Several years ago, I was the author-in-residence at Hendrix College in Conway, AR, and gave a couple presentations. In the “green room,” a library where I waited between presentations, I picked up a book of poems. Unfortunately, I remember nothing but a poem’s title, “The Pirate’s Lullaby.” It struck me as a funny oxymoron, that a pirate would want a lullaby. But the idea grabbed me and wouldn’t turn loose.
A couple years later, I was at a retreat in up-state New York, supposedly writing non-fiction picture books. I blame it on the gorgeous fall foliage — instead, I wrote a poem about a pirate who could not sleep.
Unfortunately, I discovered it’s a common trope, an idea that plays out across children’s picture books with some regularity. I put it in a drawer for another year or two.
Enter Ewa O’Neill. From the moment I saw her art, I was captivated. She has a stunning sense of color and her people are modern, yet lovable. Her version of Hansel and Gretel became the cover of my middle grade novel, Saucy and Bubba.
Ewa (Pronounced Ev-uh) lives in Poland with her husband and twin sons. It happens that our family hosted a Polish high school exchange student for a year. Magda has been our Polish daughter, and we’ve traveled the length of Poland with her and her husband, going through salt mines and medieval castles. My son’s 13th birthday party was in a restaurant on a fishing pier on the North Sea, just north of Gdansk Poland. It was exciting to find such a talented Polish author.
After the book cover, Ewa agreed to illustrate a couple picture books. I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay, I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay and My Crazy Dog: My Narrative Essay are the first three books of the Read and Write Series. Ewa brings to life the story of Mellie and Dennis, cousins who ponder the weighty question of what kind of pet would best fit their families.
In all our communication, Ewa is a professional. She clearly lays out her vision for a book, yet accepts any and all comments about how to make it better. As her work has progressed, it’s become better and better. I see her confidence growing.
So last year, I shared two manuscripts with her. The fourth book in the Read and Write Series is titled, My Dirty Dog: My Informative Essay. And I sent her a new picture book manuscript, “The Pirate’s Lullaby.”
She fell in love with the rowdy pirate, Miss Whitney Black McKee.
Six months later, the art is almost finished. Ewa says, “It was the longest and most rewarding/frustrating/exciting/exhausting process making the book so far.”
Her art is exciting! She worked with traditional methods, only turning to Photoshop at the last for minor tweaks. Here are some photos of her work in progress.The book will be available June 1, 2016.
Read more about Rowdy: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep.