I first had the idea of doing a children’s book back in 2016 and started putting art aside for it then, choosing whichever pieces I thought were really strong that the kids had already done. I didn’t want to make the project about the kids doing something specific for the book, but rather shaping the book around the kids’ creativity.
Why were you excited about the idea of working together with Moira Donohue on the children's book that includes the children's art, LIONS & CHEETAHS & RHINOS! OH MY!, out today from Sleeping Bear Press?
Moira and I met in 2017 in Tanzania, which was total serendipity because she was already a well-known author and I really love her work, especially Penny and the Punctuation Bee, which is such a fun read but also so educational for kids. She attended one of the art classes and saw all the wonderful wildlife paintings the kids were doing. As it turned out, her forthcoming book was Little Kids First Big Book of the Rainforest with National Geographic and we bonded over our shared love of the hyacinth macaw. I mentioned to her my idea for a children’s book on African animals with the kids’ art and we ran with it.
I put together a rough outline and Moira and I carefully edited it together. Navigating children’s book writing is really something to do with a professional and Moira’s understanding of prose, structure and editing really shaped the book into what it is today. Moreover she gave the manuscript to her agent who found us a publisher so it really wouldn’t have happened without her, and I am so grateful!
Why did you decide to donate your share of the book's profits to How to Draw a Lion?
It was easy for us to make the decision that all proceeds should go back to the kids through How to Draw a Lion. The focus of the program is really about creative opportunities for youth and we weren’t interested in taking any of the potential revenue stream for ourselves.
That's wonderful, John! How did you feel when you saw the final book?
I was blown away by the book when I first saw it. Felicia, the book's designer, did such an amazing job and I cant wait for others to see it as well! I hope that kids feel inspired to create their own works of art, not just of animals, but to understand there is a whole world in visual art waiting to be discovered!