Cover Reveal: Owl’s Outstanding Donuts by Robin Yardi

Today’s guest post is by Robin Yardi, author of Owl’s Outstanding Donuts.

To celebrate the cover reveal of Owl’s Outstanding Donuts, I’m excited to talk to Lerner designer Emily Harris and illustrator Kelsey King about their creative process here on the Lerner blog!

Owl’s Outstanding Donuts is a wild California mystery full of feathers, sprinkles, and more. After Mattie Waters loses her mother, she goes to live with her aunt, the owner of a roadside donut shop in Big Sur, California. When an owl taps on Mattie’s window one night, Mattie looks out to see suspicious dumping taking place nearby. With help from her friends—and from Alfred, the stuffy but good-hearted owl—she’ll set out to find the culprits, facing fears that have followed her since her mother passed away.

Today is all about the cover reveal and Kelsey’s outstanding illustration, but every cover begins with a book designer, so I’ll start with some questions for Emily.

Getting to A Sketch

Robin Yardi: What I love about the finished cover and design for the book is that they work together to give the reader a really complete picture of the story’s tone. There’s darkness and mystery on the cover, but when you open up the book, it’s filled with sprinkles and donuts, so you can taste the sweetness in the story right away. I wonder if you have a vision for the synergy between the jacket and interior design before an illustrator is even chosen, or is that something you build throughout the process?

Emily Harris: Everything starts to come together once we have initial sketches from the illustrator. I like to see the illustrator’s vision for the cover before I really start to think about the other pieces of the book. I let their ideas set the tone, and that’s what really drives how I handle the interior.

RY: What in Kelsey’s work made her feel perfect for this project and what do you ask for in the first phase of jacket sketches?

EH: First, I loved that Kelsey lives in Minneapolis. It’s always fun to hire someone locally! But most importantly, her work had the right energy and style that we were looking for here. The pieces in her portfolio that initially caught my eye were whimsical but also had a touch of mystery to them, so perfect for this particular story.

Whenever we send cover ideas to an illustrator, we usually give them a few specifics, like if there is anything that absolutely must be shown on the front cover. We like to give them a couple of prompts, but we also really want to see what they pull from the story on their own. We asked that Kelsey include the following specific elements on this cover:

–          A great horned owl (only one)

–          A donut with pink frosting

–          Big Sur, California landscape scenery (or at least tall trees)

RY: What’s your favorite interior detail?

EH: I had a little too much fun creating all of the specific donuts for the chapter headers!

RY: Best thing, in your opinion, about owls?

EH: There are so many wonderful things, it’s hard to name just one. Most owls are nocturnal, and I love thinking about them hunting and flying above us while we sleep.

Alfred the Owl

RY: Now some questions for Kelsey. When I share the cover, Alfred gets the first comment. “Wow,” a friend said. “He’s got a lot going on.” His emotion is so clear to me, and I was glad to see it come though for people who didn’t already know all about him. Our grouchy night watchman does have a lot going on. So how do you get that all into the art? Is it fun trying to get the emotion of an owl just right . . . or frustrating?

KK: I’m so glad his personality comes though! I love owl faces—their large eyes can convey so much personality. It’s pure joy to try and get that to come across. They always look so serious and intent but also a little bit perturbed. It’s such a fun set of feelings to try and convey, and Alfred as a character was such a fun combination of these that I loved trying to explore the right amount of slightly annoyed grouch for his expression.

RY: I’ve been showing off your book jacket sketches at school visits since Emily sent them on. I printed them out and folded them into tiny empty books. I tell kids, pointing as I go, this owl steals a donut from a dumpster in the middle of the night and sees these people at the side of the road doing something they shouldn’t, so he swoops down and wakes up the little girl who lives in this trailer behind the donut shop. The jacket is a perfectly conceived entryway to the story. As a writer, I have a list of three things I think belong in every first chapter to start a story well, and I wonder if you have a similar list of elements you try to include in a book jacket?

KK: Whenever I read a book I’ll be making a cover for, I keep my sketchbook near me so I can keep track of three things: details that are important to the story and represent the larger themes and concepts, scenes that stand out to me, and imagery that I would have fun drawing! I then take these notes (and doodles!) and try to figure out how they can be combined in interesting ways to make a visually engaging cover that also is true to the story.

RY: What’s your favorite cover detail?

KK: That’s hard! I had a lot of fun researching vintage signs to use as reference and inspiration in creating the type and layout for the cover, but probably my favorite little detail is the reflection of the light from the sign onto Alfred’s feathers!

RY: Best thing, in your opinion, about owls?

KK: I learned recently that they can hear prey from underneath the snow! I think it’s so amazing that they can hear and understand such quiet little sounds. They must pay really close attention to what’s going on all the time. I can understand why Alfred was the one to notice the dangerous activities in the woods!

Emily Harris has been designing children’s books for the past 11 years. She likes to eat donuts in the morning, and chase the sunset with her camera in the evening. 

Kelsey King is a freelance illustrator and educator located in Dayton’s Bluff in St Paul, Minnesota. She loves spending time outdoors, animals, and making illustrations that reflect this love of the natural world. Her work ranges from narrative illustration to editorial illustration to surface and product design, with a focus on illustration for children. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design teaching in the illustration department.

Robin Yardi lives in the California foothills, where—every once in a while, in the dark of night—a great horned own will hoot. She loves good stories, animals of all sorts, homemade cakes, and kids. Visit her online at

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