Same, Same but Different: from Idea to Book

May 13, 2011

One of the most interesting things about picture books is the story behind the books — where the seeds of ideas came from and how they grew. As promised, I am posting about how my new book, Same, Same but Different came to be. I hope it gives you some good book-energy and that hearing about my work-process is helpful.

Unlike some tales I’ve heard of children’s book authors who woke up from a dream in urgency to scribble down a story appearing to be a gift from the beyond, I had to travel to the other side of the world 3 times to find this book. The first time, I found only the title. The second time, I found the experience. And the third time, I found the content and research.

In 2000, eleven years ago, my friend Maria and I wandered around SE Asia for a month, and I jotted down a saying, “Same, Same but Different” that we heard in Thailand. My favorite part of the trip was playing with kids in a remote village in Northern Thailand  — which inspired me to return.

In 2002, I traveled to Nepal to volunteer at a school. I lived with a family of 14. Everything seemed SO so foreign to me, and I LOVED that. On the second day with my family, I was given a bucket of cold water and soap. Hmmm…did she want me to clean?

“Bucket shower,” she said. “Same, same but different.” There was that saying again…

I had been collecting M. Sasek’s “This is…” book series and had a secret daydream of picking up where he left off. I doodled ideas for “This is Nepal” in my sketchbook. I knew I wanted to make books from my travels.

I feel like it took me a while to find my way at the school — what did I have to share? I wasn’t an English teacher or a musician (like the amazing previous volunteer I heard so many stories of). So for awhile, we simply played and became friends with each other. We became a beautiful part of each other’s worlds.

After observing an art class with twenty 4th graders copying Mickey Mouse in their notebooks that the teacher had drawn on the blackboard, I decided to ‘play’ art with them every day, all day. The school building was dark. The rooms were small and cramped. There were even rats the size of obese American cats lurking in the playground corners. So we went on walks everyday to draw temples, people, chickens, cows, mountains, Buddhas, flowers, and more. We painted self-portraits and each other. We painted a 60 ft long mural in the playground. The school was buzzing with art. I emailed my friends back home and asked them to send postcards of their lives in America. Soon, photos and drawings of landscapes, families, pets, art, schools, food, gardens and cowboys showed up with messages to the kids. I thought Same, Same but Different could be a fun idea for a children’s book. When I was back in Kansas City, we had an art show of the students’ art sharing all about their country and culture.

Four years went by, and I kept in touch with my ‘new’ family in Nepal. Patrick and I decided to visit them and travel in India for several months on another book project. I also planned on writing a story to go with the title, Same, Same but Different, which was still in my list of books to write. And I could draw and shoot photo references for the book! So away we went. And what a FULL ride it was. Everyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I long to go back again.

After we returned home from traveling, I painted My Travelin’ Eye and let this idea incubate for awhile. Eventually, I began writing. Draft after draft after draft. Some long, some short, some in first person, some in 3rd person, some as a story, some as penpal letters. I tried out different ‘voices’ and names for the two boys while I walked. It took some months and a REALLY simplified version for it to finally sound right. I had shared the basic idea of the book with my editor who seemed to like it.

—>this is one of the many ‘story sketches’ i wrote down in a notebook.

Then I tackled the dummy. The idea called for art with tons of little details, so I knew I’d have to ‘show’ the book, not just have a manuscript. Plus, I knew drawing it would help edit the text and idea. The hardest part was editing out content. I had too much. The most helpful part was layering the edited-out ideas back into the backgrounds of other pages. I drew very rough sketches with my left hand. I didn’t want to get too serious/tight with the imagery yet.

I was so excited to show it to my editor when I finally finished it. Her response in short: I can’t publish it. The ending doesn’t work. She was right, the ending was cliche and weak. So I played with it more and shared the new ending idea with my sister who is an assistant principal of a gradeschool. In talking, she casually threw out one of those, “What if you did this…?” (What would I do without my sister, Patrick and close friends to help??) Within 2 weeks, I reworked the dummy, sent it to my editor, and she loved it. Hooray!

…some rough drawings from my book dummy in no particular order:

My editor said she’d like me to do a square book instead of the horizontal book I had imagined. My editor is the best, so it is easy trusting her. Again, she steered me in the best direction. I looked at some books for composition inspiration and thought about how I wanted to create the illustrations.

When I have visited schools, students have always liked seeing my hand-written drafts and my drawings. They have so many questions about the “how” part. I thought it would be cool to have a sketchbook for working out my drawings, collecting research and inspiration, and experimenting with medium. This could be a good way to show students my process. That was my initial motivation — very quickly, though, it became so useful to me!! I took it everywhere I went and wrote down ideas I didn’t want to forget. I also taped inspiration to my wall — photos with beautiful color combos, color studies, patterns, etc. I gathered lots of fun collage (some from my travels), refined drawings, painted little color comps and started painting. The entire journey is exciting, but painting is my favorite part!

I painted my first book in 4 months, but this one took much longer. I took a few month pause when Tulsi arrived, and then painted with her in my pouch…or on my back…or asleep nearby. I wondered how the stop-and-go would affect the energy of the book, but I know that becoming a mother added a new kind of wonder to the book.

Here are a couple photo references I took in Nepal and India and the finished illustrations.

ONLY 4 months until it’s in bookstores! Yeah! Leave a comment if you’d like to be included in the drawing for a signed copy when the book is released. :)

45 Responses to “Same, Same but Different: from Idea to Book”

  1. Sabbio Says:

    I feel ashamed, a lot to catch up here and by mails (it’s been crazy here since december!)
    I’m so happy to read you again, watch all this magic and poetry on your blog and I wan’t wait to discovert this new book!
    I already told you how I love the classroom illustration! All the other ones are also brilliant, heart-warming and deep!
    I also love seeing you with Tulsi in the sling, that’s cute and reminds me of some things too ^^
    Miss you dearest Jenny!

  2. Jaya Says:

    yes dear, full on….

  3. Jaya Says:

    Yes dear, full on beautiful

  4. Squirrell Says:

    How fascinating, thank you for sharing. I’d love a copy.

  5. Jacqueline Says:

    It looks beautiful! I love all the detail in your images and can’t wait to see the finished product. Thanks so much for sharing your process – I find it fascinating.

  6. Amy Says:

    How wonderful to hear the back story to this project. A true labor of love and it will always be so special for you to remember Tulsi’s arrival in the middle of this project. I am so excited for you for the release of this book. I just love the classroom picture and seeing the actual photos. Also love hearing more of your travel experiences. I didn’t realize you had been to Thailand too. Zach is heading there next week. So looking forward to seeing the book! Thanks for sharing your process.

  7. sperlygirl Says:

    in so many ways, jenny, you are such lovely inspiration. i enjoy reading of your process and journey and your artwork i find so rich and beautiful.

  8. Jenn Says:

    So neat to hear about the process. The photo with you working while wearing your daughter is very beautiful!

  9. Beth Says:

    Wow, that was really fun to read about, thanks!

  10. carrie Says:

    Inspirational! I can’t wait to see it and read it for real!

  11. Anne Marie Says:

    You are such an inspiration –thank you –and thank you for sharing about your process -I love it!

  12. Maggie Says:

    Once again, thank you for being so open about your process! And I would love to be in the drawing for the forthcoming book :)

  13. karen Says:

    This looks like a wonderful book for my curious kidlets. And I love hearing about/seeing the process!

  14. Kati Says:

    Such beautiful illustrations! I can’t wait to read this to my girls. Thank you for your inspiring story.

  15. Dana Says:

    Thanks for sharing your process and the journey this book took you on. Looks beautiful!

  16. sam Says:

    Thank you for this very generous glance into your process. This is so inspiring to me.

  17. Diandra Mae Says:

    I love process posts, but even more I love the reminder that not all wonderful things happen instantaneously-sometimes a little percolation is required. :) I can’t wait to see your book in print, and to buy a copy for my son’s preschool!

  18. Shannan Says:

    This is gorgeous. It will be wonderful to share this post with our students!

  19. Brenna Says:

    Looks like an incredible book with beautiful illustrations! I couldn’t like the setting more…the colors are gorgeous. I would just love to have a signed copy!

  20. Janelle Says:

    I think it’s so hard for young kids to understand just how big the Earth is and learn about other cultures. Your book looks wonderful. We’re participating in a international postcard swap hosted by Playing by the Book and Same, Same But Differenct would be a good tie-in.

  21. coloredsock Says:

    hi Janelle, thanks for your comment and sharing about the international postcard swap! Playing by the Book is a wonderful blog that i am excited to explore more. hopefully she’ll host another swap that we can participate in. it’s also an inspiring example because i’ve been thinking about how to arrange pictureart-postcard swaps when i visit schools with my book, or via my blog. thank you! and i hope you enjoy my book when it comes out.

  22. coloredsock Says:

    ps Janelle, i look forward to visiting throughout your blog, too!

  23. coloredsock Says:

    thanks Brenna! and it’s nice to ‘meet’ you and your art. :)

  24. coloredsock Says:

    hi Shannan, thanks so much for your comment — i hope your students do enjoy this post, and please have them send in any questions they might have — i’d love to answer them and/or hear their thoughts. i might be out in CA next year and will keep your email address if you’d like a visitor in your classroom. :) what grade do you teach?

  25. coloredsock Says:

    thanks, Diandra! and i know!! i can’t tell you how many times i wondered if i really would/should make this book — because it didn’t come instantly. i even wondered if someone else would make a book on the same idea before i got to it. i hope you enjoy it when you do see it and your son’s class, too! jenny

  26. coloredsock Says:

    thanks, Sam! so happy you liked it.

  27. coloredsock Says:

    thanks, Kati. and oh my, you have SUCH gorgeous girls. your life (and blog) are really sweet. inspiring!

  28. coloredsock Says:

    hi Karen, so glad you liked hearing about my process and the book. and i loved checking out your paintings. beautiful! i have been itching to get back to painting big again. hopefully soon. thanks for sharing!

  29. coloredsock Says:

    thanks, Anne Marie!!

  30. miri Says:

    I’ve already preordered your new book for my little sons, … but also a bit for myself- you inspire me all the time :-) Thanks.

  31. Amanda Says:

    What a fascinating and inspiring peek into your process. I love the idea of the book and look forward to reading “the ending”. Thanks for the post!

  32. Barbara Says:

    I loved to read about the process…this is so wonderful. I appreciate so much so know about how a story is born and a book comes to life…
    would like to order one, but I don´t know if it´s sold to Europe…?
    Greetings from a big fan of yours, Barbara

  33. BestBook Says:

    I’m intrigued by your book and the process that went into the creation of this book!

  34. navleen Says:

    another beautiful story with inspiring work from you. i am from india and this is so inspiring for me. i feel like just going out there and beginning work on my own stories from around here.
    thanks jenny!

  35. Urmila Says:

    The book is gorgeous and your process was very interesting to read. I would love to give this to my niece. We’re Indian but she lives abroad with her parents now. I think it might have a special connection for her.

  36. Allyn Says:

    Hi, I just saw your book on “Illustration Friday” and had to see your process. It looks like such a wonderful book, I love your idea and the fabulous illustrations. Look forward to seeing in person. It’s inspiring to learn how long it took for this particular story to come together. Of course, it’s fun to see your sketches and reference in the studio. Congratulations on your little girl, too!!

  37. coloredsock Says:

    Thank you for your comment, Urmila. What part of India are you in? Where does your niece live now and how old is she? Let her know about the book and she can find it at a local bookshop or library. :)

  38. coloredsock Says:

    Hey, thanks Allyn! So happy you liked the post. I always find it comforting, too, when I hear how long ideas took to incubate because when you only see the finished, pretty product, it’s easy to think, “it was easy”. :)

  39. coloredsock Says:

    Hi Kati! So sorry it took me forever to do my book giveaway, but surprise! one is coming your way! Please email me your mailing address and who I should sign it to…yay! :)

  40. coloredsock Says:

    Hi Jenn, I am only 2 1/2 months late on drawing winners for my book giveaway! :) and you won! Please email me your address and who you’d like me to sign it too. Your sweet one?! the whole family? and you are doing a yoga teacher training? THAT is awesome.

  41. Shalini Says:

    I am from originally Northern India and discovered your blog today for the first time. Love the details you have captured in your illustrations. I’ll find your book for my daughters to read and feel. Thank you so much…

  42. Andrea Says:

    Your illustrations are absolutely beautiful! Your style is so whimsical, rich with colour and texture and it has such a beautiful flow. I’m an aspiring children’s illustrator. Right now I work as an art teacher and do free lance work, however I went to Ontario College of Art and Design for illustration. Sadly, ever since becoming a teacher, I have not pursued my dream. I have been afraid to because I don’t really know the steps to take and I see that today most illustrators are going digital.

    I guess this brings me to my next question – I see some wonderful patterns in your work; do you adapt your illustrations with digital media/photoshop or is it all tradiitonal? Do you think an illustrator starting out today can work in traditional media and still make it?

    I’m sorry if this is not the right forum for these types of questions. I am very inspired by your work and am seeking answers.

    Andrea Blinick

  43. Emily Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I was delighted to find it in our local library. My kids loved this book and it will work perfectly with my first grade class. We are learning about different cultures. This will definately help them grasp the idea that learning about different cultures helps us reach new understandings. Thank you for helping us see outside our own backyards. Brilliant!

  44. coloredsock Says:

    hi Emily! thanks so much for your comment — it is sweet to hear from teachers, parents, educators and how they respond to my book(s). so happy you and your family like it, and i hope your students enjoy it, too! i’m working on interactive pages from SSBD for teachers to use in classrooms. i am hoping to finish it in january! it will be full of so many fun bits of info, photos, film clips, links, etc. happy new year! jenny

  45. Helena Juhasz Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. Very inspiring! I grew up in the very multi-cultural city of Toronto and books such as yours are incredibly valuable! :)

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