Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the November 2020 edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can read here and sign up for here.

My two-question Q&A this month is with author Lisa Graff and illustrator Ramona Kaulitzki, creators of the new picture book Wonderful You, published recently by Philomel Books.

In its review of the book, Kirkus described Wonderful You as a “natural shower gift for parents-to-be,” elaborating that “Graff delivers a heartwarming tale about a baby’s introduction into the world, one guaranteed to be read and reread by children who wonder where their own tales began. … German artist Kaulitzki shares an inclusive cast of characters, depicting a multitude of family types to satisfy many of the ways modern people create a family.”

I’m giving away a copy of Wonderful You to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on November 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Lisa Graff and Ramona Kaulitzki.

Author Lisa Graff

Chris: A sense of anticipation comes through on every spread in Wonderful You, and that feeling of waiting for something good is one that children and expectant parents alike can relate to. We all know that feeling. From your own experiences, what comes to your mind when you think of “anticipation”?

Lisa:  When I think of anticipation, the first thing I think of is being a kid on Christmas Eve. Growing up, my family always had Christmas at my grandmother’s house, and my older brother and I would sleep (I mean, “sleep”) in the living room where the Christmas tree was. I was always on the couch, but my brother would literally stuff his sleeping bag under the Christmas tree so he could be surrounded by all the presents we weren’t allowed to open.

It was deliciously brutal — that feeling of being so excited you’re just buzzing, but also hating that you have to wait in the first place. Waiting can be so hard. But now, as an adult, I remember those Christmas Eves even more fondly than Christmas mornings. There was something about being in it together with my brother that really made us a team.

Ramona:  My first association when I think of anticipation is Christmas as well, but even more than the gifts on Christmas I anticipated the birth of my two younger brothers.

I remember watching my mother’s belly grow bigger and feeling their little legs kicking inside her. I couldn’t wait to become a big sister, read bedtime stories to them, create treasure hunts and play all kinds of fun games with them.

While I was illustrating Wonderful You I could observe this anticipation in my little niece, who was waiting for her little brother to be born and it really reminded me of myself when I was a child. Remembering this feeling helped me a lot to illustrate Lisa’s beautiful story.

Illustrator Ramona Kaulitzki

Chris: The pineapple on the child’s shirt on the front cover is a neat nod to the role that fresh produce plays throughout the book, with the developing baby’s size compared to a fig, a plum, and so on. In creating Wonderful You, did any fruits or vegetables turn out to be more challenging than others to include in the text or art?

Ramona: Trying to include all these fresh fruits and vegetables into the art was super fun. I love cooking with fresh produce and really liked this aspect of the text.

I had so many ideas on how they could appear in different scenes, my problem was more to decide which one would suit the text best and to get a nice variety in how they show up in the illustrations.

Lisa: I had the same sort of problem, actually! I looked at about a billion baby/fruit size comparison charts (there are soooo many online!), and they all had different fruits and vegetables that they used to give a sense of the developing baby’s size. So my biggest challenge was picking which ones to use.

I wanted to use fruits and vegetables that kids would be familiar with, but also ones that didn’t seem too similar to one another (like a cantaloupe and a watermelon, for instance), and that also fit within the cadence of that particular stanza.

I just looked at my first draft, and the only fruit that didn’t end up getting changed later was the plum. (Which is fitting, since I was inspired to write this story in a grocery store when I realized the plum I was holding was the same size as my now son.) That draft had a peach and a pomegranate and a rutabaga — such a lot of produce that got axed!

I have to say, I absolutely adore the way Ramona chose to illustrate this story. The text on its own is very figurative, and doesn’t suggest any particular avenue for the art. The “story” part of this book — the various families waiting and celebrating in their own ways — is entirely Ramona’s creation.

I knew the illustrations could go in a million different directions, and it would take the right sort of illustrator to figure out which path was best. So seeing Ramona’s art was a little bit like meeting my children for the first time. I knew generally that what I was going to see would be, you know, picture book illustrations (in the same way you figure a newborn will likely be a human), but I didn’t have any sense of the particulars at all until it was right there in front of me.

And fortunately for me, I couldn’t be happier with how this book turned out. (My kids are pretty great too, but that’s a whole different story…)