What intrigued me about the project was how the book could be “assembled.” Normally you have a manuscript and then you select an artist and go on from there. In this case, we would be working backward. We knew what the art would be like--paintings done by African children working with John Platt's nonprofit, Draw a Lion--but needed to design the book around it. I also was taken with the organization’s mission of educating and supporting young artists in Africa.
How did you pitch the project during your acquisition meeting, and why were you excite to do so?
It wasn’t the easiest of pitches, as everyone immediately saw the challenges of the project. But I kept my focus on the importance of John’s mission and how wonderful it would be to bring it to young readers in the U.S. I was confident we could handle the design challenges because we have fantastic designers.
What were your thoughts about the manuscript being illustrated by children living in the sub-Saharan parts of Africa?
I loved the idea of having children illustrate the book. They are, after all, the intended audience for a picture book and to show their visual interpretation of the subject was a real flip-flop of the process. At this point, we had seen only a small selection of the images proposed, so it was exciting to think about how each young artist would tackle their animal topic.
Initially, text changes were minimal and more along the lines of verifying the science content. It was later when we needed to change the title of the book that it became apparent that we needed to make sure the text supported the message of the new title. We had some good back-and-forth discussions of how to get the text there and I think we were pleased with the end result.
How do you feel about the final product and why do you hope kids here in the U.S. will read it?
I absolutely love how the book has turned out! The artwork from the children is just gorgeous and their skill level is extraordinary—a real testament to John and his program. I would love for all young readers to enjoy the book, absorb the science facts/think about the animal conservation message, and then look at the artwork and say, “This is something I can do.” How wonderful to inspire young artists!
Barb McNally has been in the book industry for more than 30 years. She is a senior children’s editor at Sleeping Bear Press and has been with the company for 18 years.