If you don’t know this about me yet, you should: I love picture books of all shapes and sizes. Today’s picture book came out a while ago, but it’s now being made into a board book.
Natalee Creech has visited my blog once before back in 2019 for her debut picture book. She is a children’s author who is equally at home in Canada, (where she grew up) in the U.S., (where she studied education) and in South Korea (where she taught for many years). Regardless of where she lives, she is probably sneaking more children’s books into the house, much to the delight of her children and the dismay of her husband. You can learn more about her at her website or you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
NOTHING originally released as a picture book in the spring of 2019 just a few months after her debut picture book. It is a re-imagining of the bible passage Romans 8: 38-9 told from a child’s point of view about the love of God and how we can never lose it, no matter what we do. Or rather many children’s point of view. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s now being converted into a board book so it will be more durable for younger readers. I never cease to be impressed with someone who sees a picture book in a subject I never even thought to write as a picture book.
Me: I admit that I have sadly never read Romans 8: 38-39 and thought “wow, that’s a children’s book!” What gave you the idea to turn this passage about God’s love into a picture book?\
Natalee: I love this verse! At the time I wrote this manuscript I was teaching at a Christian school overseas, and I remember wishing there were more books that focused on a specific Bible verse or theological point, rather than retellings of well-known Bible stories. I had already written a manuscript based on a Psalm, and wanted to get serious about trying to become a published author, so one day I brainstormed other verses that I might want to write about. This verse was at the top of my list!
Me: This is an incredibly well-crafted child-friendly text that also manages to keep true to the original bible verses. I assume this took years of work to be in the state it is now, and not just “sudden inspiration.” How long did it take you to figure out the pacing of this manuscript? Were there many revisions?
Natalee: The idea for this manuscript came easily. I would even say that the first draft came easily, but then the hard work began. I fought with this manuscript over the course of three years. I felt I needed to use the word separate in the chorus because it’s in the Bible verse which inspired Nothing. But no matter how I rearranged the words or tried to substitute synonyms, I couldn’t get it to work.
I signed with my agent, Adria Goetz in March of 2017 and Nothing was one of the manuscripts I sent her when she asked to see more work. In early 2018, Peggy Schaefer at WorthyKids saw the potential in Nothing. I say potential, because looking back at it now, I can see how much help it needed! Peggy identified places I could be more child-friendly with the text.
There were times over those three years that I wondered if I was ever going to get it right, so when working on final revisions I confess I had a few moments of panic – how was I suddenly going to get it right on a deadline when I’d been struggling with it for so long? At some point I had a breakthrough and realized I had to stop trying so hard to incorporate every aspect of the Bible verse into the manuscript. Instead, I needed to distill the essence. Somehow it all came together, and I love the final result!
Here is how an earlier version of the chorus went, as compared to the final chorus without the word separate!
Nothing in all creation
Nothing in all the world
Nothing you do
Could separate you
From the love of God.
That doesn’t flow nearly as well as the final version, which is also easier to illustrate, I think:
Me: I know that the picture book version came out in April 2019, right before the pandemic. What an appropriate time for kids to be reading a book about never being abandoned by God’s love! Did the pandemic affect marketing of this book?
Natalee: When the picture book released I had actually just relocated back to South Korea (again) after having lived in Oklahoma for a couple of years. Since the book was released at the beginning of the year, COVID hadn’t really made its impact yet, but I did struggle with how to help with marketing. I did some online interviews and tried to use social media where I could. Online book launches hadn’t taken off yet, to my knowledge. Sadly, I never got to see my book in a physical bookstore – by the time I returned to North America it was no longer a new release and was mostly found online. I did have some author friends who took photos for me and that was an amazing blessing! Needless to say, I am going to be hitting ALL the bookstores in my area now that I actually can! Pandemic or no pandemic, I hope this book can be a comfort to anyone young or old who might need to be reminded that God’s love doesn’t have to be earned, and can never be lost.
Me: You are celebrating the release of the board book coming out this month (February 2022). How was your 32-page picture book condensed into a much shorter version? Can you talk about what was kept vs. what was cut?
Natalee: NOTHING is a fairly short book – about 230 words. Because the text is brief, we were able to keep all of it. However, the board book edition is 24 pages rather than 32, so the publisher reorganized some of the illustrations that were full spreads (across 2 pages) to have one illustration on the left, and another on the right. The pacing feels slightly different if you are used to the picture book like I am, but I think they did a great job. People who read the board book first would never know, and I doubt even people who have read the picture book would notice unless they were looking at both side by side. Here is an example of a page from the picture book and a combined spread in the board book:
Me: The illustrations by Joseph Cowman are wonderful. That Grand Canyon spread is a perfect pairing for your text! Did you communicate with the illustrator about his work at all? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Natalee: I did not communicate with the illustrator. I was a new author and very conscious of not overstepping my bounds because that was one thing I had heard over and over – if you are the author, once the words are finished your job is finished! Stay out of the way and let the illustrator illustrate! The publisher did share the illustrations and invited feedback. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the illustrations! I love the little bits of humor Joseph Cowman incorporated, and the clever way he seamlessly transitioned from a mountaintop/sky scene on one side of the page to an underwater scene on the other half.
I did mention that as a teacher, it bothered me that there was a random lowercase i in the middle of the title. The response I got was that a capital I would make the title too linear and the lowercase was needed to break that up. And you know, that is absolutely true. As far as surprises, I loved how the illustrator drew a girl riding her bike through flowers (doing what she shouldn’t) and on a later page the flowers become a crown. The text contains themes of forgiveness and restoration but I didn’t include art notes and never would have thought of using flowers to bring out that theme and connect it with the text that says “You’re a child of the King.” I’m so thankful for all the different people (art director, editor, illustrator etc.) who together made this book so much better than I could have done on my own!
Me: I love that. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Natalee: I think what surprised me the most was how seamless and effortless the final product feels when you read it, compared to the effort I know went into getting it to that point!
Me: Do you have any other projects coming soon or that you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
Natalee: Yes! I just signed a contract and finished revisions for a companion book to Nothing. Let’s just put it this way . . . I’m always up to Something! 😉 Thank you so much for letting me talk with you about the Nothing board book edition. I hope you’ll have me back when this companion book to Nothing is published!
Absolutely! Thank you for stopping by Natalee.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, I highly recommend it. I’m fascinated by what picture books are published in the current market and this is definitely one to study. It’s deceptively simple, but as Natalee even pointed out, there was a ton of struggle and revision with the writing. It’s also interesting to study the picture book alongside the board book. That conversion process to such a smaller format is an intriguing one, isn’t it?