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  • Writer's pictureKelly Sanford

The Art of Illustration

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

When I am bringing characters to life on the page, it feels a lot like a pregnancy. In that first stage, they are amorphous and mysterious. While they are developing, they are simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. Little by little, they become a tangible presence, sometimes kicking me or jumping up and down on my insides at odd times (and at all hours of the day and night), only to go quiet for periods of time that make me worry if they’re okay. Yet, long before the story is complete, I always feel like my characters are a living and breathing presence—not a child, but not far from it.

If writing is the pregnancy, then illustration is the birth—especially when you are talking about children’s book characters—it’s when you get to hold that image in your hand and meet the little being who has been consuming you for the duration of the writing process. So, sticking to this analogy, choosing an illustrator for my middle-grade novel was like choosing a doctor or a midwife. It’s a significant milestone in making a story into a book and one that I lingered over for a long time.

In much the same way I waddled up and down the pregnancy and parenting aisles of my local bookstore when I was expecting, I’ve spent more time in the middle-grade section of bookstores in the last few years than I did when I was actually in middle school.

I must admit, I am not a fan of the current cover trends I see on middle-grade bookshelves. So many covers look computer generated and minimalist. Lord knows middle graders spend enough time looking at digitally generated content designed for a five-second attention span.

Covers should not look like clickbait. Yes, they need to sell the story, but a book is a work of art. If it’s done right, a writer has nurtured the narrative, carried its characters in their body, and shared their lifeblood with it as it grew. The cover should reflect that journey. It is important to me that a cover illustration communicates with my young readers. It must say, “When you open this cover, you will embark on an adventure. You will sit, and you will linger, and if you take the time to look closely, you will find things that surprise and delight you.”

I have known Diane Sammet for years. We met through the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I have long been a fan of her stories and illustrations. When she agreed to collaborate on my cover illustration, I was thrilled. Diane is a traditional artist and art educator who uses whimsy masterfully. Her illustration style begins with a blank piece of paper and an idea, and she has a gift for adding tiny details that hint at poignant points of the story within. I am pleased to share the cover art Diane has done for my upcoming novel, The Most Important Thing in the World.

The cover formatting was done by Eric Labacz with The Deliberate Page. Updates on the official launch date for The Most Important Thing in the World will be coming soon. For more about Diane, check out her website: There you will see alternate cover designs and individual character development illustrations that will give you some exciting hints of the adventure to come.

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