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by Refe & Susan Tuma

When we set out to design the cover of our new picture book, we knew we were in for a unique challenge.

For our first picture book, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, we worked with our designer at Little Brown to create a cover that was simple, colorful, and bold, and that put the dinosaurs and their mischievous personalities front and center. The cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL uses a similar format, swapping out the blank wall and crayon scribblings for a classic green chalkboard.

We spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two of us, with Mary-Kate our editor, and with our design team at Little Brown trying to come up with a way to use that same format for the cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Maybe the title is scribbled across the gift tag of a giant present, or on the surface of an ornament hanging on the tree. These options were fun and Christmas-y, but they didn’t do a very good job of conveying the scope of the story and, more importantly, they didn’t give the dinosaurs much to do.

So, we abandoned the format of the previous books and began exploring other ideas.

Our biggest source of inspiration ended up being movie posters for classic Christmas movies. Nightmare Before Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, even Ernest Saves Christmas. (Our riff on Nightmare Before Christmas was a lot of fun, with the tip of the tree bending down in front of the moon instead of the curled cliff of the original, but it a bit too abstract.)

We landed on the rooftop scene for a few reasons. First, getting the dinosaurs outside the house was a great way to highlight the magical, moonlit nighttime vibe that threads throughout the interior art. It also gave the dinosaurs the opportunity to explore somewhere they’ve never been in any of our previous books, which was fun. If you look closely, you’ll see we even got to sneak a nod to one of those classic Christmas movie posters…

With the concept set and the design sketched out, we got to work on the actual composition. And it was a lot of work!

Photographing an idyllic snowy rooftop under a moonlit sky is challenging enough under the best of circumstances. Doing it in the middle of the summer (after months of pandemic-related production delays) happens to be just about impossible. As a result, the final cover art is a composite of more than 17 individual photographs and effects, including the rooftop, lights, sky, snow, and of course the dinosaurs themselves.

This required some practical trickery. For example, to match the angle of the rooftop, we photographed the dinosaurs on piece of white posterboard tilted to roughly the same degree. We did something similar when photographing the string of lights to ensure they’d wrap naturally around the chimney.

The title treatment is our biggest link to the rest of the series, since it appears in about the same spot as on the other two covers. This time, instead of purely hand-lettered type, we pair it with something a bit fancier. We loved the way the swooshes on this font resembled dinosaur tails, as if it were created by splicing traditional Christmas type with just a hint of reptilian DNA. Better yet, the gold lettering on the dust jacket will be embossed in gold foil.

All in all, we’re thrilled with how this cover turned out and we can’t wait to share the rest of the book with the world!

WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is available for preorder now anywhere books are sold.

And blog readers! Refe and Susan are giving away a picture book critique!

Just leave one comment below to be entered.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Refe and Susan Tuma are a husband and wife team whose previous books include WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT: A Very Messy Adventure, and WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL. They live in Kansas City with their kids and a dog named Boris. Visit them online at dinovember.com, on Twitter @refeup and @sutuma and on Facebook at Dinovember.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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