The Bumpy Road - Patty in the Making

The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus has had a long, long journey. I don't allow most of my book ideas to kick around for too long. If I can't sell one quickly and get great enthusiasm from the start, then I toss the idea and come up with a new one. However, Patty just wouldn't go away! I guess the book was just meant to be.

Patty was first thought up in my sophomore year in college at RISD, which was then entitled "Patty and the Big Red Bus." The story was my very first attempt at writing a picture book! It is evident, looking at the early drafts of this story, that I had no idea what I was doing! The story was too long, rambling, and just plain awful. It pains me to read it... not to mention the horrendous spelling errors. Have you ever seen chauffeur spelled like: "scoffer"?

After a few wise words from my teacher, I got a better grasp of how to write a children's book. And as I now often recommend to fledgling picture book writers–– read read read! I did just that. I went to the library and bookstores and read as many picture books as I could. Armed with a better knowledge of how a picture book was constructed, I created this book dummy:



Rough and crude, but it was a start! I whittled down the original manuscript of 2000 words down to 200! (As a rule of thumb, always keep a picture book manuscript under 1,000 words. Many picture books are now under 500).

Then, I painted a sample finished illustration.

It looked like this:

This illustration was one of the EARLIEST examples my now children's book illustration style. Although no backgrounds existed in ANY of my early illustrations, the colors were void of shading and light, and the characters were often stilted (mmm, perhaps "stoned" here?), these early illustrations were the start of my author/illustrator career! Well, sort of....

Having visions of grandeur, as I still do on occasion, I also sewed this doll head for the book class. I thought that I could not only get a book published, but could have a whole doll line!

Perhaps you're wondering, why is there just a doll head? Where's the body?? Well, as I distinctly remember, my teacher took one look at and said "You can't sew. The head is good enough."

Continuing with my visions of grandeur and excited about the prospect of being a published author, I sent the story to Little, Brown while I was a junior in college. Alas, it got rejected. Upon reflection, I'm very glad that it did!

The story went back to its dark, dusty drawer. Two years later, right after my graduation from RISD, I began work on my second book idea––George Upside Down. A year or so later, I sold George. Patty was all but forgotten.

After the I finished the artwork for George Upside Down, I leafed through some of my old ideas, in search of my next project for Viking. I pulled out Patty. It definitely needed a lot of work, but perhaps it had potential? I redid the book dummy, created new sketches, new sample finishes, and a new cover. One major change I made was that I took the girls out of reality and placed them into their fantasy. Instead of showing all the characters staring at the viewer without much variation, wearing costumes and pretending to do things, I allowed the characters to DO. The reader would get a front seat view into the characters' imaginations. That way, the ending would be a surprise and the reader could take the adventure with the characters, rather than just watching them from the sidelines.

The new cover looked like this:

One of the new finishes looked like this:

I gave the new dummy to my editor at Viking. She liked it a lot and considered making that my next book with them. But time passed and again, Patty was forgotten. I'd given my editor there a new story idea––Show Dog. We were both excited to do it so Patty stayed in the filing cabinet.

After the publication of George and the completion of Show Dog, I craved more work to keep busy. I dusted off Patty, tweaked some sketches, changed the cover and the title, and sent it off to Alfred A. Knopf. A month passed and the book got accepted! After the book's acceptance, I came up with a few plot "twists." I ran them by my new editor and she loved the suggested changes! Instead of Patty being the "hero," her sister became the secret star. I also felt the need to change the illustrations considerably. I added more drama, atmosphere, and adventure. The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus was born!

Here are some beginning sketches for the book:

For almost all of the paintings in this book, I used many photo references. What I often did was scan in photos or get pictures off the internet, stick them all on an 8 X 11 paper size, and then print the montage out for reference.

This is the finish.

This is a thumbnail. It took me about 30 seconds to complete.

This is another quick sketch.

After doing a few sketches, I then either scan in a sketch or redraw it on the computer so that I can place the text on.



Below are a few sketches and a photo reference. I thought it would be amusing to pose Patty and her sister as if they were in an official NASA photo. The bottom sketch is the one I showed my publisher.

Here are a few more sketches... depending on my mood, finished sketches can either look polished and close to the finished product, or far from it. I have no idea what my editor and the art department think of my methods! Roll over these images to see the finishes.


Some people may wonder if my sister was the model for "the sister" in the book. My sister would sure like to think so! I received this e-mail from her a while working on the book: " more thing - not to be pushy, or even risk being suggestive - but, ahem - there are several darling baby photos of a certain ringlet-haired wonder-wheel you might glance at (while chez parental units) - only if you need ideas, that is to say if you are terribly hard up for character inspiration and would benefit from a certain prototypical example of absolute perfection."

This was one of the photos she was referring to. Cute, but how could I possibly use her as a model when I have two sisters!

Perhaps, "the sister" is a combination of both?...

This is my little sister Kaila when she was 2 1/2.

I'm seven years older than her.

Who knows.

Others may wonder if I was the prototype for Patty. What do you think?

The character Patty was mostly inspired by a doll I used to have named Patty. She had two yellow pigtails and lots of zippers and buttons. I learned to tie my first shoe while practicing on her!

Although our look was not a large influence, our sibling relationship was definitely fodder...

We did a lot of play pretending. Here we are playing "firefighters."


...and so was the REAL red bus!

To read all about the real bus, its foibles and triumphs, and to continue with the Patty saga, click here!

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