The Birds and the Bees Before Breakfast

h1 May 6th, 2014 by jules

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The basics of reproduction before I’ve even had my coffee yet? That’s a 7-Imp first.

Over at BookPage, my review of Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books, May 2014) has been posted. If you wanna read all about it, head over to their always informative and entertaining site. The review is here.

I follow up today with a visit from Sophie and some art from the book.


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Sophie: This is a page from my sketchbook where I first scribbled thumbnails for the layout of The Baby Tree. I remember I was on the subway and it was crowded, and I was balancing the book on my lap with my elbows tucked right in. And for some reason I was able to get pretty much the whole thing down, something which had been eluding me in all the previous hours at my desk.

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This was the tiny squiggle …



… which would grow into this sketch …


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… which changed a bit in the final painting below. The ambulance was just too weird.


“So I ask Mrs. McClure if she knows where babies come from.
From the hospital, she says, and then she says,
Boys and girls, it’s time to wash our brushes.”
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Here’s another sketch which changed a bit in the final:


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“Roberto, the mailman, thinks babies come from eggs.
But he doesn’t know where to get the eggs.”

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I knew I wanted to balance spots for the boy’s real world and full-bleed images for the scenes he imagined. I borrowed the white space from one of my favorite books, The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr



… and patterns and lines from Koganemaru the Dog by the Japanese illustrator Shotaro Honda:


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And I built my palette around the colors in this 18th century Indian painting I saw at the Met, possibly by Mir Kalan Khan. (I thought someone might ask me one day, so I wrote it down!)


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I also snuck in an indulgent couple of cameos: The boy’s bedtime reading selections at the end are my studio mates’ books: Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee and Brian Floca’s Locomotive!


“And I ask them.
Where do babies come from? …”
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* * *


Thanks to Sophie for visiting. Here’s a bit more art from the book …


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“And Grandpa tells me, A stork brings your baby
in the night and leaves it in a bundle on your doorstep.”
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* * * * * * *

THE BABY TREE. Copyright © 2014 by Sophie Blackall. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, New York. All images here used by permission of Sophie Blackall and the publisher.

5 comments to “The Birds and the Bees Before Breakfast”

  1. I heard Ms. Blackall speak at an SCBWI conference–very fun to see more of her lovely work. Love to read about the process and see the progression of sketches.

  2. She is amazing. I loooove the first one “I am confused”. So good!

  3. Oh Jules, thank you for this. I’m just dying to see this book and now I have this wonderful art to hold me over. I love her work, all of it, pure and simple. And yea about the 2 moms, 2 dads inclusion.

  4. I love Sophie’s work and this looks beautiful. I really enjoy seeing her process, color reference and scribbly sketches! Look forward to seeing ‘the Baby Tree’ in person. Thanks 🙂

  5. Oh Julie, thank you so much for this – and thank you Sophie Blackall. Like Jess says above – the “I am confused” image is so masterful – the eyebrows tell it all! And it’s a huge pleasure to see the first subway sketches, pencil drawings, and finishes – and to know that “The Tiger who Came to Tea” is a favorite. Thank you!

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