Cover Reveal: THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu by Illustrator Erin McGuire

I’m so excited to reveal the cover for Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy. After working with this same team for Breadcrumbs, I was thrilled to be asked back for Anne’s next book. Breadcrumbs had so much wonderful imagery for me to work with, and I wondered what her new script had in store for me. Lavishly dressed noble women, magicians (and their assistants), apothecaries, and friendly cats? Yes, count me in.

Figuring out the cover for The Real Boy was an interesting process, and it started with lots of thumbnails and lots of sketches. We weren’t sure what we wanted for the cover, we just knew that Oscar, the main character, assistant to a powerful magician, would be on it.

After reading through the manuscript, I started to gather references. I looked at photos of the spice markets of Istanbul, the backgrounds from various Miyazaki movies, and different furniture and clothing from the post-Renaissance era. Since this was an entirely new fantasy world, I made sure to really do my research and get a feel for what everything could look like.

Then I began on rough sketches to zero in on what we wanted for the cover:

cover 1
We liked the center one, but thought Oscar would be sitting on the floor instead. I also tried a version showing more of his face.

cover 2

From here, I mocked up a few color options, and we flipped Oscar to have his back towards us.

cover 3

Ultimately, this cover wasn’t right. The rest of the team at Harper didn’t like it, and it didn’t really hint enough at the magic in the story. In retrospect, the cats looked pretty foreboding also. So we scrapped this approach, and tried some new settings for Oscar.

cover 4

Everyone liked the cover with Oscar entering the magician’s study, but his pose wasn’t right. He needed to be more reverent and awestruck, less exaggerated.

cover 5


We continued down this direction, but my colors were becoming too sweet, not hinting at any possible dangers. Plus, Oscar had gone too far in the other direction, and was getting too stiff.

Finally, more tinkering with lighting, some discussions about lamps, and some editing of the objects in the room…

cover 6

along with the addition of hand lettering by Sarah Hoy…and we’d arrived at a cover for The Real Boy!

cover 7

I love the process that goes into creating a cover, and this one, in particular, was a pleasure to illustrate. I hope readers enjoy the world Anne has written, and the one I got to draw. Thanks!

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu and published by Walden Pond Press hits stores on September 24th!

Erin McGuire is a children’s book illustrator living in Dallas, Texas. She has illustrated such books as Nancy Drew Diaries, Breadcrumbs, Saranormal, and French Ducks in Venice. Outside of work, she enjoys her book club, baking, and camping. As an avid reader and lifelong lover of books, getting to illustrate stories for kids every day is her dream job. Erin’s work can be found online at and on her blog at