Picture books are visual poetry says illustrator Lauren Castillo (“Melvin and the Boy,” “Spunky Tells All”). She started drawing when she was teeny tiny and decided in high school that she wanted to create art for books.
“There’s no other format I’d rather use to tell my own stories,” Lauren told Cracking the Cover. “Knowing that the books I’m putting out in to the world have the potential to touch little (and big) readers far and wide is an amazing thing. I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my days.”
Amy Hest (“The Dog Who Belonged to No One,” “When Jessie Came Across the Sea”) was in second grade when she made up her mind about her future career — she’d become a writer — though it took about 20 years before she made that goal public.
“I write for young people because I can actually remember being young,” Amy said. “If you say, ‘8 years old,’ for example, I can kind of see the whole picture … go back in time … to third grade … to Mrs. Hughes (my ANCIENT teacher) … to violin lessons … to my dog, Rusty … to the weekend visits from my grandparents … and so forth. The thing is, I like going back to that time in my thoughts. And also in my writing.”
Amy and Lauren have joined forces on “The Reader,” a charming new picture book featuring a young reader and his faithful companion.
The book, like all books, started out with an idea.
Amy says her ideas generally come from things that have happened to her. They focus on the little things. In the case of “The Reader,” the book is really about Amy and her daughter’s dog, Billy. “We spend a lot of time together and we both love a snowy day,” she explained. “While I haven’t exactly read to him in the snow, I could certainly imagine doing so. It’s not altogether out of the question!”
It took Amy less than a year to write “The Reader,” but the process didn’t come without challenges, particularly making the text clear and accessible. “You want your words to resonate in some way,” Amy elaborated. “You want to tell your story. You want to tell it in the most beautiful way possible.”
Highlights come in addressing the challenges, Amy said. “I love making every sentence count. Every word. I love working on a story until it’s perfect, and trust me, sometimes that takes years.”
But that’s only half the story.
Once Lauren receives a manuscript, she reads over it a few times and then jumps in to developing the main character/s in her sketchbook. From there, she creates thumbnail sketches, story-boarding the whole book.
“Working so small and loose helps me to rely on my intuition, rather than worrying about how pretty the drawing looks at that early stage,” Lauren explained. She blows the sketches up to actual book size and work them over, incorporating the type to make sure image and text play off each other well — both the storytelling and composition.
“Developing the characters is probably my biggest (and most important) challenge,” Lauren said of the process. “Before starting the sketch dummy for a book, I want to make sure I know my character — their mood and personality, and how to make it shine through my drawing. I’ll fill several sketchbook pages to get a character just so.”
Once Lauren feels good with her book-size sketches, she needs a final OK from her editor before jumping in to final art, which, in the case of “The Reader,” took about three months to complete. The whole project took about five months. The art was delivered to her publisher in October 2011, and she had to wait about a year from there to see the printed book.
For those interested in Lauren’s entire step-by-step process of creating “The Reader” art you can check out this (heavily visual) interview she recently did with Pen & Oink.
When the final book arrived at Lauren’s house, she says it was like Christmas. Both she and Amy were thrilled with the final product.
“This doesn’t always happen, but I had a pretty specific vision of how the art would look on first read through of ‘The Reader’ manuscript,” Lauren said. “And I’m happy to say that the final art is pretty close to that initial vision. Amy wrote such a beautiful and magical text, and it really was a dream project to illustrate.”
“The book turned out way more beautiful than I imagined it could ever be,” Amy concurred.