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Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Fun-Filled, Educational Books for Children

Updated on February 16, 2016

How It All Began

I guess writing and illustrating Children's Books should have been a "No Brainer" for me. I've always loved children, and I've always loved to paint animals. I also prefer bright, vibrant colors in my art work. All helpful ingredients for illustrating kids' books, but the "Duh" didn't come to me until out of the blue I was invited to a "Meet-up" for Children's Book Illustrators. The invitation suggested that attendees bring a painting that they thought would make a good cover for a children's book. I can't honestly tell you what busy-ness I was up to at that time. I work 4 days a week in a technical job, which I enjoy, doing CAD drawings for architectural firms, but I always have something else going on in the Art world. I've tried a lot of things, but illustrating books had not yet occurred to me. Anyway the invitation intrigued me. I had created a painting of a young ocelot reclining on a tree surrounded by white orchids in a rainforest several years ago, and that painting immediately came to mind. So I dragged the painting out of the closet it was moldering in, and I trotted off to the meetup.

Original painting of young ocelot
Original painting of young ocelot | Source

I had also invited my good friend Carole to come to the meeting. Carole is a retired school librarian, and she loves all things about books. Now I live firmly by the belief that there are no accidents in life. The adorable young man who had organized the Meet-up turned out to be more interested in writing fiction for adults, and the children's book idea was just idle curiosity for him. He, Carole and I were the only people who showed up at the Meet-up at the Barnes and Noble coffee shop that day. We drank Starbucks coffee, talked about writing and just basically had a wonderful time. Carole shared with us a Children's Book Illustrators' conference that was coming up in a month down in Ohio at the Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay.

Finished Cover for "Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest"

Cheeky Ocelot in Costa Rica
Cheeky Ocelot in Costa Rica | Source

End of story for that lazy Saturday afternoon. But, you know what? It planted a seed. I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's amazing book, "Big Magic" in which she posits the theory that creative inspiration floats around in the air looking for a fertile place to land.The young man who organized the meeting blew that air towards me. The whole afternoon truly inspired me to head off into new frontiers. And Carole has been the greatest support system any author could ask for. The following month, we trundled off to the book conference in Ohio with our husbands, and the rest of the hook was set. There were 6 very successful illustrators at the conference. They all gave wonderful slide lectures and shared a lot of good information. I benefited from 5 of them, but the 6th one truly gave me a kick start. He is Ashley Bryan and he is in his 90's!!! One of my hang-ups lately is my age, I'm 69, but I spoke with him after the conference, and he assured me that I'm just a girl! Don't you just love it? So there went my last creative block. I got busy and spent the winter writing and illustrating "Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest". I finished it in July 2015, and I decided to self-publish it on Createspace which is owned by Amazon. Now I'm working on the sequel, "Olivia Ocelot Saves the Day: Adventures in the Desert" which is set in Arizona near the Chiricauhua Mountains. I will go into the various phases of the creation of Olivia Ocelot as we go along, but that is how it started. Love you, more later!

NEXT STEP: GATHERING IN THE SHEAVES: COLLECTING YOUR THOUGHTS AND RESEARCH

So you have an idea for what you want to create for a children's book. It may be the kernel of a story, or it may be a painting or drawing you have painted that you really like, and you think would be a good cover. The painting could also be an interior illustration instead of the cover. The main thing is you have a starting point. Now you can start gathering in the sheaves of background information and research to give you further inspiration. I use manual. traditional art to create my illustrations first. I rely on Googling a lot of background information to get me jump-started. I knew I wanted to use Costa Rica for the background for my first children's book, but I've never been there. I went to Google and keyed in Costa Rica animals and indicated images. Shazaam, more photos came up than I could ever use!!! I printed out the photos of animals I wanted to use in my story and then put them on the magnet board above my drawing table, which I call an image board. Later I would scan my own art into my computer and enhance my art with Corel Draw computer art.

Let me show you an example of the evolution of an illustration from "Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest".

Here is a photo of a pair of howler monkeys in the rainforest in Costa Rica.
Here is a photo of a pair of howler monkeys in the rainforest in Costa Rica. | Source

I used the howler monkey photo to guide me in painting the howler monkeys for my story. Google research told me that they absolutely adore figs, so I put them in a fig tree. I used potato printing to create the fig leaves. You carve your design out of a regular potato and then daub it with paint and press it onto the paper. More fun than a barrel full of monkeys!!! Sorry :) I couldn't resist. This turned out to be my favorite page.

Finished Howler Monkey pages for "Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest".
Finished Howler Monkey pages for "Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest".

Image Boards are Great.

Here is a photo of my image board for the sequel, Olivia ocelot Saves the Day: Adventures in the Desert. The setting is in southern Arizona. I have a headstart on this story because I spent 3 years in Arizona and saw a lot of the animals and landscape there.

Photos from Google for inspiration
Photos from Google for inspiration | Source

If tou look at the jackrabbit photo in the upper right, you'll see the inspiration for my painting of the same cute critter.

Miss Jacky (Jacqueline) Jackrabbit having a word with Olivia Ocelot
Miss Jacky (Jacqueline) Jackrabbit having a word with Olivia Ocelot | Source

I was amazed at how organic and non-linear the whole process was. Once I had a core story in my mind, it started to take off and fill itself in. And it rarely came to me in a neat, logical sequence. It came in fits and starts from the end of the story to the middle to the beginning and back to the middle. Chaotic, exuberant, and unruly, just like my life. I always start out writing and sketching everything out on paper. I try to get the whole story roughed out before I go to my computer. I think the computer and the word processor are the most liberating inventions on the planet for non-linear minds like mine. I did a very long Master's thesis back in the day just before I got my first computer, and it was Hellish. Now we have the luxury of moving whole sections of our prose around wherever we want them with just the click of a mouse. And If you decide an illustration needs to be in a different place in the story, Voila!!! One cut and paste later it's moved.

I'll close out for now. I'll write more next about creating dummies, the poster board kind. Love you, keep on keeping on. Anne Cary Jantz

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      Anne Crary Jantz 2 years ago from Dearborn Heights, Michigan, U.S.A.

      Thank you Betty! I appreciate your comment very much. You are so right about the teacher appearing when the student is ready. It all proves you just can't push a rope, inspiration only comes when it is ready. I am continuing my story about my children's story. It's amazing to me how organic the whole process is. I hope you enjoy my book.

      Thanks again!!!

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      Betty 2 years ago

      Great article Anne!! Yours is a very interesting story that illustrates how the right teacher will appear when the student is ready. It is very inspiring for young writers and those of us us who are not so young and feel that the inspiration muse has been rather aloof. Will buy your book to see what Olivia is up to in the rain forest. Thank you and keep us posted!!!

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