Some of you may have heard of the author of the recent book I illustrated? Her name is Katherine Applegate. And, friends, this talented Newbery Medalist is as thoughtful and lovely as the books she writes. What an honor and privilege it has been to be a part of Sometimes You Fly, which released from HMH, Clarion on April 3.
Katherine has answered a few questions and will tell us about writing this special picture book.
Katherine, Where did the idea come from for sometimes you fly?
When I do school visits, I’m always struck by how often teachers ask me to tell students that rewriting is part of the writing process. Kids often think they have to do perfect work right from the start. They don’t realize that rewriting IS writing, and that making mistakes is an integral part of learning.
I wrote Sometimes You Fly to remind readers that before any major accomplishment come lots of false starts and stumbles. I wanted to celebrate all those highs and the lows we face when growing up. (And while being a grown-up!)
Did you always envision the book in the format that is now, with the before and after pages?
From the start, I had the refrain “Before the cake…” in my head. I’m a lousy cook, so the image of a messy, chaotic kitchen—the “before”—was easy to envision! Naturally, the “before” required an “after,” and that’s how the manuscript started.
I knew the real work of this book would lie with the illustrator, who would have to make the “before and after” concept work: it’s a book that’s very reliant on the page turn. When I first saw Jennifer’s early sketches, I got tears in my eyes. It was such a joy to see her take a handful of words and turn them into beautifully realized scenes, full of comedy and tenderness and poignancy. It was pure magic.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope readers remember that it’s ok to fail. More than that — it’s necessary to fail! Failure and heartbreak lead to growth. They’re part of being human.
Sometimes we focus so much on milestones that we forget the most important part: the learning that goes into making a big moment happen. It’s important to celebrate that hard work, along with all the love and support from family and friends that made it possible. Life is messy, and full of ups and downs. It’s also magical.
The structure and layout of Sometimes You Fly was my biggest challenge as the illustrator. Katherine’s beautiful story is written in sparse prose and celebrates the ups and downs of life’s milestone accomplishments.
Each sentence in the beginning of the book starts with the words “before the…” something. The page turn is very, very important in the structure of Sometimes You Fly. My job as the illustrator was to tell the whole story of that character’s journey in one page turn. It needs to be very clear on the before page what particular challenge that character is struggling with, and then equally clear what their achievement is on the ‘after’ page.
Mostly by trial and error I stumbled into the layout device of having a vignette (which is a borderless illustration) on the ‘before’ page and a bordered full page illustration on the following page which showed the ‘after’.
For many months I offered up borders and colors to connect the two pages and carry through the page turn. Which in the end, we decided it didn’t need to have any borders at all.
Just as Katherine persisted through many written edits for the book, I worked to express the emotion and the actions of the images as clearly and concisely as possible. Here are a few versions of one little guy below. There were actually several more…
The original title of the book was, “Before the Cake”.
It’s not uncommon at all for the title of a book to change along the way, but it’s not so common to have it change it in the 11th hour of production. I was literally finishing my very last piece of artwork (not the last page of the book as I intentionally don’t work in order) I was told that the title had changed and would now be Sometimes You Fly, a change that I was actually very happy to hear. I had done many jacket sketches and none of us ever felt that any were right.
Katherine’s original wording, and the title, referred to the fact that the important things in life happen ‘before the cake’, before the reward. But, as a visual it was almost impossible not to think ‘cookbook’, ‘baking’, or ‘pastry’, and the imagery just didn’t represent the big, beautiful idea of the real meaning of the book.
Here are some examples of early jacket designs:
The title changing to “Sometimes You Fly” was much clearer as to what the book was about and brought to mind much lovelier imagery as well.
My favorite piece from the book? This poignant funeral scene. I think these are my favorite words in the book and the impact of everything not being easy in life is such a wonderful lesson to pass on.
“When breezes blow we learn to bend.”
You can watch the book trailer, here…
I hope that you like Sometimes You Fly!
To celebrate our book’s release please comment below and I’ll pick a name and send you a copy of the book as well as a beautiful art print from the publisher.
I’ll announce the winner next month when it’s my turn again (May 15)!