How To Turn a Pig Into a Chipmunk, Or: The Magic of Picture Books

Before I got into the children’s book publishing world, I thought, much like people who approach me these days, that writing a picture book would be pretty easy. Fewer words, right? I should have known better. In my previous career, as a comic book letterer, people would constantly inquire how to get to be a letterer since they have neat handwriting.

Neither career is as easy as people thing. In fact, there are times that creating a picture book is harder, more time-consuming, and frustrating as any other creative pursuit.

I have a book coming out in July called The Imaginoodles. It’s about a nervous hedgehog, an outgoing chipmunk and a lizard that thinks she’s a dragon. But it all started with a pig. A wizarding pig and it started in 2018.

Randomly one day, back in the day, I did a quick watercolor of a wizard pig. I posted it online and my agent saw it and sent me a note saying I should do a book about the pig. Also, my wife saw it and said she wanted to see more of “Edward.” (The name she gave the pig)

So, I went ahead and wrote and penciled an entire manuscript about Edward. I sent it off to my agent, Jodi, and she…did not like it. The great thing about my agent is she’s honest. If something sucks, she’ll tell you, but if she likes something, you know you’ve got something. I can’t stress how good it is to have someone like that in your corner. And she thought Edward sucked.

So, I turned my attention to other book ideas. A few got published. But my wife kept asking me for a book about Edward. I thought about it…for a while. I tried to come up with a story for this pig. I finally landed on an idea. Wrote and drew a manuscript and sent it to my agent. She liked it and sent it to our publisher, Lauri, who also liked it.

So, I went to work. Every book is different. The process is different, the amount of rewrites is different, the creation of the art is different. In this case, my publisher worked with me a bit to tighten the story and made me realize that the main character wasn’t Edward, but Henry the hedgehog. My designer, Jason, worked with me on layout and design stuff (including helping me redesign the cover), and I also went back in and tweaked and re-tweaked the story and art.

Everything seemed to be working except Edward’s look. Jodi and Lauri both felt like Edward just wasn’t cute enough. So, I worked like crazy to redesign him. But, no matter what I did, he didn’t seem to work.

Begrudgingly, I tried out new characters—new animals. I thought which animals seemed most hyperactive and I thought of the chipmunks that I always see running around my property. I named him Chester now. He was perfect. Also, chipmunks are smaller than pigs, so now all the characters were more similar in height. That one little/big change brought the book together.

So, six years in the making, based on a pig that is now a chipmunk, the book is finally coming out. And, recently, the Junior Library Guild has endorsed the book, so it was worth all the years and rewrites and all the other stuff in the process. But, I will say, making children’s books is not as easy as I thought.

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