7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #715: Featuring Sarah Williamson

h1 November 1st, 2020 by jules


Today, author-illustrator Sarah Williamson visits to talk about creating Elevator Bird (Knopf), which will be on shelves in late November. I’ll let her tell you about the story below.

Sarah’s brightly colored illustrations are filled with the kinds of little offbeat details that make this a book that children will pore over. And fans of the Eloise books may be especially delighted, given the book’s posh hotel setting. Sarah shares some spreads below, as well as some early sketches from the book.

Let’s get to it, and I thank her for sharing.

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(Click cover to enlarge)


Sarah: I started working on Elevator Bird in the summer of 2017. I had been banging my head against the wall, trying to think of a new idea. I had piles of children’s books around me, which I would read and reread in hopes of getting inspiration. A few titles that surrounded me and, I think, ultimately influenced Elevator Bird are the Eloise books and M. Sasek’s This is New York. I sketched and sketched and, in a burst of inspiration, I drew a little bird sporting a tie and donning a hat with a feather in front of an elevator. The words came to me very easily. I remember it clearly: “This is Elevator Bird. He works at The Hotel.” Below is the original sketch for the spread and cover (done digitally on a Wacom tablet) and a painted sketch of the cover.


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The next three spreads came effortlessly. Elevator Bird “welcomes everyone small and tall.” He loves his job and takes pride in it, as evidenced by the hat and tie. Elevator Bird is your classic cheerful and optimistic character, who has a kind word for everyone. But there is a problem. He lives in the basement with the housekeeper Mousey, but his quarters are cramped and creaky. He longs for a room with a view and a sky filled with dark lights and city lights. Once Mousey tells Mr. Rumpley, the hotel manager, about Elevator Bird’s secret wish, the animals band together to make a new home for Elevator Bird on the roof. Kindness begets kindness.


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One of the most fun things about the book was writing the character dialogue and visually experimenting with the characters. When I was writing the book, I was Elevator Bird in the elevator, wishing everyone a kind word or noticing something special about each person. For me, often the best parts of life are in the details, and I truly believe that there is something special and interesting about everyone.


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My wonderful editor at Knopf, Nancy Siscoe, wanted me to introduce the characters (it’s a big cast) so that the reader knows who Elevator Bird’s friends are and to depict them as a team. This spread was not in the original book dummy that I sent to my agent and Knopf; it came later. And I think it did the story a big service. Below is my original sketch and the final spread.


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I also played around with different looks for Elevator Bird. Below are some character sketches.


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In the end, the final Elevator Bird ended up being close to the original sketch, except that he became plumper.

Elevator Bird is a fantasy, of course. As we know in real life, not everyone is kind. But I think it’s vital for children (and adults) to read and explore positive messages so that we can all work on being better people and kind to one another. We are living in such a divided time, and this feels timely and essential.

I made the book by hand using gouache, acrylic paints, and oil pastels. Below are some of the original paintings and sketches. Some spreads I painted in mostly one sitting, and others were made piecemeal. I paint on 280 gram Rives BFK printmaking paper. It’s heavy and absorbs paint and water very easily.


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A final spread from the book: “Each night Elevator Bird goes back to the basement.
He loves his job, but he wishes he could get out more. Elevator Bird longs
for dark nights filled with city lights.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


A final spread from the book: “Mousey tells Mr. Rumpley Elevator Bird’s wish.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


A final spread from the book: “Mr. Rumpley calls everyone together for a secret meeting,
and they hatch a plan.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


ELEVATOR BIRD. Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Williamson. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Sarah Williamson.

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’s Kicks * * *

I think I’ll just share this week this video that illustrator Rob Dunlavey shared with me. We’re all feelin’ it, right? I hope everything goes as well as it possibly can for this week’s election. Everyone, please stay stafe. And hopeful!



What are YOUR kicks this week?

8 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #715: Featuring Sarah Williamson”

  1. Hi Imps! I hope you all had a safe and happy Halloween!

    Hi Sarah! Thanks for bringing the lovely animals. I love seeing the evolution of the story and the art here, especially the character sketches, and I appreciate that Elevator Bird finds something awesome in everyone.

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Hope
    2) Offers
    3) Opportunities
    4) Performances
    5) Interviews
    6) Empathy
    7) Same

  2. Elevator Bird and his friends were just the smile I needed today! I especially love the illustration for the secret plan and all the details and items included (the hot air balloon and the disguise had me cracking up.)

    Jules – that song is on the nose for so many of us right now. I join in your hope for things working out well on election day.

    Little Willow – I love all of your kicks, but I love Hope and Empathy the most this week.

    My kicks:
    1) Sunny, crisp and cold fall days, before the inevitable rains of winter descend upon us.
    2) Listening to President Obama’s #JoyToThePolls 2012 throwback playlist is making me happy:
    3) Daisy starts new underwater treadmill therapy tomorrow and our intake session this week went well – she charmed everyone, per usual. She is such a funny and fun dog.
    4) The full moon last night rising over the trees in my backyard looked like a fairy tale.
    5) The Hocus Pocus Mockumentary done by Elvira (who looks the same!) In Search of the Sanderson Sisters. It was very silly, with some fun cameos, and Meryl Streep has a cute dog who photo/videobombed her and upstaged her a bit.
    6) Voter turnout is making me hopeful – 93 million US citizens have already voted.
    7) The Mandalorian has returned for season 2! AND His Dark Materials will be returning soon as well. Just in time.
    7.5) Exercise!

    Stay safe and well this week Imps! Here’s hoping next week will be an even better one, one with a more hopeful future!

  3. Go Daisy go! I hope her new therapy does wonders!

  4. Sarah, your Elevator Bird is the kind of being we need more than ever. His optimism spreads to his friends. I love what they do for him.

    Jules: Thank you for the song. Holding on to hope. I think the whole world is holding its breath.

    I love the Empathy kick, Little Willow. I love all your kicks. They leave us with our own interpretation.

    Hooray for Daisy, Rachel. And I wish we could have seen the full moon. We had a storm rolling in. Our power was out for 3 and one half hours today. It’s flickered several times since.

    My kicks:

    1. My fenced-in yard
    2. Lots of flying geese
    3. Sleep, blessed sleeep
    4. UPS, FedEx, my mailman
    5. Grateful to the person who delivered my groceries
    6. Electricity
    7. My sweet Mulan

    I hope everyone is well, staying safe, and has a wonderful week.

  5. Little Willow: What Rachel said! Those are also my two favorite kicks.

    Rachel, I’m also feeling hopeful about voter turnout, and I also enjoyed the first ep of season two of The Mandalorian. My daughters are especially excited that Ahsoka is supposed to appear in this season. And, yes, that moon last night was incredible. Yay, Daisy too!

    Margie, is it a snowstorm? Already? Or another kind of storm? Glad your power is back. Hugs to Mulan!

  6. A quick fly by to say hi to the giraffe on its back and to say how much I am wishing for a great outcome on Tuesday and that everyone will be safe this week.
    Much love,

  7. Hi, Jone! Fingers crossed for Tuesday!

  8. Hello there Jules~ Snow and wind. It’s finally starting to calm down. It’s going to be a loooooong winter. Thanks for asking.

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