What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,
Plus What I’ve Done at BookPage,
Featuring Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad

h1 May 29th, 2015 by jules

Julie Morstad’s early Sadie sketches
(Click to enlarge)


“Sadie has had adventures in Wonderland.”
— A final spread from Sara O’Leary’s
This Is Sadie,
illustrated by Julie Morstad

(Click to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I’ve got three new picture books that are pretty much for the birds. You can thank me later for this exceedingly punny moment. That link is here.

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Over at BookPage, I’ve got a review of Sara O’Leary’s This Is Sadie (Tundra, May 2015), illustrated by Julie Morstad. That review is here. Today, I follow up that review with a chat with Sara, and Julie shares some early sketches and final art from the book.


p.s. Speaking of Morstad, I keep hearing great things about Laurel Snyder’s Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, illustrated by Julie and coming in August from Chronicle Books. I’m looking forward to seeing that one.


Jules: What sparked this story for you?

Sara: This is Sadie started with the idea of this little girl in her room. A lot of stuff from the first draft is gone now, but one of the things I recall was thinking about this game I used to play when I was small where I would lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling until suddenly it seemed like I was looking at the floor and lying on the ceiling. That sense of being able to wilfully disbelieve the laws of physics is so attractive in some ways!


“Sadie sails all the way round her room, and back again. And it still isn’t even time for breakfast. Sadie has learned to be quiet in the mornings
because old people need a lot of sleep.”

(Click to enlarge)


I was intrigued by that whole imaginative world of childhood, and I think there’s a slightly nostalgic tone to the book, but I really don’t believe that world is entirely lost.

There’s a great book called How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself, and for me that’s one of the all-time great titles. It encapsulates childhood for me. Sadie is very much a child who can be perfectly all alone by herself, because she has a rich inner life. And the fact that her inner life has been fed by books is, of course, autobiographical.

Jules: I know you’ve worked with Julie previously on other books. What draws you to her artwork?

Sara: It was fantastic getting the opportunity to do a new book with Julie. There seems to be some way in which she and I occupy the same imaginative territory. A lot of her art, outside of picture books, is marvelously dark and strange, and I think that gives a strong undercurrent to her work that might be glibly termed merely whimsical otherwise. When we talk about other people’s books, we love and loathe many of the same things, which I think is a sign that our sensibilities match up quite well.

Jules: What was it like to see her artwork for the first time for Sadie?

Sara: I cried the first time I saw Julie’s art for Sadie, but then I think I have with each of our books. I didn’t see the art all at once this time. And the first spread I saw was the one where Sadie visits the world of fairy tales. And there she is—on her white steed, her quiver full of arrows—and somehow she is breaking that fourth wall and looking straight out at the viewer, daring them to dispute that she can play the hero. I think it’s a profoundly powerful image.


Early rough of the book’s first spread
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Yes! That’s my favorite spread in the book, hands down. I don’t have it here to share today, but that just means people will have to find a copy of the book and see for themselves.

Have you shared the story with children yet? What have been the responses?


Rough of the mermaid spread
(Click to enlarge)


Sara: I haven’t read this story with a child yet, but a dear friend read the book to her son and then called to tell me he loved it. Then the following night, she called to tell me that when Emil went to pick his bed-time story from his stack of books, he chose This is Sadie over everything else, including his beloved collection of Oliver Jeffers’s books. “I want the O’Leary,” he said. So, I beat out Oliver Jeffers! (Just don’t tell him, because I don’t want to make him cry. We love his books.)

Also, people have been sending me pics of their little people with a copy of This is Sadie, and this is now pretty much my favourite thing. I may need to do a gallery wall of them or something.


Another rough
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: What’s next for you?

Sara: I have a couple of projects coming out in the next year. One is a baby book series with Owl Books to be illustrated by Karen Klassen, and it’s going to be utterly gorgeous. Karen did an edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with The Folio Society that is stunning. She is new to picture books but was such an interesting choice, because after all, why shouldn’t baby books be beautiful?


Karen Klassen’s cover art for Breakfast at Tiffany’s


A Family is a Family is a Family is pretty much my way of walking the walk of all my talk about the need for diverse representations in picture books. The book is with Groundwood Books and will be illustrated by the fabulous Qin Leng.

I’m also working on a few more picture book manuscripts, along with a middle-grade novel that I am writing with my younger son. And finally, I’m looking at turning This is Sadie into a children’s television series in which Sadie takes a role in various children’s classics. A bit like those great old episodes of Gumby!

Jules: Ooh, I really like Qin Leng’s artwork. I posted some here at 7-Imp last September (from Chieri Uegaki’s Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin). And Robert Heidbreder’s Song for a Summer Night: A Lullaby, released by Groundwood this month, is beautiful:



Thanks for visiting, Sara. Anything else you want to add?

Sara: This is my fourth picture book, but somehow this year marks a change for me in that I am really thinking of myself as a picture writer for the first time. This is partly a factor of having taught a workshop in writing for children for a few years and thinking very hard about how picture books work and what exactly they can do.

The real gift for me in all of this has been realising how wonderful picture book people are. I’m working with these fabulous women now: Tara Walker at Tundra/Penguin Random House; Karen Boersma at Owl Books; and Sheila Barry at Groundwood Books. Really, I’d go ahead and write the books I’m doing with them just for the sake of the conversations we get to have. Please don’t tell them that, though.

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Spreads above excerpted from This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad. Text copyright © 2015 by Sara O’Leary. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Julie Morstad. Published by Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd., a Penguin Random House Company. Spreads reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Early roughs/sketches are used by permission of Julie Morstad.

4 comments to “What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,
Plus What I’ve Done at BookPage,
Featuring Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad”

  1. Good early Sunday Morning, Childhood should be a tender time, but… So, to view this time on this writer, Sara O’Leary, is a break from looking at a horrible time of life for some. The child left alone does not always suffer, except for communication skills with children his/hers own age, the creative spike really hits high at these alone period of childhood. The write up about a child laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling until the reverse takes place is fun reading.
    Some children dream in bed until the bed disappears and they somehow end up in a fairy tale with sky and grass, lots of trees and the adventure begins. So thanks again for another look at an author and artist within children’s books. A real old lady, atk

  2. The Sadie illustrations are adorable… so wonderful at capturing the magic of childhood and imagination.

  3. […] Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, March 2016), illustrated by Julie Morstad. Today, I’m following up with some paintings from the book, which Julie M. sent. They are […]

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