My fox sisters celebrated a new edition in May and it seems like a good time to tell their story.
The first, eponymous, Zelda and Ivy book was published by Candlewick Press in 1998: three short stories about two fox sisters in one picture book format. Both the text and illustrations seemed to drop into my lap: gifts. But with further thought, I realized this material had been trying to become a book for a long time.
We all experience moments when life is larger than usual, moments full of emotion and humor that we recognize as the stuff of story. I gathered a critical mass of such times from childhood home movies and conversations with my sibs. I wanted to make a picture book that carried our growing-up experience: our neighborhood parades, and fairy dust and, maybe most importantly, our relationships. I am the middle of five children. I know what it is to be a bossy, imaginative big sister and an adoring, gullible little sister. I was pretty sure sibling rivalry could fuel the drama.
I first worked with this material in a project called Summer Shorts. Here’s the dummy.
It included four short stories about a family with five human children. It made the rounds at publishers and was roundly rejected. Years passed while I sold other projects and got started in the picture book world.
Meanwhile, Pierr Morgan, a NW illustrator, showed me this cool medium called gouache resist (directions: http://www.lmkbooks.com/fun/gouache.php). I liked how the reds popped. Why not revisit that sibling rivalry material – only with fox characters? I simplified, reducing the cast to two.
From their debut at critique group, these characters seemed to have the juice. When Zelda and Ivy was published, it received lots of starred reviews and SCBWI’s Golden Kite honors in illustration and text.
I was invited to do a sequel. Then a third.
When the fourth book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways, came out in 2007, it had a leaner look. Candlewick’s marketing department had advised these stories belong in the early reader canon – thus we downsized to the standard 6 x 9-inch ledger size. That year ALA chose it for the Geisel Award. It was the same year my friend Kirby Larson won the Newbery for Hattie Big Sky. We were both in the ballroom in downtown Seattle when our awards were announced. Pretty exciting.
Two more Zelda and Ivy titles have followed, and the earlier ones were reformatted from picture book to ledger.
By the time I got to the sixth book, I knew Zelda and Ivy’s world as well as my own.
As of May, all titles six are officially part of Candlewick’s Sparks series for early readers; each published as a slim paperback that fits easily into the backpack of a young reader.