Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nonfiction Illustrations

I just had the extreme pleasure of seeing some of the illustrations from my new book FOR THE BIRDS: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson.  Laura Jacques, known for her award-winning artwork in Whistling Wings and Baby Owl's Rescue has once again captured the elegance, freedom and motion of birds, as well as the time period Roger grew up in.  I can't wait to share her illustrations with you when the book comes out.  But seeing them move from sketch to finished art reminds me of how much work and research goes in to nonfiction illustration.  I know that I read all of Peterson's books and letters and journals in order to write about his life, but Laura had to see all of his paintings and photographs, but also discover details that would make Manhattan different than the Bronx, and a Luna moth separate from a Cecropia.  I just had to write, "At eleven he was already in junior high school, and yet refused to walk in line with the other kids."  But Laura had to show the line and figure out what those other kids would have been wearing in 1919. 

Last week I sat next to another amazing nonfiction illustrator, London Ladd, (March On: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, and Oprah: The Little Speaker) and couldn't help but over hear some of his conversations with readers.  He liked to work from photographs and had to learn about the time period to be able to create the right scenes.  One time he inadvertently put a ceiling fan into a room where there wouldn't have been any electricity.  Nonfiction writers are not the only ones who lay awake at night worried about accuracy. 

To get Roger's story right, Laura relied on his own sketches that are housed in the archives of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, NY, and pages written in his twelve-year-old handwriting.  Some of these images grace the pages of the book.  My favorite touch is on the back of the jacket.  Laura re-created the trademark that young Roger designed for himself and drew in pencil on the back of one of his notebooks.  A butterfly net, binoculars, a butterfly and a bird.  The makings of a true naturalist. And it all comes to life thanks to an amazing illustrator - Laura Jacques.

To see some of Laura's work visit --
To see London's work visit --

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