Whenever I tell someone I’m a children’s book designer I get a delighted “Ah!” followed quickly with: But what do you do? The answer is decidedly unglamorous: I solve problems. Need a design for a tattoo/piercing book for tweens AND teens?* Or a series teaching character values to 2nd graders that doesn’t feel like a textbook?** Challenges accepted! I will do my best to create a design that is both appropriate and fun.
But every once in a while a curveball comes along that makes a designer stop in her tracks and say “what the?!” This was how I felt when I received the assignment to design the book Where’s My Tushy? (Carolrhoda Books) by Deborah Aronson.
As I opened the word doc of the manuscript, my first hope was that this story was about a dog cutely named “Tushy”. However, these hopes were soon dashed as I read the first stanza:
We all have a tush and we’re glad that we’ve got ’em.
Our lives would be rough with no tush or no bottom.
While I could not disagree with the facts and the sentiments stated in these two lines, I could also not quell the panic that was rising in my brain as the full understanding of the challenges of this book washed over me:
“Okay….we are doing a book about….bottoms, butts, tushies, rear ends. Who run away from their owners… thus creating bottom-lesspeople. And exactly HOW are we going to illustrate this? Sure butts are funny—no one’s denying that…but they are also gross… and private. So how do we make a tasteful, kid-appropriate book about free range rear ends??!!!” (Cue head exploding)
So the first thing you do when you are in a tricky book situation is hire an illustrator who is up to the task. In this case it was Ivica Stevanovic. He and I had just worked together on the The Royal Treasure Measure (Millbrook Press), which is a very silly story about how the standard foot measurement came to be in a kingdom far, far away. I knew his quirky style and penchant for detail would perfectly compliment this energetic tale of vanishing behinds.
But the problem still remained of what these derrieres were going look like. I found this absurdly serious email that I initially sent to the Editorial Director indicating the conceptual conundrums of tushies turned into people and what their fashion sense might be:
…how do you think the tushies and the tushless people should be portrayed? For example should the bottoms be personified with faces, limbs and clothes? Or should they just be two round orbs fused together that bounce around? If they do have clothes should they be outfits or just funny underwear? Please let me know your thoughts on this asap.
Ultimately, we threw the ideas and thoughts on the matter to Ivica who immediately sketched out some prototypes:
The beautiful thing about visuals is that you have something concrete to react to and upon seeing these cute, strange, but a bit discomfiting bare tush “people,” it was decided that these bottoms needed to keep their drawers on.
Ivica rallied with the new direction and the “Tushies” were born:
We thought they turned out so great we decided to have their James Bond-style nighttime getaway on the front cover:
I’ve got to say once you’ve designed a book about tushies the rest of the challenges seem like walks in the park! So when life gives you a problem just be thankful you’ve got a tushy that you can sit on to come up with a solution.
*Expressing the Inner Wild(TFCB)
**Show Your Character series (Lerner)