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.