Guest Post by Children's Book Author Linda Thieman: "Letting Your Illustrator Into Your Storyline"

Letting Your Illustrator into Your Storyline

by Linda Thieman

When I first approached an illustrator to do five illustrations for Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, a chapter book for ages 7 to 10, the illustrator suggested I add a nasty neighbor boy to the story who could make fun of Katie and taunt her. That was my first indication that said illustrator was not getting the gist of my little story of love, healing and empowerment. I decided to wait for the right illustrator to come along.

One day, when I was online on an alternative health group, there was a request for information from a woman named Kim. Kim, Mrs. Kim Tharp, as it turned out, was a nurse who was also interested in alternative health and healing. I sent her the information and a friendship was born. But we both had a secret that we dared not share. She was a talented artist who dreamed of doing illustrations professionally, and I was a children’s book author, carefully guarding my precious little healing stories and desperately in need of an illustrator who would understand what I was trying to do.

After several months, Kim read the first book and decided to join me. Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story is the story of an almost-nine-year-old girl, Katie, who moves into an old house out in the country with her family. Katie immediately begins to suspect that a friendly ghost is living there, too. Katie plays detective to find out who the ghost is and she learns that her name is Kimble, the ghost of a ten-year-old girl. The two meet, and Katie and Kimble then set off to try to discover what happened to Kimble’s mother.

As Kim and I worked together on Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, we spent a lot of time getting the look down. I tried to convey to Kim what I wanted each picture to portray and where it would be located in the book. We spent much of that first collaboration getting to know each other’s style and process.

By the time we started doing the illustrations for the second book, Katie & Kimble: The Magic Wish, we had all the basics down. I hadn’t given much thought to the illustrations for the second book, so Kim had a lot more freedom and input in that book. I’d say, for example, “I need a picture for chapter four and I’d like the picture to include Katie’s mom.” Then Kim ran with it and just blew me away, each time, with what she came up with. The illustrations are so moving. They tug at the heart strings of every human being who has ever longed for a mother, and by my calculation, that’s just about everyone, no matter your age.

But Kim surprised me even more after I thought we were finished with the book. In the second book, Katie & Kimble: The Magic Wish, Katie and Kimble find a coupon for a magic wish in a box of Magic Wishes cereal. They can wish for anything, but the wish will only be good for two days. After much discussion, Katie and Kimble decide to wish that Kimble could be human for two days. The wish works and Kimble fully embraces her humanity, going enthusiastically overboard in eating and riding a bike, and is largely accepted into Katie’s family, for at that point, she’s impossible to hide or explain away.

When the two days come to an end, Kimble disappears and Katie and her family are devastated. Kimble thinks she will come back in ghostly form, but since this has never happened before, no one really knows for sure.

At this point near the end of the story, I reached a transition. The dark, rainy, gloomy atmosphere that mimicked Katie’s mood was about to change with the dawn of a new day. So I asked Kim to draw a picture of the old oak tree out in the backyard with the sun coming up over the horizon.

I got my picture all right, but unbeknownst to me, Kim had decided to add an empty swing hanging from the tree. As often as the big old oak tree was used as a setting, nowhere in either book was a swing mentioned. But that image of the empty swing was so powerful, so compelling, so representative of the loneliness everyone felt at Kimble’s absence, that I decided to revise the book.

I thought that adding a swinging scene would be perfect in two ways. First, it would be one more humorous way to show Kimble going hog-wild with glee, adding swinging to eating and riding a bike. Second, I thought it would be an excellent way to extend Mr. Russell’s environmental consciousness. So I did some research on how to put a swing in a tree without using nails and without harming the tree, something Katie’s dad would be excited about and would be very glad to do for the girls.

I feel truly blessed to be able to work with an illustrator who genuinely understands the emotional and healing components in the Katie & Kimble books. At this level, in the early chapter books, young readers still need pictures and the pictures enhance the story immensely.

Children’s book author Linda Thieman writes the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story chapter book series for ages 7 to 10, and runs the Katie & Kimble blog.

She is a former English language teacher who has created a set of reading skills activity packets and classroom materials that teachers and homeschoolers can download free of charge from the Katie & Kimble blog. These materials are guided by the national standards set for third grade reading and language skills. Linda lives in Sioux City, Iowa. She hopes to publish Katie & Kimble: The Golden Door in 2009.


Mayra Calvani said…
Thanks for the wonderful post, Linda, and for sharing your thoughts about working with an illustrator.

I can say from experience that being able to work with the right illustrator truly is a blessing.

Good luck with your tour!

L. Diane Wolfe said…
Yes, the right illustrator is so important! The cover art and illustrations are what first captivates a potential reader, and she nailed it with finding someone who truly understands the spirit of the story. Once you have that type of illustrator, you can feel good about just letting them go with their inspiration.

L. Diane Wolfe
Anonymous said…
I can understand how rewarding it would be to work with a great illustrator and have a connection with that person, just trusting them to tell the story through their art.

It must be hard at times to find the right person for a particular story. I know I would have a hard time telling someone I don't like their drawings.
Anonymous said…
Thanks so much for posting this, Mayra! I appreciate it. Your readers can now download 6 chapters of Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story for free over at the Katie & Kimble blog (click my name). It's on the right sidebar.
Morgan Mandel said…
Thanks for sharing how you picked an illustrator. I've got a children's book about Rascal, my dog, that I'm trying to figure out how to get ready. These kind of tidbits are a great help.

Morgan Mandel
Anonymous said…
I am not an author or illustrator but I am a reader and father. I too
appreciate how Thieman weaves those teachable moments into her stories.

I don't have time to read everything my daughter reads but I made the time to finish Katie and Kimble with her. I could not put it down! I found Katie and Kimble to be engaging, charming and fun! My daughter and I can't wait for more chapters to come out.

Also, learning about Linda's relationship with her illustrator was very interesting. I have a new appreciation for what goes into writing quality childrens literature! Thank you for your site Mayra and thank you to Linda Thieman for her creativity!