They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but we do, and I think that maybe it's okay to do that. It is what makes you pick a book up. Covers are always the most difficult part of designing a book. When I finish a story, I usually have a strong opinion on what the cover should be. The art director and the editor always have opinions on what it should be. And unlike the insides, marketing people weigh in on what the cover looks like too. It's hard to please everybody.
Here are my covers in chronological order.
It's always a thrill to get a book published in another language.
Nothing LIke a Puffin
Nothing Like a Puffin written by Sue Soltis is a cheeky little story story about how many things are somewhat like a puffin, but there is nothing that is actually like a puffin. I was inspired by the artists of the 50's, Abner Graboff in particular.
Do You Want To Play?
Do You Want To Play is a bit experimental. It's meant for someone to read or look at on their own, not so much a read aloud classroom book. There are stories within the story, a playable game, lots of good friend tips, and little characters with sub-plots to find along the way. You can even learn to say "Hello" in a different language on every spread. The story explores the ups and downs of friendship: making friends, being friends, being lonely, getting in fights, moving away etc.
The art is created in collage. There are bits of everything in the artwork from hand-made papers to little piece of an old tax return. There is even a character made form a Band-aid.
The Alpha Oops books written by Alethea Kontis were a lot of fun, but very difficult to pull off. The basic concept in both books is that the letters argue about the order in which they should appear in an alphabet performance. Z is of course tired of going last. A is quite happy the way things are. The design challenge was multi-layered. First, there is this on-stage/off-stage setting. In some cases the letters are performing, as in Z is for Zebra. There are also the cases where you see behind the scenes and the letters are arguing about the "show".
We were messing around with the natural order of the alphabet, so we thought there should be something to help anchor the young reader. I created this little professor character who lives at the bottom of each spread. He brings out the letters as they are now appearing and places them in a frieze. You can see the original, now ignored, order. For the Halloween book, I had the professor bring out jack-o-lanterns with the letters carved into them.
The books are mostly dialog so the original manuscript had a lot of "A said" & "Z said". It was a little confusing. So the publisher decided to go with a more word balloon-like layout where the text is by each character that is speaking and therefore eliminates the need to identify the speaker in the text. An easy solution for the editor but a real complication for the designer. Now each character has to appear left to right in the order that they are speaking in each spread. It really constricts your layout options.
My father was a mechanic. He was always working on cars, our cars, the neighbor's cars, stranger's cars. We had a machine shop in our basement and the house always had the not so subtle scent of motor oil. Racer Dogs is a tribute to my fond childhood memories of spark plugs, crankshafts and fan belts.
Racer Dogs was the first book that I did all digitally. It has an obvious novice look to it. I've considered redoing the art, but I think I'll just tell another story. I'm not done with these dogs yet.
Astroblast is a book series about the adventures on the Astroblast Snack Shack, a fast food space station run by a monkey, pig, alligator, dog and a rabbit. There are little puzzles built into the book. Most spreads have a search & find, a maze, or find the mistakes type of game. At the end of the book there is a whole page of "extra missions" were the reader can go back through the book and find more stuff like missing pizza slices or historical satellites floating out in space.
I books were inspired by the Apollo missions which mesmerized me as a kid. The series is now going to be a television series that will air on the Sprout Network starting in the summer of 2014.
Big Kicks is sort of an autobiography. Just like Biggie, I'm kind of a big guy and when you're big, it's always assumed that you are an athlete. As kids, when we went through that cruel process of choosing sides I was always picked first the first time we played, but was always picked last the second time we played. I really wanted to write a book about sports that didn't end with the hero actually getting good at the sport, but about a hero who was comfortable with the fact that he wasn't good at it and didn't feel less of a person because of it. In Biggie's case he would much rather work on his stamp collection and listen to jazz than play soccer. Although he does look good in the red uniform.
Stomp Stomp was my first book. The art was all done in watercolor dyes on Arches paper. It was before there was a command Z. There were many nights of working for hours and ripping it up before I went to bed. There is very little you can fix in a watercolor. You either have to embrace what happens or try again. One of the difficult things about doing a book is staying consistent from start to finish. You have a tendency to get better and more confident as you go. I had to go back and redo my earliest spreads.
Stomp Stomp was totally inspired by Where The Wild Things Are. As a grad student at Syracuse University, I did my thesis on the book. I actually interviewed Maurice Sendak for the paper. He allowed me to come to his house and spend the day with him. We had lunch, walked his dogs and I watched him paint while he generously gave me lots of interview material. He was very gracious and encouraging. Needless to say, a big highlight for an aspiring young artist.
The Little Dump Truck & The Little School Bus
Our White House
Our White House was wonderful project put together by David McCullough and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. I was honored to be able to contribute. It's a non-fiction book created by a host of authors and illustrators. The book is a compilation of stories all about the white house. My section was a break in the middle of the book that featured a time line of all the residents followed by a page of somewhat obscure facts about their time in the White House. For example, did you know that William McKinley's wife Ida spent most of her tenure in the White House knitting booties, some 3,500 pairs in all.
We were going to press in the middle of the Obama/McCain campaign. I left a space for who-ever the new guy would be and these cut outs were available to update your book.
At one point in the project I was asked to do the cover.
This was my final cover concept, until David McCullough decided to do the cover. It was his project after all.