Guest Post: Collaboration Between Authors and Illustrator on Don’t Ask a Dinosaur

We are excited to offer you an inside look at the process involved in creating a picture book ~ today we are hosting authors Matt Forrest Essenwine and Deborah Bruss along with their illustrator Louie Chin to discuss the collaborative process involved in creating their April 17, 2018 picture book Don’t Ask a DinosaurStay tuned for a review of this title later this week!

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Book Description from the Publisher

Written in a masterfully-executed rhyme, the book presents a cavalcade of lesser-known dinos and pairs their odd characteristics with little tasks that are hilariously impossible because of those features. “Don’t ask Deinocheirus to set the forks and spoons,” because his hands were enormous, “Therizinosaurus cannot blow up balloons,” because he had very long claws. In the end they find the one thing everyone can help do is to blow out the candles on the cake…but will it create yet another mess?

Deborah Bruss & Matt Forrest Esenwine:

When we heard from the editor, Jordan Nielsen, that POW! Kids wanted our story, we were thrilled. Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical since the press was very small. But then again, a small press might offer more individual attention, which proved to be the case.

Early on, Jordan asked us about our preference for illustrative styles, and for suggestions for illustrators, something which authors are told does not happen. She sent us links to possible illustrators’ websites. It took a few months to find someone who was available and whose colorful and expressive style matched the spirit of our words. Enter Louie Chin!

But we wondered, could Louie draw dinosaurs?

Jordan gave us an early peek at Louie’s artwork and asked for our opinion. Again, we were surprised that the editor asked for our input. We loved Louie’s Triceratops, with its curious expression as it interacted with the little girl. Discussions flowed through the editor, about such things as the children’s skin tones, ages and demeanor, and perhaps a subplot that would add another dimension to the story. Less than six weeks later, Louie completed the artwork.

We gave them four thumbs up. Each dinosaur had the attributes of its species, and with the added bonus of hysterical facial expressions. Our favorites are the Tyrannosaurus Rex, who seems to be saying, “Oops. I’m so sorry,” and the Therezinosaurus, a very bizarre-looking dinosaur.

The final version of the illustrations was done when a BIG question hit us. “Who is the party for?” A birthday party needs a receiver, but neither the text nor the illustrations answered the question. We hoped Jordan wouldn’t feel it wasn’t too late to rectify the issue. We gave her some suggestions: the party could be for a Teddy bear or a baby dinosaur or a real dinosaur-like creature, such as a bearded dragon.

Louie created and added a small stuffed dinosaur that belonged to the little girl, and which gets covered in cake, frosting, and ruined decorations during the chaotic “preparations.” Now the story had a subplot and readers could go on a “Where’s Dino?” search!

We now know we got the best of three worlds when POW! and Jordan accepted our story: an attentive editor, a talented artist, and a fun working relationship with both.

Louie Chin:

It was really fun illustrating Don’t Ask a Dinosaur. This is my first children’s book so it was very exciting! Like everyone, I was fascinated with dinosaurs growing up, so it was fun revisiting my love for them. Some of the dinosaurs in the book, I have never even heard of! I definitely had trouble pronouncing the names of them when I first read the story.

I had to do some research on how they look and their characteristics to come up with a good representation of them for the book. I took the most interesting aspects of the various depictions of the dinosaurs to come up with the artwork. Illustrating the dinosaurs was mostly positive. The only real trouble I had was trying to come up with a good way to scale the dinosaurs in comparison to the kids and everything else, such as objects in the room or just space in general. Laying out the book was tricky too but I had great help from everyone involved in the book and we knocked that out easily.

I imagine the dinosaurs in the story to want to help and join the birthday party. Carrying that idea I tried to draw them in a childlike manner while also incorporating their dinosaur traits that make them special.


Deborah Bruss didn’t discover her passion for writing until she had read thousands of pages out loud to her own children, and wrote a story for her young son who was obsessed with wolves. She is the author of Book! Book! Book! (Scholastic, 2001), Big Box for Ben (Star Bright, 2011), a contributing author to the non-fiction series, America’s Notable Women, and the upcoming Good Morning, Snowplow! When Deborah couldn’t sell her story titled, Don’t Ask a Porcupine, she invited dinosaurs and a poet/friend to join in the mayhem. Thus, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur was born. Deborah lives in Concord, New Hampshire with her family and a squirrel-chasing rescue dog, and loves spending time with her grandchildren.

Matt Forrest Esenwine’s children’s poetry can be found in numerous anthologies including J. Patrick Lewis’ The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), Kenn Nesbitt’s One Minute till Bedtime (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), and Lee Bennett Hopkins’ School People (Boyds Mills Press, 2018), as well as Highlights for Kids magazine. Meanwhile, his debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), received critical praise across the country and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Picture Books for Kids of 2017. Born just outside of Baltimore, MD, Matt lives in Warner, New Hampshire with his wife and kids.

Louie Chin was born in New York City. His comics and illustrations have appeared in a variety of publications and projects, including The New York Times, Boston Globe, and Nike. Louie is especially happy to illustrate this book, since he spent hours reading the dinosaur edition of Childcraft as a kid, being fascinated, yet scared learning about them. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Prehistoric Creatures / Birthdays / Ages 3-13
Hardcover, 10-3/10 x 10-2/5 inches, 32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-841-5, $17.99 US/CAN

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