A Series in the Making

I first started working on the Follow that Food Chain series in February 2007. It’s exactly the kind of series children’s editors (at least this editor) like to work on—lively, with a solid author’s voice, and inventive. It was on a subject—animals—that we know kids will love. And we know that there is never any shortage of great animal photos—so no problems illustrating the series. I love animal photos as much as any kid—except for photos of snakes and leeches, and I’ve learned tricks for working around that—and knew I would enjoy seeing the words and pictures come together.

But how we would put the “choose your path” concept into play? I had already worked on several of our Twisted Journey books, which also use the choose-your-adventure format. But the structure of the TJ books is very involved, with long storylines that need to be mapped out in great detail. The Follow that Food Chain series uses a format more analogous to an animal’s daily journey through its habitat. The animal might or might not find food, might chase prey or get chased by a predator…. Each turn of the page leads to new possibilities, as each turn in a rain forest or the Outback might. From an editorial standpoint, all I needed to do was mix up the pages so it wasn’t too easy for readers to guess what was cosonoran paginationming next.

Mapping out the book: An editor’s handwritten story map for A Desert Food Chain.

It was up to the Art Department to integrate the fun aspect of making choices into the series design. An experienced and creative design team produced a board game design as a background, animal icons, color-coding to categorize each animal as a type of consumer, game cards to instruct the readers where to go next, and maps and diagrams. Ironing out the details seemed to take a long time. But looking back through my notes, I see that things took shape pretty quickly. By Spring, the design was finalized and several books were being edited. The series was under way.

Next, we’ll hear from the authors about what the process looked like from their end. Watch for that blog post in early August.