7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: Featuring
Miriam Busch and Larry Day

h1 February 15th, 2015 by jules

Good morning, all.

My Valentine to you today is going to be this post, because I’ve got two visitors this morning, and I not only like the book they made together, but I also really enjoyed their conversation and art today.

I’m (partly) looking back a bit — at 2014, that is. Author Miriam Busch and illustrator Larry Day, who has been illustrating picture books since 2001, are here to talk about Lion, Lion, a picture book that was released last September from Balzer + Bray.

Better late than never. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m pleased they stopped by to visit today.

The book tells the story of a conversation between a young boy and a lion, and Kirkus called it “sly, dark humor for little ones—at its best.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called out its “Sendakian flair” and described it as an “excellent way to introduce younger listeners to the deliberate subversion of expectations.”

But we’re also looking ahead today in that, at the end of this post, we’ll look at what is on Miriam’s and Larry’s plates now — what projects are currently taking up their time.

I thank them for visiting.

Let’s get right to it …

Miriam: Hi, Jules! Miriam here. I’m going to talk a little, and then Larry will chime in. Larry and I created Lion, Lion together.

Here’s a short history.

In 2008, Larry asked me to write a story about Rusty:

Honestly, I was a little lost. I asked Larry who he thought he was (Rusty, not Larry — I didn’t say, “just who do you think you are?”), and Larry gave some vague answers about how Rusty was a king and how there should be lions. This did not help.

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Here’s how some of our notes went. Often, we met for breakfast in a diner and then talked out our story ideas. Larry wrote this out (after pots of coffee, no doubt):


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Eventually, we came up with this convoluted story about this bratty kid, who thinks he should be hunting lions, because that’s what kings do (don’t ask me — I’m even embarrassed to be telling you this) and then eventually uses a slingshot to save his new lion friends from a real hunter.

Right. No idea why there weren’t fistfights among editors over who got to publish that one.

After several rejections, we shelved Rusty.

(Don’t tell Larry, but I never liked this kid. Self-important with a slingshot? BUT: I loved Larry’s lions. I loved all of his animals, but I kept coming back to the lions in my head.)

So, several months after we shelved Rusty, we met for breakfast at a diner. The conversation turned to those lions, especially the one Larry had named Philbert. I had spent time in Africa and wondered about setting a story there — maybe with a different kid (one who was clever-but-matter-of-fact instead of self-important)?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty, and by the end of breakfast, we had hammered out script ideas on a napkin. Larry sketched, I sketched, we talked it through, and I wrote it down.

I was thinking a lot about double meanings and characters who speak at cross-purposes — and inlaid the script with this double-meaning. Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go.

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We submitted it. Alessandra Balzer (Balzer + Bray) asked if we were willing to make the setting urban. (WHAT?? This entire new story came about because of the foundation of the setting!) But we agreed to try it, and I think the difference is both subtle and profound.

One of Larry’s initial urban drawings:



The final art:


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In our first Lion Lion, there is no delineation between the boy’s reality and his fantasy (if that’s how you want to look at it). What happens now is that the boy steps from his stoop into his imagination (or does he?) and at the end, he returns to his stoop with his friends.

Because the setting changed, the animals changed too.


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In the initial manuscript, the boy is tongue-in-cheek offering his friends to the hungry lion. The animals are all in on the gag, but Alessandra thought to make the story a bit less sinister by having the boy offer actual foods. Still, the speaking-at-cross-purposes remains: the lion reacts to the animals eating the foods.


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Final art:


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I can’t count how many different types of birds we went through!

Throughout this entire process of setting changes and character changes and simplifying the story, Larry drew and re-drew, and I wrote and re-wrote. Larry listened to every text revision, and I participated in the page-turn and image decisions.

As we go along, we write down what we think needs a spread, what needs single-page illustrations, and what might need vignettes (like the lion sneezing). Once we figure out rough visuals, we read through again and again for redundancies or holes. In most cases, Larry sketches to nail down character, and we talk back and forth about it — I might think a character’s head is too big, her hair needs more messing up, etc. Larry then sketches sequential thumbnails (or, as in the case with our current project, he sketches a rough dummy).

Here’s a progression from a thumbnail with notes to final art.


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Lion, Lion was our PhD program for learning how to work together. We have collaborated on several more projects, and whether we’ve begun with an image or with a full manuscript, the process now goes something like this: I read the story to Larry. Together, we work through page turns/possible breaks on the manuscript. It’s not until we have a dummy that we can really read for pacing and pauses and more text changes.

Larry’s always so willing to re-sketch from another viewpoint, to try and try and try to get the emotion just right, and he doesn’t take any comment personally. I’m sure some of this ease in willingness to re-work art comes from his long-time work as a storyboard artist.


Other artists and writers ask how we can work together. We breathe story. The work is always about the story. Our collaboration leads us together to stories we wouldn’t know how to create separately.



* * *


Larry: Larry here! Hi, Jules. Here are a few other picture books I’ve illustrated:

From Voices from The Oregon Trail, written by Kay Winters (Dial, 2014):


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From Nanook & Pryce: Gone Fishing, written by Ned Crowley (Harper Collins, 2009):


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From Civil War Drummer Boy, written by Verla Kay (Putnam, 2012):


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The book’s trailer:



[Ed. Note: I don’t normally get super excited about book trailers, but dang, that’s a great one.]

From Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words, written by Dennis Fradin (Walker Books, 2008):


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From Pearl Harbor, written by Steven Krensky (Simon and Schuster, 2001):


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I studied painting with Gerald Merfeld, who lives near Westcliffe, Colorado. Gerald was an apprentice with Dean Cornwell. I not only learned how to paint from Gerald but gained a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of illustration. He introduced me to the art of Ernest Shepard, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, John Singer Sargent, Morton Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, and many others.



This is a sketch in a silver ore mill in Westcliffe, Colorado:



Here are a few other random drawings:



[Right now] I am finishing the final art for a third book with Suzy (Suzanne Tripp Jurmain). This is the title page for Nice Work, Franklin! (Dial, 2016):


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* * *

Thanks again to Miriam and Larry for visiting today. Miriam, it turns out, is currently at work on several picture books, a middle grade novel, and a graphic novel. In addition to collaborating with Miriam on several more projects and Nice Work, Franklin!, Larry is also illustrating Voices From the Underground Railroad by Kay Winters (coming from Dial soon).


LION, LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Miriam Busch. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Larry Day. Published by Balzer + Bray, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Larry Day.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I’ve already said this, but I really enjoyed talking to Miriam and Larry.

2) The name “Miriam.” My oldest is a Miriam, but she goes by her middle name. Sniff.

3) This CD has arrived, and it’s really good:

Oops. Guess you can’t tell from the cover what it is. It’s Horse Comanche from Chadwick Stokes.

4) Sharing music with friends.

5) Story times.

6) Good grub with good friends.

7) It’s a good time right about now to be a long-time Saturday Night Live geek.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

14 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: Featuring
Miriam Busch and Larry Day”

  1. Thank you, Miriam and Larry for sharing your process. I need Lion for the library.
    Jules, I love the name Miriam too. And SLN, so loved the early years!
    My kicks:
    1. The CYBILS winners were announced. Voices from the March on Washingto won for Poetry.
    2. Author, Deb Lund, visited our school. It was a fabulous day.
    3. Dinner with Deb and other friends after her day at school.
    4. Author’s lunch with the top readers from January.
    5. Meeting with my writing critique group.
    6. New piece of writing.
    7. Walking Westmoreland and it’s shops and for lunch to celebrate anniversary yesterday.
    Have a great week.

  2. Jone, I saw those Cybils announcements. Very exciting. Good choices. … Is your new piece of writing poetry?

  3. Next time any of us run into someone who thinks writing and illustrating picture books is easy or simple, just show them this post. It is wonderful to see this collaboration.
    Thank you Miriam and Larry.

    Jules- We were just discussing middle names at dinner last night. Good friends, good food and SNL, sounds great. Cheers!
    Jone- I hope the writing is going well. A good critique group is priceless.

    1. Between blizzards I man to make a trip to New York.
    2. The Society of Illustrators show was fantastic and inspiring.
    3. Japanese lunch with a friend on NYC was delicious and the conversation was stimulating.
    4. I saw an Egon Schiele show at a museum I’d never been to.
    5. I hung out with many friends in the illustration world and the children’s literature world. And I made some new friends.
    6. I saw snow leopards in the snow at the Central Park Zoo.
    7. My NY trip helped me to focus on what I’m going to be working on for the next couple of months.

    Have a great week all.

  4. Apologies for my phone’s autocorrect making my post slightly incoherent.

  5. Fly by posting on the way to a very full day: rehearsal for one show, followed by a callback for another show, then an audition for a film. Cross your fingers, Imps and illustrators!

  6. What a coincidence! I just scheduled a ‘favorite picture books’ post for my blog this week and Lion, Lion is one of our recent faves!

    Jules- Speaking of SNL, I heard that Tina Fey is in the running to replace Jon Stewart. How fun would that be?!
    Jone- This is my first year a bit not being a Cybils judge. It was super fun to see the awards announced yesterday!
    Moira- Somehow despite being really close to NYC, we’ve never been to the Central Park Zoo. Snow leopards sound so fun!!!
    Little Willow- Have a fun and busy day!

    Ok… Kicks.

    1. The girls are out of school on Monday and Tuesday and we are having a mini-staycation. Super fun!
    2. Our trip to The Natural History Museum Yesterday. Super cool show in the planetarium.
    3. We leave in a few minutes to see Mama Mia. The last time we saw this show, we were in Richmond and our oldest was in my belly! Can’t wait to share the show with the girls.
    4. Reading the latest Patricia Cornwell book. Her books are like comfort food for me. A simple, fun and fast read!
    5. I got the girls Caroline Kennedy’s Poems to Learn by Heart for Valentines Day. My favorite is A.A. Milne’s, Disobedience. I can still hear my grandmother’s voice reading it.
    6. The fact that the sun is out on this bitter cold day.
    7. Our dog is due for a haircut which means she is extra cute although it’s possible she can’t see for all the fur covering her eyes 🙂

    Happy Week everyone!

  7. Jules, actually the new piece of writing is for an audition to the “Listen to Your Mother” show in Portland (http://listentoyourmothershow.com)/ One of my writing partners is also auditioning.
    Moira, conferences are a blast, aren’t they. Stay warm with all the snow.
    LW: Fingers crossed.
    Stacey: What committee were you on for the CYBILS? Hooray for sun.

  8. Wow, thanks so much for sharing the collaboration process Miriam and Larry!

    Jules -good grub with friends is terrific. And I can’t wait for the SNL celebration.

    Jone – Happy anniversary! Portland is certainly giving you great weather for it!

    Moira – jealous you got to see the Egon Schiele show. Glad you had fun in NY!

    LW – have fun and break a leg!

    Stacey – hope you and the girls have fun at Mamma Mia! Hooray for sunshine!

    My kicks this week:
    1) Sunshine after a week of rain.
    2) Valentine’s fun at a local coffee shop – in exchange for canned goods I got a free coffee & bracelet – & then persuaded the young baristas to pose for a photo. They were a lot of fun.
    3) Valentine red velvet cupcakes.
    4) An exchange of smartass Valentines – made me laugh and swoon.
    5) Incredible sunset and clouds to cap off a great Saturday.
    6) Playing ball in the sunshine with Daisy.
    7) Last minute breakfast with a friend visiting from out of town.
    7.5) Read Gail Caldwell’s “New Life, No Instructions.” Made me gasp in places she writes so beautifully.

    Have a colorful sweet week everyone!

  9. I have been meaning to snag a copy of this book. After reading about the process I am really eager to read it. Thanks for sharing with us Miriam and Larry.
    Looking forward to your new projects also.
    Jules: Whether with family, friends or complete strangers story times are the very best.
    Jone: I enjoyed seeing the Cybil choices Jone. Glad you enjoyed the author visit.
    Moira: By all the tweets on Twitter the meeting of illustrators and authors sounded fabulous. You must be on a creative high.
    Good luck, Little Willow!
    I totally love Mama Mia Stacey. I have never seen the play but could watch the movie over and over.

    My kicks:
    1. Sunshine
    2. Wood for the fireplace
    3. My sturdy home in the face of all the wind this winter
    4. Great books
    5-7 Enjoying the company of my furry friend Xena

    Have a great week.

  10. Just saw your post Rachel. So glad to see all the fun you had yesterday.

  11. Moira: HOO HAH! That trip sounds so very invigorating. I’m so happy for you!

    Little Willow, break a leg, as always. At first I thought you typed “a very dull day,” and I knew that didn’t sound like you.

    Stacey: I look forward to that post, and I also read about the notion of Tina Fey as a possibility. That would be GREAT. … Are your girls going to memorize some poems? … Hope you all stay warm. Nashville is about to get ACTUAL SNOW, and everyone is freaking out.

    Rachel, I’m intrigued by these smart-ass Valentines. So glad you had a good, sunny week.

    Margie, thank goodness for your sturdy home in that harsh weather. Hugs to Xena.

    Hope you all have a great week. …

  12. Margie – hope you and Xena are staying warm in front of the fire.

    Jules – the smartass Valentine’s were homemade. I gave one to my valentine and he responded in kind. Nothing better than cracking each other up.

  13. […] And I got to see some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while too.   From left to right: Larry Day, Miriam Busch, Lauren Castillo, Erin Stead,John Schumacher (a.k.a. Mr. Schu), Aaron Zenz, Matt, and […]

  14. […] Raisin, The Littlest Cow is in the proof stages. It’s by Miriam Busch, our second for Balzer + Bray, set to be released March 2017. I’m working on The Underground […]

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