Children Bilingual Books

The Story Behind The Art

The Story Behind the Art

Thousands of children’s books are written, illustrated, and published every year in the U.S. Professional and amateur writers collaborate with illustrators to produce books in all shapes and sizes. Finding a talented illustrator is not hard to do. There are many gifted artists looking for work in the marketplace. However, finding an artist you can work with on a large project is a bit of a challenge.

The search for an artist to illustrate our books started three years ago with Denise Bourgeois-Vance, a bilingual social worker and former teacher who immigrated to the U.S. in 2006. She graduated from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree and has been working in the greater Seattle area. She specializes in helping low-income families and their children met their goals in their community and school. What Denise discovered while working with immigrant families would change the landscape of early education in terms of bilingual literature.

She found that although one in five households in the U.S. speak a second language in the home, only 3% of our books are produced in non-English languages. Could this be true in a country that prides themselves on diversity? For the next year she went to work writing the Sophia and Alex series of books, dedicated to all parents and grandparents that dream of reading to their children in their native tongue.  Leveraging her 30 years of experience in early childhood education, she developed books relative to the experiences of early learners. Each book tracks common events occurring in the life of a young child and uses that event to teach communicative and social schools need to succeed in school and at home. That require 11 books. The only thing needed now was an illustrator.

Children Bilingual Books was formed and nearly two dozen artists were interviewed to do the work. The final five were asked to produce a drawing based on a page in the book. The artist was judged on 1) How well they could relate the illustration to the text, 2) How much detail could they provide in regard to facial expressions, page backgrounds, and unique characters, and 3) How knowledgeable were they about children ages 4 to 7.  The five artists quickly came back with proofs; however, only one captured the scene as the author envisioned it. This was an established children book artist from the greater Atlanta area named Damon Danielson. We soon found Damon enthusiastic about the project and proceeded to start with the first book, Sophia and Alex Go to Preschool.

Every Monday morning at 7 AM, our project manager, our author Denise, and our new artist Damon, meet over the phone and discussed the needs of the week.  The first half of the meeting was dedicated to reviewing last week’s proofs, and the second half was reserved to review the text and illustrations needed for the follow up book. Every page was scrutinized to ensure the illustration supported the text and the feel of scene was in tune with the storyline. Prior to the conference, Damon story boarded the scene based on the description laid out by Denise the week prior. This is a task most authors skip when handing over the script to the illustrator, expecting the drawings to match their expectation. They rarely do.

All changes are made to the illustrations or the text until it feels complete. A picture book’s story must be told through the illustrations rather than the written word.  A great illustrator understands the story and the author’s intent. It was this way with Damon from the very beginning. In our case, the author only provided the outline to the illustrations. Damon always retained the creative freedom to enhance the illustration as he saw fit.

The style of the book must reflect the mood of the series. At Children Bilingual Books, we intended the Sophia and Alex illustrations to be clean, simple, and relatable. Overly detailed background art can be distracting for early learners and stray the reader away from the storyline and characters. The foundation of the series is grounded in our multi-cultural characters and their social interaction. Background art is used sparingly, only to support dialog and the book’s storyline.  If the characters are drawn too comical, the reader will not take the content seriously. On the other hand, if the charters are too realistic, there leaves less room for a child to insert themselves into the character. Damon does a splendid job drawing the Sophia and Alex characters with multi-cultural attributes that makes it difficult to tell which ethnicity they belong to. In fact, Sophia is a drawing from an actual photo of a five-year-old girl sent to Damon prior to the illustrating of the first book.  Send a request to SERVICE@CHILDRENBILINGUALBOOKS.COM and we will reveal the photo sent to Damon for the Sophia character. You may be surprised when you learn of her origin.

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