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.
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. :)