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A Peek Inside a Best-Seller...for Babies

Peek a WhoThere are some children's books that fly a little under the radar but are parent favorites year after year. These are not books by the "S's" (Seuss, Sendak or Silverstein) or books with characters that show up as a PBS show or on nursery decor.  These are the unsung staples of a first library, and Nina Laden's Peek-a-Who? is one of them. 

Published in 2000, this board book with die-cut pages is one I like to recommend for baby showers or toddler birthdays, and hundreds of customer reviews sing it's praises.  This month, Laden released a companion book, Peek-a-Zoo!, which made our first list of Best Books of the Month for Baby-Age 2.  Fourteen years is a long time between the two books and we were curious about the how, when, and why now of Peek-a-Zoo! Here is Nina Laden on writing the new book and a peek (I can't resist) inside her studio and early sketches.

 


Peek a WhoIt was the year 2000. Some people were worried that the world would end, or that the Y2K virus would cause computers all over the world to crash. But I was anxious about my very first board book, Peek-a Who?

I'd published several picture books that were very well received, but had never planned to do board books. But I got to the stage when all of my friends started having babies and I wanted something hip, cool and interactive to give them, something more "me" than the typical "A is for Apple" and "B is for Ball" book Little did I know that Peek-a Who? would basically become "The Little Book That Could," as I've been calling it for years. My take on the game of peek-a boo struck a chord with parents and kids, and has sold beyond my wildest expectations. Even with that success, I am not the kind of author who likes to do series and didn't immediately plan a follow-up I just don't think that way. I am constantly trying to reinvent myself, mostly so that I won't get bored. But as the years went past, including some difficult years spent managing some family crisis, and Peek-a Who? continued to sell better with each passing year, I began to think of new board book ideas.

 

Backyard
Nina's backyard studio
Inside Studio
The inside view of Nina's Seattle studio

 

Interior SketchesAt first I played with eyes and noses of different animals and creatures and sent these ideas to my editor, Victoria Rock at Chronicle Books. They just didn't work on all of the levels that they should have, and for me those levels are: a good rhyme, fun images that have some sort of game or guessing element, a surprise at the end, and a way to end with the child reading the book. Then one day, the clouds parted. So many people had told me how much they loved the zoo image in Peek-a Who? and I realized that I could create an entire board book with zoo animals.

I did a thumbnail dummy and I rounded up a group of animals that all rhymed with the "oo" sound: MEW (kitten), KANGAROO, GNU, COCK-A DOODLE-DO (rooster), EWE, and the mirror at the end.

I sent these thumbnails off to Victoria and after we discussed them, I drew them full-sized and then I even started painting the kitten for the first spread. Something was bugging me, though and I wasn't quite sure what it was. Then I got the email from my editor saying "these really aren't all zoo animals." Yeah, that was it. They weren't. The kitten was replaced with a tiger cub. The kangaroo stayed, but the gnu failed the audition and was replaced with a cockatoo. The rooster became a panda eating bamboo, and the ewe went away because I had come up with too many spreads! (I may have to do a farm version of the book in the future.)

 

Mew Bamboo

 

Peek a ZooOnce we had the animals all set and my sketches approved, I painted all of the interior illustrations. I love painting in the technique I created for my board books, which involves painting the paper black first and then making it look like a wood-cut.

I had known basically what I wanted the cover to look like from the beginning, but we had to go through a few different background patterns. I had started with leopard spots, tiger stripes and peacock feathers. The tiger stripes won.

It was truly a lot of fun to create Peek-a Zoo! I've also embraced the idea of creating a series of "Peek-A Books." The good news is that there are so many great words with "oo" sounds to play with. But don't worry, I won't be doing Peek-a Tattoo. Or maybe I will. You never know.

Peek a Zoo SketchPeek a Zoo Sketch Concepts

Comments

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What a great in depth interview on your process, Nina. Thanks you for shining the spotlight, Siera.

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