The Chocolate Bees Last Wish



There once was an old book illustrator who lived in a moss-covered cottage on the east coast of Ireland. One warm June morning, he awoke to find a brown paper parcel outside the front door. He picked it up and held it to his ear. It was buzzing, as if it contained a dozen mobile phones all ringing at once. Carefully he unwrapped the parcel, lifted the lid of a decorative gift box and discovered it wasn’t phones, it was bees: several neat rows of curiously round, wingless bees. They smelled lovely, delicious even.



He examined the box more closely. There was a card inside. It read, ’Happy Birthday! Enjoy the chocolate! Your friends at Little Brown’.

Of course – they were chocolate bees! It was a gift from his publishers. The artist was very late delivering his new book. They knew he had a particular weakness for chocolate and they hoped the chocolate bees might inspire him to get his brushes moving faster.

Ah well, he thought to himself, it was unlikely to get him out of his slump, but why not try one? Chocolate was the answer to so many questions after all. It was as he reached for one of the bees that he noticed one of them was missing.

“Conas atá tú?”

The artist jumped. One of the chocolate bees was on his nose, talking to him in Irish!


“Tá mé go maith,” replied the startled artist. “I’m fine, thank you, and you?”

“Well, we’d like to ask you a favour,” said the bee… (cont.)

You can read the full story here at our other blog – The Belugas are Watching.

See also this previous tale of chocolate animals…



Miss Brooks Loves Books sequel: the jacket

I was busy before Christmas finishing up final art for the sequel to my book, Miss Brooks Loves Books, (but I don’t), written by Barbara Bottner. it’s due out in late spring/fall of this year (2014) I believe. This new book is titled: Miss Brooks Story Nook, (where tales are told and ogres are welcome.) Below is  my current comp, or proposed idea for the jacket design. You like? You can see the publisher’s comp at the bottom. I moved things around back the way I originally laid out the cover. It may or may not stay this way. I tried to include the yellow ochre color they proposed for the entire background. I thought it made the book look too young, kind of nursery rhyme-esque. And I moved Miss Brooks (in pirate hat) back up near her name in the title. I also rearranged the subtitle so it read more clearly (to me), and high-lighted the word STORY, not just because the book is all bout story telling, but because a single color font looked less appealing. A judgement call. MissBrooks-StoryNook-jacket-BW-2xxxxxThis is the rough (below) sent back to me by the publisher’s designer for the jacket. Ideas are always rough at this point. The text would still not be final so this would be kept loose until the story was absolutely finished. -1xThe design I sent in response (below) tries to reflect the short, but complex story, which includes different elements of fantasy mixed with reality. Not always so easy to illustrate, or design.

I thought this design combined the various key characters in the book: Missy, at the top, is the main character of both books, but the  titles do not reflect that, so it’s a tricky design solution to work out so the reader doesn’t expect the whole book to be about Miss Brooks, the next figure down, on the left, who is more the catalyst of the stories. She encourages Missy, a reluctant reader and story teller, to find a book she loves as a gateway to a love of reading, and encourage her to practice story telling, to encourage a love of stories as, among other things, a form of empowerment.

Next, on the right below is Billy, Missy’s nemesis, the bully next door, and the focus of her story. You can see he is different in my original version, and in the publisher’s version. I used the Billy I thought represented the character as I saw him. But the author and publisher saw him as a lot more benign. (A benign serial abuser…) So a different Billy was cut and pasted in for their comp. I in turn cut and pasted a counter proposal. He’s deranged here, which I think is closer to his character, and funnier, than just sticking his tongue out.

And below him, on the left, is Graciala, the snake charming ogre next door in Missy’s story she makes up in Story Nook. She has no description in the story, the look’s all me.


In fact all the characters are my imagined look. The Missy character is based on a small girl named Violet, all grown up now, who never took her hat off, even in bed at night. She is the daughter of good friends of mine who own the wonderful Reading Reptile book store in Kansas City. Violet’s mother Deb, is one part of Miss Brooks, and the other part is an editor, and an old friend of mine, Liz. I’m not telling the inspiration for Graciela… I submit this, along with the rest of the finished color art for the book. The cover is always the last thing done.

This (below) is the final color jacket art I submitted with the design above.Miss Brooks story nook -jacket art 2xThis is (below) the Publisher’s comp, at the printed proof stage. I’ve marked it up with comments. The publisher, by contract, has the last say on the jacker design. It’s an almost universal business practice we illustrators learn to live with. It’s not unusual for the publishing house designer and the designer /illustrator of the book to disagree on jacker design. In the end no one is right. It’s opinion. Story-Nook-FG-notes001xAnd again, my design. It’s got a happy kid in a cool hat, a woman in a pirate hat, an ogre reading a book, and a deranged boy. What’s not to like????  Who wouldn’t pick this book up to see what it’s about? And that’s the whole idea behind jacket design: intrigue the reader/buyer to pick the book up and have a look.


On Irish Radio


This Saturday, the 21st of December (2013) I was on RTE radio 1 here in Ireland, to talk about the business of children’s books and such in the county of Wicklow where I live. (if you want to listen to the podcast you can go to this link and I am about halfway through.)

RTÉ is Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster. There is both RTE TV and Radio.images-1

 And for this broadcast there was a mobile radio studio they set up in the old town hall in Wicklow Town, a sea coast community about an hour south of Dublin. The Victorian infrastructure of the town is quite nice, with a working harbor as well as a train station and beach access where you can walk along the water all the way back to my village, Greystones, in about two hours. Not a major tourist town, it has suffered in the recent financial crisis and is still struggling with quite a few closed shops on the high street.DSC_6928


The show I was on – The Business – does have a business slant but it’s intended for a general audience. It’s hosted by George Lee, *”an economist, journalist, television and radio presenter, and former Fine Gael politician. During his time in RTÉ News and Current Affairs, he was named Irish Journalist of the Year for uncovering a major tax evasion and overcharging scandal at National Irish Bank. He has also presented many documentary programmes for RTÉ.” (*from Wikipedia). (Fine Gael (feena-Gail) is the name of one of the major national political parties in Ireland.)

There-2-99x99Children’s books in Ireland have gotten a fair amount of attention in recent years, partly because of the wealth of talent for so small a country, with people like John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Derek Landy, author of the Skullduggery Pleasant series, Eoin Colfer, author of the Artimus Fowl series and who was picked to Unknownwrite a “sequel” to  Douglas Adams cult masterpiece, the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Siobhán Dowd, Roddy Doyle, Jane Mitchell, Oisín McGannKate Thompson, also award winning author/ illustrators P.J. Lynch, Chris Haughton, Mary Murphy, Oliver JeffersMarie-Louise Fitzpatrick, and Nieve Sharky, the current Irish Children’s book Laureate, and whose book I’m a Happy Hugglewugwas recently adapted into an animated TV series (Henry Hugglemonster) for the Disney Channel, with animation created by Dublin’s Brown Bag Studios. Among many many others.jessieBabyspeakers_nimahsharkey_01


Pictiúr exhibition of Irish children’s book illustrators

An exhibit of Irish Children’s book art opens in Dublin this Wed. at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It has already been to Vienna,Austria,  Leuven, the Netherlands, The European Parliment in Brussels, and Bologna, Italy.  As an Irish resident I qualify as Irish…That’s why my work is there too. Two pictures each. Plus, new for the Dublin opening –  a kind of “reading dome” made up of cardboard triangles, each triangle drawn on by one of the illustrators.

The images are the character “Missy” from a book I did in 2009 with Barbara Bottner and Knopf publishers titled, Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t.).  The two illustrations of mine in the show are from that book. I’m just finished the sequel to that book, Miss Brooks Story Nook due out next year (and to be chronicled on the next blog).

I thought I was being very simple, but it still took a long time. I’m sure others put more time in and will impress and embarrass those of us who chose the simple route…

Here’s my triangle (below, on the left, and Mel’s on the right):

More show info: (Text adapted from Laureate site.)

“Pictiúr” is a word in the Irish language that means  picture, or illustration, or the closest thing to it. Pictiúr is also the name of a new exhibition of work by leading Irish children’s book illustrators, which is on an Irish tour this autumn and winter, following on from its highly successful tour of Europe earlier in the year. The tour is supported by the (Irish)Arts Council.

Pictiúr, which is the largest single exhibition of Irish children’s book illustration ever assembled and which is curated by Laureate na nÓg, Niamh Sharkey, features 42 pieces by 21 illustrators. During its European tour as part of the Culture Connects International Culture Programme to celebrate Ireland’s Presidency of the European Council, it was seen by more than 25,000 people in four countries. (“Laureate na nÓg” is the position of Irish children’s book laureate.)

Pictiúr features the work of 21 children’s book illustrators. Illustrators include P.J. Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Olivia Golden, Alan Clarke, Steve Simpson and Andrew Whitson (and Michael Emberley!). The exhibition will comprise 42 art pieces and will include illustrations from books written in English and Irish.

During its European tour, which was supported by Culture Ireland under its Culture Connects EU Presidency funding stream, Pictiúr visited the Festival of Young Readers, Palais Auersperg, Vienna, Austria and was viewed by more than 13,000 children. It also visited the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Bologna Italy, the European Parliament in Brussels and the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe.

Show Catalog:

Miss Brooks Loves Books – ‘foreign’ editions

As I finish up a sequel to an older book, I came across these japanese and Hebrew editions of the last book with the same characters – both books written by Barbara Bottner and published by Knopf/Random House. They are fun to see. Even if I get about  2 dollars for them…

I like the way the Japanese editions used hand drawn title lettering. It gives a lively feel to the jacket. And they chose Yellow, instead of the purple machine set type used by the Publisher in the States.

this one (above) is Japanese. They always use better thicker paper, and seem to do a great job printing and binding there in Japan. Better than the original US edition.

This one (above) is Hebrew. Notice the change they made??? It’s the same color title, but the entire design is reversed, as they read right to left. Though they technically don’t have to, they also reversed all the images… which I hate. It’s cheaper I suppose. Half of them suffer from the mysterious reversed image curse. Some images look about the same in mirror reverse, some look awful… it’s an graphic phenomenon I could do without.  Below is in inside page. The images look weird to me reversed. Also that hand-drawn text next to the leaping Missy character says – “SNORT!”. Now, you guys not familiar with the book and or don’t speak English as a first language, snorting is a sound you make in your nose, kind of like a pig. She’s snorting because she has found a book she loves that is not too girlie for her, called Shrek, that has an ogre that snorts a lot. She loves the sound. So that’s SNORT! in Hebrew…

And this is SNORT! in Japanese. Practice this at home. Impress (or confuse) your Japanese friends… OK. Back to work on this next one.