Hush, Little Trucker (But shout about a giveaway!)

I’m excited because this is my first opportunity, since joining the PBB blog, to have a chance to interview the illustrator of one of MY books! Today, (Feb. 1, 2022) is the publication date of HUSH, LITTLE TRUCKER, published by Abrams Appleseed, and illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura. Toshi, as he likes to be called, has agreed to talk to me about his marvelous work.

Among other things, Kirkus has this to say about the book: “Put together tunes and trucks and you have the perfect singalong for any vehicular storytime. The melody of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ gets a proper workout in this tale of a child, the snow, and a truck-savvy mom… Adapting the text to the lullaby tune provides a natural storyline. Meanwhile, animation-style art conjures up a winter wonderland worthy of this duo’s imaginary play, complete with details that subtly show that the lost toy is a replica of Mama’s own, very real tow truck. Prep those vocal cords and sing your scales, because this is a book that begs to be sung repeatedly and with gusto.”

Toshi, I’m thrilled to talk to you! I remember, early in the project, I was tickled to be asked to help choose the mom & child characters from the character drawings you submitted. I think my favorites were the 2 everyone else settled on, too. Can you share something about your process for developing characters?

One of Toshi’s character sketches. Which mom and son would you have chosen?

Of course. While I work on picture books, I also work as a character designer in the animation industry as well, so designing and developing characters are some of my favorite parts of working on picture books. Since this book is fiction, I had a bit more freedom exploring characters. When it comes to designing characters, personality always comes first. In order to achieve this, I find it very important that a character is relatable and believable to readers or audiences. Often I try to incorporate my experiences into the design somehow. It could be expressions or poses. Other than that, my process is very simple. I draw, draw and draw until I get the ‘It-feels-right” character. 

One of Kim’s favorite images from the book because you have to turn the book on its side. How cool is that?!

I’m always curious about the difference between the collaboration of the writer and editor versus the collaboration between the illustrator and art director. I know a lot about the former (especially working with Meredith Mundy, who edited many of my books at Sterling; this is our first collaboration at Abrams) but I don’t know nearly as much about the latter. So I’d love to hear about your experience working with art directors. I assume they have different working styles, but I’m still curious about how much the illustrator comes up with totally on his/her own, and how much they do at the specific direction of the art director. Or just anything else you’d like to tell us about that relationship. 

The space where Toshi makes his art.

I’m interested in this subject too, as I aspire to write my own picture book one day. As for the direction given by art directors, each book is different, as one might assume. When you get a manuscript, it sometimes comes with art notes. You might get a few very specific notes for certain books, especially in nonfiction or biographical books. If you have no art notes in the beginning, which is true in most cases, you can come up with your own ideas for the images. Also, if you have a variety of illustration styles, your art director would probably give you examples of what he or she would like the final look to be. Once you have submitted the first thumbnails or sketches, you’d get feedback from the art director and/or the editor. From there on, revisions and notes would go back and forth.

When your editor wants you to see the shiny metallic ink on your front cover, sometimes she just snaps a quick photo of the proof!

As a graphic artist, I’m relatively skilled at composition, typography, layout programs, etc., but not skilled enough at actual illustration to have tried it on my own yet. Two things about illustration that continue to intimidate me: One is fretting about composing scenes in my head — like actually figuring out what the illustration needs to show and then deciding how to show it. The other is color palettes. I always worry my palette will be all over the place with no cohesion. Can you speak to either or both of those things and how you make decisions about them?

I’m still intimidated by these two things you mentioned. Composition takes the most time for me in the process of making pictures. What I always do at first is thumbnail sketch every spread on one page. That way I can see the flow of how each page transitions onto the next. Also, it helps me avoid compositions that are too similar. In this stage, or any other stage for that matter, my sketches are pretty rough, just clear enough to read what’s there. I feel quite often that if I tightened the sketches, the feeling or something would get lost somehow, and I’d just hate to see that happen. Thus I’d go straight from thumbnails to coloring. Fortunately, my past art directors were very kind and I didn’t get asked to do clean sketches. 

Toshi says he hops onto the keyboard beside his desk for musical inspiration when he needs a break from the computer. I was happy to learn that the artist who created the images for my latest song-inspired book is also a musician!

I know what you mean about loose sketches becoming too tight as you move towards the final image. I remember a cartoon in one of my commercial art instruction books in school. (That’s what we called graphic art back then.) The art director has attached a note asking the artist to redo the work. Below that, the beleaguered artist has written, “But boss, I worked on it all night!” below which the boss has scrawled: “It looks like it. Do it again!”

I adore mid-century design and illustration. (I guess pretty soon we’ll need to specify which century we’re talking about when we say “mid-century!”) I think one reason I like your work so much is because some of the sharp angles and exaggerated features remind me of that style. What do you consider to be influences on your work?

Another character sketch. So we had our mom, now we needed to decide on her son!

Lots of my inspiration comes from artists of the classical animation period as well as those still working today. Similarly I have a great deal of admiration for classic children’s illustration, which uses bold colors and dynamic shapes. Mary Blaire and Alain Gree for example.

Gasp! I’m a fan of Mary Blaire, too! I splurged on a gorgeous book about her work a couple of years ago. I’ll have to look up Gree’s work, too. I enjoyed perusing the images on your website, especially the black and white illustrations. Are those images for specific projects or simply art you created to show your range with no particular client in mind? (My favorite is that hilarious dog walking image.)

Thank you Kim! All those images you’re referring to are just for fun. I try to work on personal stuff when I have some time to spare between jobs. (Kim butting in yet again to say: Readers, as soon as you’ve finished reading this post — AND have left a comment! — run, do not walk to Toshi’s website to see more of his work!) https://www.artoftoshi.com/

Tell us about anything new you have in the works!

I have a picture book that just came out on January 25th! The title is Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy T. Mink and the Fight for Title IX, written by Jen Bryant and published by HarperCollins. Also I have 2 picture books in the works, both of which I’m illustrating. One is Listening to Trees, written by Holly Thompson and published by HolidayHouse Publishing, set to be released in Summer 2023. The other one is not yet announced. I frequently post work or updates on Instagram or Twitter, so please check them out.

We surely will! Thank you for stopping by, Toshi! And now, readers, you know your part! Pop down and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of our lovely new book! We’ll draw one random winner from all those who post by, oh, let’s say February 25th. (I apologize I haven’t yet announced the winner of Charlotte Sullivan Wild’s LOVE VIOLET. I gave everyone until February 1st to comment, forgetting that I post the night before! So it’s not QUITE February 1st as I write this!) And you still have until February 15th to comment on Selene Castrovilla’s SEEKING FREEDOM interview. Sorry, it’s been a busy month with a lot of post date swaps! We’re all still excited about Andrea’s awards!

Born and raised in Japan, Toshiki Nakamura moved to San Francisco right after earning a B.A. in politics. A graduate from Academy of Art University, where he studied concept art and visual development, Toshiki works as a freelance character designer/visual development artist based in Japan. He also works in children’s publishing illustrating picture books. Toshiki is currently represented by Shannon Associates for publishing/book work. See more of Toshi’s work on his website: https://www.artoftoshi.com/

He’s on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/artoftoshi/

and on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/artoftoshi

Résumé on Linkedin

Photo by Madoka Shibazaki

Kim Norman

Kim Norman is the author of more than twenty children’s books, already or soon to be in print, published by Sterling; Scholastic; Penguin/Random House; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Candlewick, and Abrams. Calling herself a “Bedtime reading evangelist,” Kim has been invited to countless schools around the US and even wrote a book on the subject with the embarrassingly mercenary title, SELL BOOKS AND GET PAID DOING AUTHOR SCHOOL VISITS. The parents of two grown sons, Kim and her husband live in Smithfield, Virginia, with two dogs in a little house shaded by giant pecan trees. Read more about Kim and her books at kimnorman.com.

82 Comments:

  1. Oh, so adorable! Congratulations to both of you! I love books that we can sing along with! Happy book birthday!

  2. You two did an absolutely splendid job on this book!! It was such a pleasure to work on it with you and art director Hana Nakamura. A very Happy Book Birthday to HUSH, LITTLE TRUCKER!

  3. This is beautiful ❤️ Congratulations! (That crane page is ?!)

  4. My son LOVED books with trucks as a child, and this looks like it would have become a favorite! Congratulations to you both!

    • Thanks so much, Kim! Mine, too! Although robots were my olde son’s ULTRA favorite. I did manage to write and have a book about a robot published by the time he was about 16. ?…. also edited by the amazing Meredith Mundy.

  5. Kim and Toshi, Congratulations on this beautiful book. My kids loved all things transportation and I’m sure this one will join the canon. Thank you for a great interview. I always enjoy reading about how artists do their work and I’m a firm advocate of all that cross-pollination with music too, esp. for a musically inspired story. That story about the graphic art class is great. “Do it again!” Haha. So true.

  6. What an adorable book for all lil truck-loving kids! And I love that song—it reminds me of my childhood. Congrats!

  7. First of all, congratulations, Kim & Toshi!! This book will delight young readers! Such a brilliant idea to change up an old folk song for today’s kids who love machines. This looks like a perfect combo of art & text, and it is interesting to hear more about the process behind the scenes. (Toshi, Fall Down Seven… is getting some great press!) Best wishes to you both!

  8. The art is adorable and I also love that spread where the reader must turn the book sideways. This will be fun to read and reread.

    • Thank you, Danielle! I foresee a lot of little hands wanting to take the book from bigger hands to do the dramatic turn. My kids definitely used to do that.

  9. Happy Book Birthday!
    All the character sketches are delightful – I could never choose one!
    Thanks for the Alain Gree mention – now I am poring over that too!

  10. Great interview! So interesting to hear about the illustration process. Your new book looks adorable! Congratulations!

  11. I’m imagining a class of pre-schoolers singing along and poring over the illustrations–so much fun!

    • I’d love to hear that! I Zoomed with kindergartners yesterday, but they were all on mute, so I don’t know if they were singing along. I hope they were! ?

  12. This looks amazing! I can’t wait to get this book in our library so everyone can enjoy it!

  13. I love truck books. I can hardly wait to get this. Congrats Toshi!

  14. This book looks like so much fun! Congratulations!

  15. Thanks for a peek into the process and also at the new book–love the illos, and what great verbs in the few pages we see here! Looking forward to reading the rest.

  16. I love the characters you chose. The illustrations look fantastic!

  17. What a delightful book! It could be one that would help a long car ride especially singing the song as you passs trucks.
    Congratulations can’t wait to read it!

  18. I love the cover! I find discussions involving picture book illustrators and their processes fascinating. What a great interview!

    • Thank you, Pamela. I agree, I love learning the behind the scenes stories, as well as getting a glimpse of other artists’ and writers’ work spaces.

  19. I love the winter scenes with Mom and the child. Looks like a delightful book!

  20. Congratulations to both of you! This book looks wonderful!

  21. Happy Book Birthday to Kim and Toshi! I’m going to be singing the few lines I can read here as I go to sleep tonight. That always happens to me with Hush, Little Baby! I am sure parents will be crooning, and kids will join in and ask for repeat readings. I LOVE the sideways spread with the crane! Congrats on a very interesting interview and a lovely book.

    • Thank you, Janet! Yes, that’s one of the occupational hazards of my habit of rewriting old songs: ear worms! Haha! They can get stuck in there pretty good. Hope it didn’t ear a groove in your brain! ?

  22. Susan Lee Roberts

    Can’t wait to see how all the words work with the song. What a challenge! So far I love the art, looking forward to see how it all moves forward.

    • Thank you, Susan. Yes, some pretty challenging rhymes, like “front-end loader” and “concrete mixer!” I confess I slanted the rhymes a bit more than I usually do — even more than when I was rhyming femurs and scapulas in GIVE ME BACK MY BONES — but there were some must-haves in that vehicle collection. I hope young readers will forgive me. ?

  23. This seems like another fun book. It looks like Toshi really knows the characters. I can’t wait to get to know them.

  24. I can’t wait to share this with all my little friends. I predict that this book with its sing-along text and wonderful illustrations will become an instant classic.

  25. This is a beautiful book. Can’t wait to share it with my nephews!

  26. Another great-looking book! Congrats!

  27. This is one of the best back stories yet! It’s fun to learn and pick out my favorite characters so interesting. Thank you

  28. Kim and Toshi, I know this book will
    be a read-aloud favorite already! Thanks for the fascinating interview. Just requested the book from my library system!

  29. Great interview, Thank you, Toshi, for sharing some details on how you work on your illustration projects. This book looks wonderful and I’m already singing the tune in my head! Congratulations to you both!

    • Thank you, Judy! I apologize if the song gets stuck in your head too much. Haha! It’s definitely a minor inconvenience for me when I’m working on a book like this. ?

  30. We are so excited for world read aloud day! Thank you for sharing this awesome page for us to enjoy.

  31. Looks like such a clever, fun book! I’d be thrilled to win a copy for my truck-loving grandson.

    • Tossing your name in the hat, Paulette! (Now if I could only toss my name in the hat to win a grandson! (Ahem. Don’t tell either of my boys I said that.) ?

  32. Susan Johnston Taylor

    Congrats, Kim and Toshiki! I’d love to win a copy of this book.

  33. This looks adorable and I know I’ll be spreading the news to my friends who have grandchildren!
    Congrats to all!

  34. I sang Hush Little Baby to my babies every night until they were old enough to tell me they weren’t a baby anymore and then I sang it some more. lol. LOVE IT!

    • Haha! I love that story, Mary! Our nightly song when our younger son was about 2 was “This Old Man.” (Which I turned into “This Old Van” 12 or 15 years later.) Hubby as better than me about doing all ten verses of This Old Man. I’d skip around and hope my son didn’t notice. lol!

  35. Congratulations on your beautiful work! The words and illustrations are amazing. This book is a wonderful addition to any child’s or adult’s picture book collection.

  36. This looks adorable, Kim! Thanks for sharing and congratulations.

  37. Natalie Lynn Tanner

    KIM: I also LOVE the SHINY, metallic title of your cover! But what I LOVE MOST is this SWEET story portraying a strong mom and a son who looks up to her. Reimagining the old song in such a unique way is TRULY BEAUTIFUL!
    TOSHI: I, too, am a BIG Mary Blair FAN–and now a FAN of yours, TOO! Your artwork TRULY captures the SWEETNESS and the strength of this story and the mother-son bond. LOVE IT!!!

    • Thank you, Natalie! I agree, I think recasting the song from “Papa’s gonna” (fix the problem) to Mama being the helper changes the dynamic quite a bit, including her being a tow truck driver. I love that we’re fellow Mary Blair fans!

  38. What a fun interview! Looks like a fantastic book too. Can’t wait to read it!

  39. Love this! I like how you took an endearing song & rewrote the lyrics! And nice artwork!

  40. Love the concept!

  41. I saw this book on display at the public library and read (or should I say sang) it. What a cute book! I also love the illustrations.

  42. Congratulations to you both! What a fantastic premise. I can’t wait to read it.

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