Concept to Creation

Concept to Creation: The Most Extraordinary Ordinary Day

When Words Meet Pictures and Make Magic

The most amazing children’s book happen when the words and images meet and melt together as one—the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. Where the skillful uniting of pictures and words effectively demonstrate the different moods and implications, telling the same story in a way that children understand. Where clearly the illustrator drew inspiration from the writer, and likely the writer too, felt inspired by the artists’ images. There is little doubt—that when done right, picture books cast a magical spell, engaging the reader, leaving them enchanted and entertained—and wanting to read more.

The Evolving Process of Children’s Literature

So how is it you can achieve creating a quality, inspired work of children’s literature? I can only attest to my own recent experience, with writing my first children’s book—“The Most Extraordinary Ordinary Day”—which allowed me to develop some important skills and really learn about the process. From idea conception to the final printed product, I have had an amazing experience and learned many things, but the work I did with my illustrator stands out above all else.

After I had written the text of my book I knew it was time to start searching for an illustrator. Ideally, I wanted to find someone that’s work, and style best complemented my text. My editor gave me a list of suggestions to research—which I did thoroughly. I scoured various children’s books looking for a resemblance to the vision in my head. I reached out to many —several were not interested in freelance work. Some were already booked. Others worked strictly for the traditional publishing houses. And then I came to Shiela, who was a children’s illustrator with whom my editor had worked with personally. She and I began email communication, sharing ideas and discussing the conceptual framework for my book. But it wasn’t until after I paid for a character sketch that I knew for certain she and I were on the same page.

Harmonious Duo

Children's Books: Harmonious Duo
Here the main character users her vivid imagination to dine on a meal meant for royalty.

Sure enough, Shiela’s illustrations were on-target to what I was looking for with this book. It was fantastic to communicate my expectations and have her bring them to life. Yes, Shiela and I were in harmony. Her creative imagination and whimsical art, coupled with her efficiency and ability to deliver my ideas to paper led me to believe I found my illustrator. So, I chose a package from her web site and our journey began.

Collaboration and flexibility are the two most powerful ingredients an author and an illustrator can share. We were two creative people with entirely different skill sets and respected one another for that. I told Shiela right away this was my first children’s book, and everything was a whole new world for me.

The process went smoothly from that point on. From conception to completion, Shiela and I collaborated famously and had a mutual respect for the others’ work. The two of us truly wanted to create something awe inspiring for children.

My Inspiration

The main character of the story was inspired by my daughter Amanda, who has been the most remarkable child since birth. Even when she was in her crib, where most baby’s cry and want held, Amanda was content and happy. But…she also loved being held and never fussed while around a lot of adults. Before long, we were calling her Amazing Amanda. And Amazing she still is…

23 years of age now, she continues to be the most easily pleased child you could ask for and she finds joy in even the most ordinary of situations. Her imagination is bursting at the seams and she is an absolute delight to be around. She lights up every room she walks into and inspires everyone around her. This story was based on her remarkable ability to find the beauty in everything. On her ability to just be so extraordinary. Period. I am in complete awe of my daughter every day. I desperately needed to capture this brilliant innocence and imagination into the story and hope she will know how much I cherished her-and cherish her still. I mean, it takes a special kid to take a run of the mill spaghetti dinner with the family and make it into an exquisite five course dinner with the queen. Who would have thought?

And because it was so important for me to capture this, I knew that the illustrations would forge a visual and emotional connection between the reader and the character. My belief was only confounded after beginning work with Sheila and the art and text complemented each other seemingly.

The Characters

Children's Books: The Characters
Getting the character just right is no easy task. You must think about facial expression, pose, mannerisms, and make the character appealing to the reader all at the same time.

It was important for me to have a good balance of my daughter in the character but also the fictional component since this was not an exact depiction. Plus, the character must be appealing to the reader. We both knew that if we wanted this to be a high-quality children’s book, then the child would need to get value from the combined words and illustrations. So, while the child is visually learning new things about the world, they also might be getting accustomed to a new word, where eventually both the verbal and visual reference will help them build a stronger vocabulary. Both my illustrator and I never forgot for a moment the fine relationship between the pictures and text, and how important it was that we remain consistent through the whole book. In both words and pictures.

When children read picture books, they envision the story that best connects them and helps them relate to the characters. The characters engage their minds. Once we got the characters just right, it was set in stone. If Shiela and I weren’t harmonious before, we sure were now. I was beyond excited and I knew this project would be evolve to how I envisioned it.

The Revisions

Children's Books: The Most Extraordinary Ordinary Day
The left cover was originally what we intended to use, but decided it might cause the reader to assume there were two main characters in this illustration. The cover on the right depicts an ordinary girl living in an extraordinary setting.

On a whole, very few rewrites were required. We did however, make a switch from our original cover idea. Originally, the illustration depicted a full-length mirror with a dressed-up Amanda looking in one side, and the ordinary little girl Amanda on the opposite side. Shiela thought the cover might give people the impression of two characters and leave them confused. So, we went with Amanda looking out of the castle window in ordinary clothes to show it was more than just a fairytale, it was an ordinary girl living an ordinary day and finding extraordinary ways to enjoy what is right in front of them. This lends itself to kids wanting to see the rest of the story; hoping it to be a page turner for kids and parents to enjoy. The simplistic text and cute whimsical art, this will be a quintessential children’s book where readers can recognize themselves in my character.

Here you can see the progression of three covers. Note the hair changes from the first to the final product. If you look closely, you will see differences in fine details such as facial characteristics, the castle, and the color of the flowers. Subtle changes make all the difference!

The Story Comes Alive

What made my story come to life? As I watched it progress from rough pencil sketches to the finished colored, product, I realized at some point you don’t have to even be looking at the pictures to see the story happening before your eyes. Because of the specificity of the text and the fine subtleties of the illustration we show our readers the story, instead of telling them about it. A team effort between image and text as we help create a mental picture in the reader’s mind. All the ingredients are present. The imagery allowing us to feel the moment, inspiring us to act. The colors providing us with the foundations of our emotions, physically affecting the readers experience of reading the book. The sense of emotion, the symbolism, the details in the background—all compositionally balanced and encouraging the reader to turn the next page because the sense of anticipation is so strong…

I hope you enjoyed the “concept to creation” process for the character and cover.

Sneak Peak

The Most Extraordinary Ordinary Day
Amanda uses her imagination to turn an ordinary spaghetti and meatball dinner into a royal event!