Friday, September 28, 2012

The Kindness of Illustrators

By Nate Evans

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: Too often we forget how much power we have--not only as writers, but as people--to affect the world around us. The smallest gesture of kindness can bring comfort to someone who needs it. Picture book author, Nate Evans, has a tragic and uplifting take to tell about one such moment. This is a slightly different post than what I normally run, but it touched my heart so I wanted to share it as a reminder that the smallest gift can have long-lasting effects.

Nate wanted to be a secret agent, a firefighter, or a magician when he was a kid. But he also loved to read and write. Now he has thirty-five children's books to his credit, including the New York Times Bestsellers Ponyella, and the Jellybeans book series, both cowritten with Laura Numeroff. His book Bang! Boom! Roar! A Busy Crew of Dinosaurs is out now.

Take it away Nate...

My latest picture book, Bang! Boom! Roar! A busy Crew of Dinosaurs, took years to be produced. First, my wonderful editor took all the time she needed to choose the perfect illustrator, Christopher Santoro. And then Christopher spent three years producing the amazingly detailed and beautiful illustrations for the book.

In the fall of 2009, my lovely wife, Prentiss, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She fought bravely, with great humor and indomitable spirit for two years after her diagnosis. During that time, she and I both loved seeing Chris’s illustrations appearevery few months in my e-mail in-box. Wetalked excitedly about what an amazing book this was going to be and how much we were looking forward to seeing the printed book.

We would also talk about all the things we were going to do once she beat the cancer. She said to me that she wanted to buy a yellow pickup truck. That truck was going to be a bright symbol of her triumph over the terrible disease that was ravaging her body. She endured multiple operations, weeks of radiation treatments, and three rounds of chemo. Months and months of chemo. And we were just so sure that, one day, we were going to go shopping for that yellow pickup truck.

And then she died.

But the earth still moved around the sun, and the book my wife had loved so much still movedtoward publication and illustrations were still being delivered to my in-box.

As Christopher finished the artwork, he and I began e-mailing each other. I wrote to tell him how much his illustrations meant to me, and how much my wife had enjoyed them. At some point, just as the book was about to go to the printer, I mentioned the story about the yellow pickup truck. I don’t remember how I told him or why. I just know that, at that time, I took any and every opportunity to talk about my wife. I missed her so much.

And then Christopher did something so amazing and so unexpected. With only 24 hours before the book absolutely had to go to the printer, he contacted the editor and told her he had one lastrevisionthat he needed to make to one of the illustrations. He made the change, submitted the new artwork, got it approved, and the artwas sent to the printer on time. All in 24 hours.

And then several weeks later, as I was looking at the printer’s proofs, I finally noticed something had changed in one of the illustrations. It took me a while to see this--I had looked at this artwork for months now because I loved it so much and I took it for granted that I knew every inch and every detail of every beautiful page. I had only received the printer’s proofs as a courtesy. I wasn’t part of the art approval process. I was also living in a grey fog of grief and loss and misery. But then momentarily the fog lifted long enough for me to understand that something was different. I almost could notcomprehendwhat I was looking at. I stumbled to my bookshelf and pulled down some old color printouts of the book to compare with the new proofs, just to be sure. Just to be sure that I was really seeing what I was seeing.

I started to cry.

In the book, there is a wonderful illustration of a dinosaur sitting in the back of a pickup truck. That truck had been a deep blue. Now it was bright yellow. In just 24 hours, Chris has changed the color of the truck and gotten it approved by the editor.

Chris, I can never thank you enough for what you did that day.

Prentiss, I miss you. We miss you. You're forever with us, in our hearts and memories. We miss your kindness and intelligence, your passion and your compassion, your creativity and your beauty. I feel very blessed to have known you and to have had the honor of calling you my wife and friend and lover.

Prentiss, my sweet angel, here is your yellow pickup truck. I’m sure you can see it from where you are now.

About Bang! Boom! Roar! A Busy Crew of Dinosaurs

What's that

A busy crew of dinosaurs!
Engines fire, swing that hammer,
Cover your ears—it's quite a clamor!
But keep those eyes open wide,
Because the alphabet hides inside.
Find each letter—wait, there's more!
Big trucks, cool tools, and surprises galore!

Cool hard-hat dinosaurs jam-pack this rhyming alphabet picture book by New York Times bestselling author Nate Evans and Stephanie Gwyn Brown, brought to life by Christopher Santoro's hilarious and energetic illustrations. Kids will love looking for the hidden letters on each page and finding the visual jokes that lead to a supersilly surprise ending. Construction work may be tough, but even dinos love a little monkey business!


  1. Oooh, I felt myself tearing up as I read it.

    Thanks for sharing your touching story, Nate.

  2. I can hardly see through my tears. One of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. Thanks to Nate for sharing such a personal story, and to you, Janice for posting. Warmest thoughts and prayers.

  3. Nate, this is so beautiful. What a thoughtful and compassionate deed. Thanks for the post, and do know that the thoughts of many are with you.

  4. And now I'm crying. What a touching story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Dear Nate (and Janice), thank you for sharing this heartbreaking, yet heartwarming story. My warmest good wishes to you and your family, Nate.

  6. It wasn't some gigantic move, or a largesse action. It was the recognition of something important, something special and meaningful and a simple act. Those are the kindnesses that can often make a world of a difference. Thank you, Nate, for sharing this story.

  7. I'm crying. And not just a little. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story, and for reminding us how kind other people can be.

  8. How incredibly Awesome! The little things can make the biggest difference! Thank you for sharing!

  9. What a poignant, touching story. It made me cry too. What an incredible thing for Christopher to do.

  10. What a touching story. How wonderful that Prentiss got her yellow pickup.

  11. Karen Lawson9/29/2012 2:57 PM

    Nate, this is a beautiful story. Chris is an angel for having brightened your day. I know Prentiss is smiling down on you and Chris from her wonderful place in Heaven.

  12. And now every time we see a yellow pickup truck we will all remember a wonderful act of tribute to a wonderful person.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story.

  14. I'm at work and crying as I read this post. Thanks for sharing!!