Tuesday, April 28, 2009

19 Girls and Me (x 4)

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A few years ago I illustrated a picture book project for publisher Penguin... actually for their children's book imprint Philomel Books, entitled “19 Girls and Me” written by Darcy Pattison (released in 2006).
The story is about a young boy (John Hercules Po), his 19 female kindergarten classmates... and how they all become friends through their imaginative recess adventures around the world to places like Mt. Everest, The Great Wall of China and the Amazon River.
In these past few years this wonderful book has also been translated into German, Chinese and Arabic (the various cover images are posted above) allowing children from these other countries to share in Po's adventures, too. The Chinese edition even has the entire story repeated in English (with all the illustrations scaled down) in the back of the book, also including a musical CD. (I listened to the CD, and it appears to be Chinese children singing the story as if it were a Broadway musical -so charming!)
The Arabic edition, of course, reads from back to front... so all the images were flopped. (I never allow my images to be flopped, because visually they never seem quite the same... but in this case, it was a cultural necessity for this version.)
In “19 Girls and Me” all the illustrations depicting the children in the classroom, or when they are first stepping out into the schoolyard, are in black&white, except for the girls red dresses and Po's blue blazer. Then in all the scenes where the children are on their fantasy recess adventures everything is rendered in full color.... sort of like the same visual tactic used in the movie The Wizard of Oz ... a film in black&white, which then becomes full color when the main character Dorothy literally falls into the Land of Oz.
The interesting "behind the scenes" story regarding the illustrations for this picture book, is that I actually created all of the final images in full color. But when I showed the final illustrations to my Philomel Books editor Michael Green and art director Cecilia Yung they correctly assessed that the classroom and playground scenes, in terms of color, were too hot and bright to the point of distraction... so I came up with the solution to convert those specific images into black&white (ah, the magic of Photoshop!) but made them more stimulating by keeping the girls dresses red and Po's blazer blue. The end result looks as if it was my original intention to have the various “school” scenes in black&white and only the “fantasy” scenes rendered in full color.

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