The Best Kind of Do-Over Before Breakfast

h1 March 28th, 2013 by jules

“But then she clenched her jaw.
‘Not on my watch, buster!’ said Ol’ Mama Squirrel.
She scooped up her babies and went to raise the alarm.”

(Final spread from book — click to enlarge)


I’m not talking here about my own do-over (though I often wish for those on the days when the coffee seems to brew slower than normal and it takes me a bit longer to acclimate to the day). I’m talking instead about author/illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein — who, you may remember, visited me with quiche in 2008. (May the heavens bless him for that quiche, even if it was cyber-only for me.) He’s here today to share early sketches from his latest picture book, Ol’ Mama Squirrel (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, March 2013), which Publishers Weekly calls a “rousing and rowdy readaloud” and Kirkus, an “effervescent tale [brimming] with humor and vibrant characterization.”

You’ll see many sketches here this morning, because it turns out that David, in his words, “did the art for the book over again to get to the way it is now. I redesigned the character and then redid the dummy and then redid the art!”


This is the story of a mama squirrel, who “had raised many babies.” Ol’ Mama Squirrel knows that there’s “no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel,” but she’s fierce and she’s not going to allow that to happen. “Chook, chook, chook,” she shrieks at approaching cats, dogs, owls, and such. She even extends her chook-chook-chooking to the least likely of predators — kites, airplanes, and the man who prunes the tree where she and her babes make their home. But when a bear approaches one day and scoffs at Ol’ Mama Squirrel’s attempts to fend off the danger he poses, well … I can’t give the whole story away, but suffice it to say that it takes a village, as they say.

There’s a lot of humor and heart in this spirited story — and fierceness, what with Ol’ Mama Squirrel shaking her paw at predators both living and mechanical. Stein packs in a lot of energy here with his loose-lined, relaxed watercolor and crayon illustrations. The action, the drama, the sassy protagonist — it all makes for an entertaining story of familial love and honor. Can’t ask for more, especially as we inch closer to Mother’s Day. (That is the one day of the year after all where we stop to solemnly acknowledge the fierce protective urges of which a mother such as Ol’ Mama Squirrel is capable. Steer clear of a mother guarding her babe, I tell ya.)

Let’s get to those sketches David sent. I’ve also got some final art from the book, which I paired up with the early discarded sketches. (I see our intrepid protagonist even went from “old Mrs. Squirrel” to “Ol’ Mama Squirrel.”) I thank David for sharing.

* * *

Initial sketches
(Click each to enlarge)



Early versions of Ol’ Mama Squirrel and her babies
(Click each to enlarge)

Final illustration
(Click to enlarge)



First and final version of the cat illustration
(Click each to enlarge)



First and final version of the owl illustration
(Click each to enlarge)



First and final version of the dog illustration
(Click each to enlarge)



(Click either image to see sketch in its entirety)

More early sketches
(Click to enlarge)



Early bear sketches
(the last one is the sketch for what became the final illustration)

(Click each to enlarge)



Sketch of one of the book’s final spreads:
“…And they scolded him high and scolded him low and threw
old nuts at him until he ran away and never came back.”

(Click each to enlarge)



Title page sketch, cover sketch, and final cover art
(Click each to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

OL’ MAMA SQUIRREL. Copyright © 2013 by David Ezra Stein. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of David Ezra Stein and Penguin.

9 comments to “The Best Kind of Do-Over Before Breakfast”

  1. David talked about this book and how he completely changed styles after completing the final artwork at the NY SCBWI Conference Illustrator Intensive. The illustrator in me cringes at all of the extra work but the artist, consumer and mother applauds his decision. Mama Squirrel now shines and chooks in such a vivid, adorable way with her little nugget shape. This is a definite purchase for myself and other moms.

  2. Hi Jules and David. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!!!
    Chook Chook!

  3. SO worth the do-over. I’m often guilty of quitting too early instead of continuing to experiment with characters. (Usually there’s a deadline that makes me panic.) This example reminds me how important it is to stay loose and play and explore. Thanks!!

  4. GAAAAHHH!! I love mixed media v. 1 (a la INTERRUPTING CHICKEN and LOVE, MOUSERELLA) Just as much as his awesome pen/ink finals. Can’t I get a book o’ both?

  5. YAY! He is my absolute favorite author/illustrator. I’d heard about his re-do’s before but it is so cool to see his early sketches and how Ol’ Mama changed to make everything feel “just right” to Stein for the story. Love this post! Thank you!

  6. Love seeing the development to the final character, which IS the best of the lot. Thanks Jules…

  7. I absolutely love seeing the initial squirrel sketches. His style is so deceptively simple, it is nice to see all the hard work that goes into the process. Thanks for posting!

  8. […] ideas, to character design, to some sketches, to more finished work. … You will see a few Mama Squirrels in there. I was working in that around the same […]

  9. […] many to list—but some great books I’ve read recently include: Journey by Aaron Becker; Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein; if you want to see a whale by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead; […]

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