sure the words and the illustrations complement each other in the best possible way.

The second stage has also been completed, which is designing the page layout in the book. This involves deciding what kind of spreads the words will go with in the book. Spreads typically come in three major formats: full spreads where the illustration covers two pages of the book; half spreads where the illustration covers one page; and multiple illustration spreads where 2 or more small “snapshot” illustrations cover one or two pages.

The third stage is creating the storyboard, which is where we are currently. I will follow up with a blog about that process upon completion of the stage.

Forest Friends in the Fall


The next option is Forest Friends in the Fall. This book is a combination of 3 short stories about Red the cardinal, Squeaky the Squirrel, and Monk the Chipmunk. These stories would be geared toward 3-8 yr olds and could be used as readers in a school setting. The following excerpt is the first of the three stories. Enjoy!


Forest Friends in the Fall

Squeaky and Red Play Hide and Seek

“Good morning,” said Squeaky as she came out of her leaf nest high up in a tree.

“Good morning,” said Red coming out of his nest and hopping onto a branch. “It looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. It’s a little cold, but sunny.”

“What do you want to do today?” Squeaky asked.

“Let’s play hide and seek,” replied Red.

“Ok, but you know the rules, no flying,” said Squeaky.

“And no climbing trees,” answered Red.

“Right,” said Squeaky, “I’ll hide first.” Squeaky scrambled down the tree to the forest floor. Red glided down from his branch.

“I’ll count over there. You go hide,” said Red.

“Ok,” said Squeaky and she scurried off.

“1, 2, 3,” Red started to count. Squeaky saw a hole in the bottom of a tree. “I could hide over there,” she thought. “No. Red will look there first.” She ran farther down the path.

“4, 5, 6,” she heard Red counting. She saw a bush and thought, “There is a good hiding place.” Then she thought, “No. Red will look there next.” She ran still farther down the path.

Then she saw it; a hole in the ground, and she quickly scurried into it backwards to hide her tail.

“7, 8, 9, 10! Ready or not here I come,” yelled Red.

“He’ll never find me in here,” whispered Squeaky to herself.

“Who won’t find you?” A voice in the hole said.

“Ahhhh!” yelled Squeaky jumping from the hole.

“Found you!” Red yelled seeing Squeaky jump from the hole.

“That’s not fair,” said Squeaky.

“What’s not fair?” said the voice in the hole.

“You scared me,” answered Squeaky. “So you found me.” She said to Red.

“Who scared you?” Red asked.

“The voice in the hole,” answered Squeaky.

“My name in Monk,” said the voice in the hole. “Why did you come into my house?”

“Sorry,” said Squeaky. “Red and I are playing a game.”

Monk poked his head out of the hole. “What game are you playing?” He asked.

“Hide and seek,” replied Red.

“Can I play?” Monk asked.

“Of course,” said Squeaky, “but first you have to come out of your hole.” Monk came out.

“It’s your turn to count, Squeaky,” said Red. “I found you even if you were scared.”

“Ok, fine,” said Squeaky walking over to the nearest tree and covering her eyes.

“Remember the rules, Red, no flying or climbing trees.”

“Ok,” he replied. “Come on Monk let’s go hide.”

“1, 2, 3,” Squeaky started to count while Red and Monk hid.

The new friends spent the rest of the day playing hide and seek together.

Illustrating with Words: Sharing a Vision

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One of the decisions I needed to make when creating Speckles and His New Home was who would illustrate it. I ruled myself out before I thought of making the story into a book, but that didn’t help me narrow it down. I knew that Mascot had illustrators available, one of whom I could have commissioned for my book, but I had seen different pictures my sister-in-law, Rose had drawn. I was quite impressed with her talent, and wanting to encourage her in her artistic pursuits, I decided to ask her to illustrate the book.  

We sat down to discuss the logistics of her illustrating the book, and she began character sketches to get an idea of what I was thinking in terms of what kind of dog I wanted Speckles to be and the appearance of Ben, the boy in the book. After seeing the first sketches of her illustrations, I could envision the story coming to life on the pages of a book.

The next step was to decide what page breaks I wanted in the manuscript, and then conveying the pictures in my head that went with those pages. I wrote notes on the manuscript to describe each of the pages. We also talked or emailed frequently to make sure I was accurately sharing my vision of the story. We worked well together, and she was often able to grasp my vision even before I talked through my notes. It was a much more complex process than I had anticipated, but it was an enjoyable one–especially when she would show me updates of the illustrations.

Life slowed down the creation of the illustrations, and the book was occasionally sidetracked as I took a new job at Auburn University moving my family from St. Louis, and Rose finished her senior year of high school in Virginia. We kept in touch, checking in from time to time to update each other; I occasionally changed the manuscript or the notes, and she showed me more of the illustrations she had sketched. It is hard to describe the emotions involved, but it was similar to focusing a camera. When the focus was on the book and the illustrations, the process seemed clear and exciting, but at times other events would come into the forefront and distract the focus from the process.

I sometimes had the privilege of seeing Rose in the midst of illustrating. I had seen friends and neighbors create art during jazz performances, in a classroom, at home or at an event, but on those occasions I didn’t have anything invested in the vision of the artist. This was different. As Rose brought the images to life on the page, it was like seeing a long lost friend again.

Seeing the illustrations together with the words in the initial PDF of the book was like seeing the finish line of a marathon. The need to make edits to my manuscript struck me, because of redundancies in my words that were shown through the illustrations. But I always thought that the connection between the illustrations and the words was excellent. I was particularly excited about this because for a picture book to work that connection is of utmost importance.

Now I await the final stage when I have the story in hand and flip through the pages with my boys as I read to them about Speckles and His New Home.

Judge a (Picture) Book by Its Cover

Judge a Cover

It is often said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I would generally agree. However, I don’t think this applies to children’s books. The illustrations are a main aspect of these books which is why they are often called picture books.  

“Pictures are worth a thousand words” is another old adage that comes to mind when thinking about children’s books, but this one seems more applicable since children’s stories are told through words and illustrations. The cover of these books is in a sense the first illustration of the story. The cover is meant to begin the story or engage the reader with the story.

Mo Willems is an author that comes to mind that takes this to another level. His books really do begin with the cover. Often a book begins with a few “extra” pages like the title page and the dedication page, and then the story begins with page one. Willem’s books (the Elephant and Piggie series and the Pigeon series) begin with the cover, “title” page, and “dedication” page telling the story with illustrations and words. The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L Stine and Marc Brown is another example of this. You don’t need to skip through the introductory pages to get to the story; the story begins on the cover.

When thinking about and discussing with the illustrator, Rose Anderson, we both asked the question “what do we want the cover to communicate to the reader about the story?” We both thought about this because we knew the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” wouldn’t be applicable with this picture book. We expect the readers to judge the book by its cover because it’s purpose is to capture the reader’s attention by an illustration and words. I would even say it has the same purpose as the back cover blurb, that is, to tease and entice the reader to open the book.

Now I am no illustrator, but have many thoughts about art and would summarize my opinion in the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”