Developing the Illustrated Ben

When I first connected with my publisher StoryBook Genius Publishing based in St Louis, I pitched my story idea, our family story, my intent with the book series and why I wanted to make this happen. I remember being nervous, not really sure how these things were supposed to go.  Nate from SBG was supportive and just let me fumble along attempting to get my thoughts out in a concise and appealing message. It was encouraging when he finally said our family story is compelling and he thought I might have something.

Honestly, I didn’t have anything concrete down on paper yet … just a few notes of key things I wanted to say. I had been thinking about a story (multiple story concepts actually) for a while, so I had many individual thoughts floating around that I now needed to pull together.

When Nate gave me the go-ahead to send him a story concept and outline, we were off and running. Since this was my first experience with developing a children’s book, I had no idea what came first, what to expect, how to effectively work with someone I haven’t met in person. And ultimately how the book development process would fully unfold.

The one key thing I knew … I wanted and needed the Illustrated Ben (as I’ve been calling him) to fully capture the beautifulness of my Ben … the wavy blond hair, the huge smile, the round and rosy face, the long eyelashes. And there were physical attributes of Ben’s CP that needed to be present – his clenched fists, the wheelchair, his big white shoes. I felt so strongly the Illustrated Ben needed to reflect all of these things.

So much so, I was nervous and downright scared to even see the first round of character illustrations. I really really wanted to like them – I didn’t want to hate them.  Then the email came through … the first draft of a few different Ben drawings. I hesitated. Then hesitated some more. Then I couldn’t stand It – I opened the email, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t initially like any of them. They weren’t what I was looking for. My heart sank. I closed the email and decided to let them sink in and take another look later.

From my experience of working with marketing creative teams, I knew that I had to come back and offer specific feedback instead of “that’s not him, I don’t like it.” So I made my list of key features the Illustrated Ben needed to have: big smile, round face, wavy hair, prominent eyelashes, a sweet presence, etc. In my first conversation with Erin, the creative director, I cried. I apologized a few times for being difficult or picky. I didn’t want her team to not want to work with me – but I she understood.

I gave her my list – and they went back for round 2.

This next email came through on a Saturday. I was home alone, had just cleaned the dining room and was vacuuming when my phone dinged. I remember it was a Saturday because I thought ‘wow they’re working on a Saturday’. Vacuum in one hand, phone in the other, I opened the email. It brought tears to my eyes – the Illustrated Ben didn’t look exactly like my Ben did (and early on I had to accept that he would never), but he encompassed what I had asked them to do. My immediate reaction was tears and I thought ‘This is him.’

Ben’s Adventures officially releases June 1 at Book Expo in NYC, but can be pre-ordered at