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by Meredith Mundy (from 2015)

I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as a children’s book editor. (Still loving it as much as ever!) One of the questions I am still asked most often is why an author and illustrator so rarely collaborate directly. Why WOULDN’T it be a great thing for the two creative parents to discuss and brainstorm? Why don’t I encourage lengthy Skype chats about their amazing book-to-be? What’s up with those control-freak publishers anyway?!

Most people assume the worst: surely author and illustrator are kept apart so the publishers can hold all the cards, hoard all the power. But I am here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth! The reason editors and art directors keep the wordsmith separate from the artist is to allow for maximum inspiration and creative freedom on BOTH sides. Authors needn’t weigh down their manuscripts with descriptions of scenery or characters, and illustrators are allowed unencumbered freedom to conjure with paintbrush or pixels the story’s characters and surroundings without trying to match an author’s vision of them.

I’d like to share three very recent examples of how well it can work out when an author trusts an illustrator and refuses to define how a character should look or how a plot should unfold visually:

When Tara Lazar sent in her hilarious picture book manuscript for NORMAL NORMAN, in which a scientist attempts to pin down a definition for the word “normal,” I needled her to tell me more. Who exactly is this scientist? And who—or what—is Norman?? But Tara could not be persuaded—she had complete faith that illustrator Stephan Britt (AKA S.britt) would know exactly what to do with the scientist narrator and his or her mysterious test subject. It was fascinating to see Stephan experiment.
First Norman looked a bit like a lion.

Normal Norman stripe sketch

Then he looked more like a friendly monster.

Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

Finally Stephan found exactly the right Norman.

Normal Norman unicycle

Who knew he would be a purple orangutan in square-frame glasses?!

And much to our surprise, the scientist turned out to be a young Latina girl in black Mary Janes and a stylish bob. This certainly would NOT have been the case had Tara (or art director Merideth Harte or I) attempted to sway Stephan in some definite direction.



Tammi Sauer is another author who very rarely includes illustration notes in her manuscripts. When I acquired YOUR ALIEN, I asked Tammi what the lost extraterrestrial in her story might look like, and all she would say is that she hoped it would be so adorable that readers everywhere would wish for an alien to crash land in THEIR front yards.


By giving illustrator Goro Fujita complete carte blanche to imagine the cutest alien in the whole universe, Tammi got exactly what she’d hoped for. See for yourself!

Your Alien interior-endpaper


My final example of an author bravely allowing an illustrator’s inspiration to take the driver’s seat is Kim Norman and her charming THIS OLD VAN, sung to the tune of “This Old Man.”

.This Old Van book cover

Not only did she boldly leave wide open what exactly the characters should look like . . . she also left the entire ending up for grabs! In this rollicking picture book road trip, a pair of hippie grandparents receive a very important invitation from their grandson. Soon they are zipping cross-country in their trusty old van, which must deliver them to their destination in time for The Big Event. But WHAT IS THAT EVENT?, I kept asking Kim. She assured me that illustrator Carolyn Conahan would come up with something PERFECT, but I was too anxious. Surely an illustrator would want some guidance from the author on something as crucial as the ending, wouldn’t she?? Reluctantly, at my insistence, Kim brainstormed a few ideas—perhaps the grandson was starring in the school play or had a big solo in a recital? Carolyn wisely ignored the illustration notes and surprised us with a grand finale so clever that any alternative is unthinkable now: of course the grandson is racing his own miniature version of the old van in the Downhill Derby!

This Old Van interior - right side of spread

For those of you writing picture books, I challenge you to leave 50% of the inspiration to an illustrator. You are not alone and by no means have to do all the heavy lifting. Write the story and then step away. And for those of you illustrating picture books, I challenge you to ignore any illustration notes that don’t inspire you! Trust one another from afar, inspire one another at a distance, and then get together AFTER the book is printed to celebrate what your wonderful, individual, untainted visions brought into the world.

Meredith Mundy was formerly Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books. She now serves as Executive Editor of the Appleseed imprint at Abrams.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


by S.britt

When Tara initially asked me to be a guest writer for Storystorm, I was flattered. When she then suggested I write about how motorcycles influence my artwork (and vice versa), I was intrigued. I suppose I had never really thought about the connection in great detail before, other than the fact that I rather enjoy riding and restoring vintage British motorcycles and working them into my artwork when I can. In fact, a tiny tiger riding a lil’ Triumph motorcycle can be spotted in the jungle jamboree spread in Tara’s NORMAL NORMAN.



I first began doodling shortly after I was able to grasp my first red Crayola. Not long after that, I remember my father plopping me on the gas tank of his gold Honda CB and taking me on long rides throughout the countryside of Louisiana. It wasn’t until my early adolescence that I first set foot on a motorcycle of my very own, an early 70s baby blue and white Honda Super Cub. I clocked a lot of miles on that little scooter ’til the day a crash rendered it far too expensive to fix and it was sent to the great motorcycle scrapheap in the sky.


After that, I turned my attention to restoring vintage cars, specifically late 60s and early 70s Volkswagens, many of which began appearing as backdrops in my illustrations. However my lifelong passion for old VWs was cut short with a move to Minnesota in late 2012. After witnessing firsthand what ice and salt does to vintage tin, I wasn’t about to see my beloved 1969 VW Fastback (named Jaunty) dissolve before my eyes, so I sold it to a retired teacher in upstate New York. A short time passed and I once again began to feel that familiar itch for something to wrench on, so I headed down to the local dealership and picked up a brand new red and white Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. Thus rekindling my childhood love affair with two-wheeled transportation and I haven’t looked back since (unless a cop is issuing me a speeding ticket!).


At this point, you may be asking yourself “what does any of this vehicular nonsense have to do with children’s books?!?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Before I start any illustration project, I either like to go for a long ride or drive to clear my head and allow new thoughts and ideas to percolate and germinate; to ping-pong inside my empty brain like a giant popcorn popper on wheels. Right after I get home and scrape the bugs out of my teeth, I jot down as many ideas (good and bad) as I can before they disappear back into the ether. There’s just something about careening through bucolic backroads and twisty tarmac at 70 mph that really gets the creative juices flowing! The same can be said for simply taking a break from painting to put down a brush and pick up a socket wrench. To me there’s nothing more satisfying than restoring a rusted-out, dinged-up, long-neglected piece of machinery back to its former showroom glory. Each one of these old metallic souls has a unique personality and a story to tell. It just takes the right person to come along and to coax it out of them. And there’s as much art to that as any children’s book in your library.

I’m currently illustrating my next book for Clarion Books and restoring a 1964 Triumph Cub Trials motorcycle. And to me, both are of equal artistic merit and personal gratification.

self-portraitView S.Britt’s art and find out more about his work at


Tara and S.Britt are giving away a copy of their book NORMAL NORMAN.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Thank you for your patience with the PiBoIdMo winner announcements. I intend to get to them prior to year’s end, so I hope you’ll stick around just a while longer. Here, have a cookie. If you can catch him, that is.


All grand prize winners plus Pre-PiBo and Post-PiBo winners have been notified via email. If you were a winner and did not receive an email, please contact me.

In the meantime, let me leave you with a gentle reminder (which you don’t really need, do you?) to give a book as a gift this holiday! Garrison Keillor said it best…


And since it’s almost 2015, here are sneak peeks from my upcoming titles to be released in August, September and October (talk about bada-bing, bada-boom-boom-BOOM!). Funny how these books were each signed within one year of each other, but they’re being released within one month of each other!

I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK (Aladdin/S&S, August 2015)
illustrated by Benji Davies


NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, September 2015)
illustrated by S.Britt


LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House, October 2015)
illustrated by Troy Cummings

wolf (1)

Once again, thanks for your patience with the PiBoIdMo winner announcements.

And may you and your family have a joyful holiday season!

(I hope you receive some really cool writerly gift!)

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