Category Archives: Art and Book Design

An inside look at picture book illustrations, cover artwork, and book design.

The Little Melba Playlist: A Jazz Music Primer from Frank Morrison

Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops! With cooler weather comes fun indoor activities, like catching a great jazz show. We asked Frank Morrison, illustrator of our new picture book biography, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, to share some of his favorite jazz numbers with us. Many of the artists below played or arranged with Melba Doretta Liston; others inspired Frank while he created his illustrations. So sit back with your cup of apple cider and let the rhythm carry you away!

  • John Coltrane: “Out of This World,” plus Coltrane’s albums The Inch Worm, Big Nick, and Giant Steps
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Illustrator April Chu Takes Us Behind the Art of Summoning the Phoenix

April ChuReleased in March, Summoning the Phoenix gives readers an inside look into centuries-old Chinese musical instruments and the more recently formed modern Chinese Orchestra. Children of all backgrounds  show that traditional Chinese music can be enjoyed by everyone. We asked illustrator April Chu to take us behind the scenes for creating the digital illustrations used in Summoning the Phoenix:

Illustration Process

1.  Before I do any sketching at all, I will read a manuscript over and over many times.  Sometimes I even close my eyes and just brainstorm ideas.  This step is important to me because this is when all the initial images and emotions I get from a story start forming in my head.  I also start doing research and compiling photos at this point as I did for Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments.  Researching is very important to me before I begin a project especially for a nonfictional picture book.  In this case, researching on the Internet was not adequate since I needed to have a good detailed look at each instrument.  Fortunately, the California Youth Chinese Symphony was kind enough to allow me to take photos during one of their practice sessions.  I was able to get a firsthand look at how the musical instruments were played, what they sounded like, and what they looked like in real life.  All those elements eventually shaped the final artwork.

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Cover Design 101: Drift

Even though warmer weather seems like eons away, we’re already getting ready for the May release of Drift, our new YA coming-of-age fantasy from Tu Books imprint!

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day.

But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister’s wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get.

As the naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for Avi—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

Stacy Whitman photoIn this post, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares the process of creating the cover:

The cover of our new YA fantasy Drift was the first time we hit a wall in our attempt to put a person on the cover of the book. This world is a true high-fantasy alternate world, and the fact that the world is completely new makes it tough to depict visually. We came up against several roadblocks when pursuing our original design, which put the main character, Tenjat, front and center on the cover.

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Cover Design 101: Rebellion (Book 3 in the Tankborn trilogy)

We’re so excited for the upcoming release of Rebellion, the final title in the Tankborn trilogy, which comes out this May! Here’s what to expect:

In the wake of a devastating bomb blast, severely injured Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb—and many others like it in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join her in the terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend that she embraces this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends.

Meanwhile, Devak has emerged from his healing in a gen-tank, only to be told that Kayla is dead and his family has fallen from grace. Can he overcome his grief at the loss of his power to see the clues that point to Kayla being alive?

As Kayla and Devak overcome the multiple obstacles between them while trying to free GENs without further bloodshed, the Tankborn trilogy rushes to a thrilling conclusion! 

Stacy Whitman photoIn this post, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares the process of creating the cover:

As we discussed in the cover reveal post about Awakening (book 2 in the Tankborn trilogy), we showcased two different characters on the covers of book 1 and book 2. Originally, I thought perhaps we should showcase Devak, Kayla’s love interest and the major trueborn character, on book 3.

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Illustrator Christiane Krömer Takes Us Behind the Art of King For A Day

Just released last month, our newest picture book, King For a Day, takes readers on a colorful journey through the spring kite festival Basant. From a rooftop in Lahore, Pakistan, Malik is determined to take his kite Falcon out and win the most kite battles to earn the title of “King of Basant.”

Illustrator Christiane Krömer used paper and fabric collage to create the gorgeous illustrations you see below:

Christiane KrömerI always take photos of the many stages. That way I can see what a picture looked like earlier on, experiment with many choices and then maybe go back to an earlier option. The fun with collage is that you can always push all the paper pieces and fabrics around until they are in the right spot. But there is also a big danger that all the 1000 loose pieces go flying, so it’s a good idea to have a photo that tells you exactly how it was when it looked good. I always have real fun to look at all the stages once the illustrations are finished. I hope you do, too.

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Remembering Illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler

We are sad to share the news that illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler has passed away. Sadler is the illustrator of, among other titles, Seeds of Change, for which she won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2011.

Sonia Lynn Sadler
Sonia Lynn Sadler with Lee & Low Publisher Jason Low after accepting her Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans in 2011

Sonia was a passionate and immensely talented artist as well as a cheerful and kind person. She worked in many different types of media, as a fine artist, a designer, and an illustrator. Her words and artwork speak for themselves: here are a few quotes from Sonia from an interview she did with Education Insider in 2011:

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What Does a Monster Look Like?

S.P. GatesIn this guest post by author S.P. Gates, she shares how she pictures Zilombo, the monster from her new lower middle grade novel, The Monster in the Mudball, out next week from our Tu Books imprint.

Hi from England to my American readers!

Question: First of all, who is Zilombo?

Answer:  Zilombo is the monster in my book, The Monster in the Mudball. Here are a few things it says about her, in the book:

1.) Zilombo is very ancient, a mythical creature older than dinosaurs, an incredible mixture of many beasts.

2.) Every time she hatches out of her mudball, she looks different and has evolved  a new animal skill, usually to help her catch things to eat. When she hatches in England she can collapse her skeleton like a rat does and squeeze through the tiniest holes after her prey!

3.) She’s got teeth like a crocodile, skin like a hippo, a leap like a frog and swivel eyes like a chameleon. She’s got sharp talons, curled into leopard claws. She has the low jutting forehead of an ape and her nose is pulled forward into a muzzle, like a dog. She has rusty orange hair, that sticks up in a crest on her head Mohawk style, then bristles down her back like a lion’s mane.

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SNEAK PEEK: Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

Can’t decide on a theme for your birthday party? No problem—just put them all together! At least, that’s Marisol McDonald’s philosophy. Get ready for a princess-unicorn-soccer themed party like you’ve never seen before in Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual, coming this September.

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash cover image

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Cover Design 101: Killer of Enemies

Stacy Whitman photo We’re thrilled about the upcoming release of our new YA fantasy Killer of Enemies! In this post, Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman guest blogger icondiscusses how she and designer Isaac Stewart came up with the final cover concept:

I’m so excited to finally reveal the cover of Joseph Bruchac’s latest speculative fiction book for teens, Killer of Enemies, which comes out in September. The book is post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk (well, steampunk-adjacent), about a monster-hunting teen who has some pretty awesome powers. It’s an action-packed read about which people are saying things like:

Killer of Enemies is a wild teen adventure-fantasy that starts fast, gets faster, and never touches the brakes. A mind-bending fantasy that smashes across genre lines to tell a story about survival, courage, and lots of monsters. Joseph Bruchac brings serious game. Highly recommended!”—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Fire & Ash and Extinction Machine

For the Killer of Enemies cover, I wanted to be sure we saw how awesome (and kind of terrifying) Lozen’s world was, and I wanted to be able to see her face. We needed a model who looked Native American (and as Apache as possible—though Lozen’s ancestry is a little mixed), and we wanted an action shot. Finding a stock photo that did everything we needed it to would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Instead, I reached out to a friend of mine, Joleen Begay. Joleen is Navajo, and she has family and friends in the Native communities of Arizona and Utah. Since my designer, Isaac Stewart, was located in Utah as well, I wondered if she knew anyone who might have a teen daughter who fit the description of Lozen. Perhaps we’d be able to do a photo shoot.

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The Inspiration Behind the Artwork: World Travel

Our new picture book How Far Do You Love Me? takes readers on a trip around the world with illustrations of children and their loved ones. Here’s a fun fact: author and illustrator Lulu Delacre has actually been to all thirteen places depicted in the book!

She was kind enough to share a few photographs from her own travels that inspired the art for How Far Do You Love Me?. Enjoy!

Ladakh, Himalaya mountain range, Kashmir, India

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