The Story of I Wish You More, as told by Tom Lichtenheld
Many years ago, I worked in advertising – making TV commercials, magazine ads and the like. While casting kids for a tv commercial, this little girl showed up with her sweater mis-buttoned, so I said, “she has more buttons than holes.” Then, of course, I did a doodle…
Which made me wonder if it could become a book…
which made me do more doodles…
My initial idea was that the book would be a collection of “more this than that” situations.
At the same time, I was experimenting with watercolors and created this random image by sprinkling salt onto wet, blue paint, which was clearly meant to be a snow-filled sky.
I liked many of the situations but there wasn’t much holding them together – no Big Idea to give them context. I had about 20 drawings, which I showed to my very smart friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal, asking if she would like to come aboard to help find the idea hidden behind all these drawings. Amy and I often work together this way. One of us will have a rough idea that isn’t quite figured out, so we enlist the other to help our immature idea get through a confused adolescence and, maybe, become a full-fledged book. It worked on our previous books, like Duck!Rabbit! and Exclamation Mark, so we thought it might work here.
Now that the book is done, Amy tells me she was immediately intrigued by the idea, but the tipping point was this concept about a boy on a beach.
We started creating more concepts and looking for the Big Idea. Here are a few we created together.
When Amy and I work together, it’s impossible (and pointless) to distinguish Artist from Writer. We both come up with words and we both come up with visuals, so a book gets the full benefit of whatever talent we can collectively muster up. This is why our book covers never use designations such as “written by” or “illustrated by.”
It was certainly getting more emotional, but it wasn’t transcending wordplay, so we put more time into finding the context. Meanwhile, we sold the idea to Chronicle Books, with the agreement that it still needed something to hold it all together. One of the things that made it so hard was that we were working backwards – we had all the visuals and text, but no good reason for them to exist. Beginnings are hard, endings are harder – and we had neither.
Amy and I met with the editor while we were at an ALA conference in Chicago. We brought all the sketches and brainstormed some ideas for a larger context. Someone (not me) came up with idea of making it a collection of wishes from a parent to a child, which we all liked, so Amy and I began putting everything into this context and creating new ideas to match it.
We didn’t want the book to be only a collection of wishes for good fortune or material things. Rather, we wanted to wish that the recipient be a giver, as well as a receiver, of goodness.
With this in mind, we made at least half of the wishes about generosity, determination, and appreciation.
One of the reasons I enjoy collaborating with Amy is is that I can come up with half an idea – then toss it to her to see if she can make it complete. For example, we wanted to do a page about the gift of wonder – the ability to slow down and appreciate small things – so I did this drawing and sent it to Amy.
She worked her magic, and it made the book.
We also thought stars should be in the book, because they’re universally associated with wishes. So I did this drawing.
Which Amy turned into the last scene, one of the more beautiful sentiments in the book.
Not every rough sketch makes it into the book. Here are a couple that never came to fruition.
Even though every drawing doesn’t turn into a concept or end up in a book, I don’t regret spending time on them – it’s all part of the discovery process, and what doesn’t work for one book may resurface again in another.
By the way, this drawing is heavily influenced by a scene in one of my favorite books – Days Like This, by Simon James. (Okay, it’s pretty much stolen.)
Another great thing about working with Amy is that she literally makes my drawings better. Here’s a sketch I sent to her for an idea about a girl who was playing outside and made a mess of her dress – “More mess than dress.”
I thought the drawing was okay, but Amy suggested the girl could be a little messier. “Put one sock up and the other one down,” she said, which made me realize I had to start from scratch, so I did this drawing – a vast improvement.
Even though this drawing didn’t get into the book, it’s a reminder of the power of collaboration.
Once we had a concept, I’d explore different ways of showing the situation. Here’s an example of various settings for the line “I wish you more give than take.”
I combined the middle two sketches into the final illustration.
We ended up with many more concepts than would fit into the book, which allowed us to edit a collection that addressed a spectrum of qualities: the gift of being generous, the gift of enjoying simple things, the gift of perseverance, the gift of friendship, etc.
So we had the Big Idea, an opening and the body of the book, but we didn’t have an ending…until Amy wrote this:
“I wish all this for you, because you are everything I could wish for… and more.”
Amy gave me the gift of her poetry, and my job was to not mess it up.
Once the interior was done, it was time to design the cover. At this point, the designer – Sara Gillingham – was onboard, and she was a huge contributor. Here are a few samples of the many options we explored.
The book was four years in the making and it wasn’t always easy, but in the end, I’m grateful to everyone who shared our vision and worked hard to make it happen.
I couldn’t wish for more.
Tom Lichtenheld has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestsellers Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train. He lives in Geneva, Illinois.
Tom, Thank you so much for sharing how I Wish You More came to be. The illustrations and writing are pure perfection. I wish all of my days could start out with such a wonderful blog post. 🙂
This looks like a very interesting book you have created here. Well done 🙂
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this – or how beautiful I find this book. And as someone working on converting my blog into a book it was so interesting to see that it ok to work backwards – to find the intent behind the action. I absolutely love it and want to buy it now for my girls… It is so beautiful! Well done
WONDERFUL post and the book is going to be a hit. This moved me so much! The concept, the notion of having to find the bigger idea/context (you nailed it!!), the collaboration. I only wish I could draw (and write) so well–your pictures capture every mood and emotion so well. This will be a book every parent buys for their child–no matter their age. Great graduation gift! Did I say I loved this post and book enough? Wow. That is talent and determination. Thanks for sharing.
This is was so interesting to read and hear about your process! I am reading your book to my seventh graders tomorrow on our last day of school.
I can’t wait to read your book to my daughter after reading this. I know I will get more enjoyment out of it knowing its history. Your drawings (including the rough ones) are beautiful.
Tom, I saw you at Mazza in Ohio a few years ago. This is such an informative post about the process and very helpful for both writers and illustrators. Nice to have a concept, BUT as you show us, you need the big idea to hang it on! WOW. i am going to buy hit shook for my only granddaughter who will be 1 this summer.
My daughter and I have quickly come to love reading this book together. (And never again will I say it was written by Amy and illustrated by you now that I know about your collaboration.) Thanks for sharing your process with us, Tom. I’m in awe of the work you two do together!
WOW!! Loved reading all about the moving parts of making a book. Love, love love collaboration…it always brings ou the best in each participant and pushes creativity to the next level and beyond. Thanks for sharing this part of the story…feeling inspired!! I wish YOU more…
Thank you for this marvelous post. It will be a great mentor piece for collaboration, revision, and more. I’m anxious to get the “real deal” in my hands to savor and share.
Such a lovely story about the power of collaboration and working together. Thank you for sharing the journey Tom, of how you and Amy created a special story. You both just seem to compliment each other with your talents. My wish is the best for you.
What a fabulous and rare behind-the-scenes look you’ve given us. Without knowing the long path the writer and illustrator walked, ,many people often view published books with the misconception that the process/journey was effortless. As writers, we know better. Thank you for sharing your inspiration and journey.
Thanks for sharing this elegant, sweet journey of a beautiful book.
Thank you for sharing the process. I loved every single image.
This is so beautiful! Exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you! 🙂
Such a beautiful story in itself! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much for sharing your collaborative thinking behind your work. I love this for so many different reasons and can not to share this with teachers and students alike!
This was so interesting! Thank you for sharing your process- I intend to share it with the kids tomorrow!
What a great book! I really like that you took time to collaborate and develop the theme. The idea is wonderful, to the point that I think both parents and children will appreciate this book. Great job!
Wow. How wonderful. What an amazing journey. Now I have to get this book.
Great to see the process of this story unfold, from a simple idea to giving the story purpose and heart isn’t as easy as it seems.
Thank you for showing the process of getting an idea into print. It’s definitely a journey and a fun one.
Makes me WISH I had a collaborator. 😀 Great insight. Thanks!
What a beautiful, beautiful post! I love the message about collaboration, and also how sometimes, stuff we do doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything, but was important because it was part of the journey. I can’t wait for my copy of this book to arrive. Thank you for sharing your process! Wowza.
Thank you for sharing this amazing collaboration. It’s refreshing to see that I’m not alone when it comes to having a story as I’d like to say has meat but no potatoes.
Great post! I love reading the story behind the story. This is so cool how the two of you collaborate. This is beautiful, and I hope to read it!
So touching. 🙂
Such a perfect Picture Book, simple and deep as the ocean. Gold.
What a fantastic collaboration. Loved seeing how this book came to life and how you guys had so many cool elements but had to find that Big Idea for it. Can’t wait to read it!
Oh, LOVE. Can’t wait ’til this is out – this has the nephews written all over it.
I love the collaborative effort between Tom and Amy, but hearing how they work together is even better. Thanks for sharing the illustrations and all the possibilities considered. I love this book!
I can’t tell you how much I love this book. It is quickly becoming an absolute favorite of mine. The story of how it came to be is wonderful way to see behind the scenes of book development. Thank you for sharing!
What an incredible gift for us – to hear the story behind this lovely book. Thank you so much for sharing it.
I loved this so much, I ordered the book for my nephew… it’s simply beautiful! Thank you, Tom, for sharing!
Beautiful story, and thanks for sharing some of the “behind the scenes” conversations. I love your work.
I love this book and got it for my grand babies who just turned 4 years old. I get them a book every year for their birthday (they were born on the same day:) and then use it as a mentor text and make them a scrapbook. My favorite page from one of the scrapbooks this year was “I wish you more love than hate” paired with the picture of Indie at her recent #NOH8 photo shoot. Brilliant and wonderful. Thank you for the inspiration. And this insightful post!
The perfect book to read to our 6th graders as they move up to middle school. The question is will I actually be able to read it to them through all my tears?
Reblogged this on englishnook and commented:
This is amazing and beautiful. I need to go buy this book.
I WISH YOU MORE is such a wonderful collaboration by two huge kidlit talents! Great post.
Thank you for sharing the power of collaboration = more genius
Tom, simply put: you are aMAzing! In recent years I’ve come to appreciate your work more and more and you’ve become one of my absolute favorite illustrators. This is just fantastic and I love hearing you talk about your collaborative process with Amy. She talked about it with Matthew Winner on her podcast with him (http://lgbpodcast.blogspot.com/) and it’s so evident why the work you both put out is so fantastic. Thanks for sharing part of the process for this beautiful book 😀
Fascinating post. Tom’s books are amazing. When you read this, you understand why.
Thank you so much for sharing your collaborative journey in creating this charming, fill your heart with smiles kind of book. I love it so much that I immediately purchased one for all of my 5th grade team to use as a theme for our upcoming year, as well as a copy for my principal after reading your post 🙂
What a beautiful process and powerful story. I love your collaborative efforts and seeing the evolution of a how a pushed down sock can make “more mess than dress” even better. And I am your neighbor – at least part-time. I grew up in St. Charles, Illinois. My whole family still lives there. On my list today: Contact David Hunt at TownHouse Books and order I Wish You More. Cheers!
This is creative and interesting book, especially helpful for kids. Love it Tom! Fascinating post.
Fascinating background. So glad that a friend recommended this just when I needed it most – a gift for graduating grand kids. Perfect.
Not only do I love your book, but the story of its evolution is wonderful. I teach kindergarten and can’t wait to share the book with my class. I think that it will make a nice theme throughout the year as I try to have the children envision themselves as a school family caring for each other and their well being than just in school to learn.
A very heart warming and instructive story for PB writers.
Love the book! Love the illustrations! Love the post! Thanks for sharing.
We gave a copy of this book to all of our twenty one graduating seniors from high school. Our staff wrote specific Bible verses inside the book and signed it. We have received letters and emails thanking us for such a personal and wonderful gift. This story of its creation is wonderful…. -Hartwell First United Methodist Church
I saw this in the bookstore today and just had to have it for my kids. I love it! Thanks for this beautiful book!
Tom, thank you for sharing your journey. I am inspired by the unconditional love you and Amy shared which made the world a better place. Much peace and light to your heart ~*~
Thanks for your note, it was a great birthday present!
I received this book from a friend when I retired-what a wonderful gift! It is my new go to for so many reasons (read aloud at the end of a kindergarten year, welcome baby, graduation, and more)! I enjoyed reading the story behind the story. Thank you!
Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You’ve really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up!