Kidlit County

Where Is Bina Bear?

Please help me welcome my new friends, Bina and Tiny, to the world today! (You can order here! Or read to the end if you want a signed copy.) It’s been several years since I put out a picture book that I also authored, and my heart is full of love for my shy friend and her compassionate confidant. It’s become customary for me to post “the making of” in honor of book release, so here’s the story behind the story…

Once upon a time, I was having a bad summer. It was July 2019, and I had just arrived at one of my favorite places, the Highlights Foundation, to co-facilitate an illustration intensive. There was a lot going on in my life, and rather than face a room full of people, I really just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there for a year. I remember calling my bestie, Samantha Berger, and saying, “I can’t do this.” She assured me that I definitely could and pumped me up before the intensive started.

I affixed my “EVERYTHING IS GREAT!” smile, and headed to the first session. The nice thing about being surrounded by fellow illustrators is that no one thinks you’re being rude when you doodle in a sketchbook while someone is speaking. That is when this bear fumbled her way onto my page.

As you can see, she is not really up for engagement. I was having fun putting her in scenarios in which she was trying to hide in plain sight, and doing a very bad job at it. I didn’t really think of it as a story idea at first. I just kept toying with the visual play of hiding oneself, because that was my reality in that moment.

Days after the retreat, I was looking at these doodles (there were more than just these ones) and thought, “Is this a thing??” Before long, I had a story about a bear at a party who does not like parties, and her small rabbit friend (Tiny to be exact). Bina, stressed out by the crowd, finds quiet pockets of the house to store herself in, while disguised as an inanimate object. She is a lamp, a table, a tree, a bookcase. She suddenly runs out of clever ideas (or did I?) and assumes the role of “groceries” when she is finally found out (though we secretly know that Tiny has been onto this whole charade from the beginning).

I sat on a blanket on the coast of Maine with some computer paper, a pen, and some colored pencils. Within a day, I had a book dummy. My agent, Brenda Bowen, saw it the next day and sent it to my editor, Laura Godwin, right away. Laura took it to acquisitions at Macmillan that week. It was the fastest book pitch I’ve ever made and sold. Some aspects of the story changed, most notably my decision to make Bina purple to stand out from the many other bears in the kidlit universe. But at its core, the story has remained the same.

style development sample

I did lots of rounds of style tests with different mediums, but I was really enjoying working in pen and ink with color washes.

first phase of a finished piece: pen & ink with watercolor

This style was a departure from my earlier, tighter Little Elliot work (speaking of, keep your eyes peeled in this book for a cameo or two). I’ve varied my styles for other picture books written by other authors. But Bina would be my first post-Elliot book I’ve authored, and it felt like a change was in order. I liked the quirkiness of the pen line and punchiness of the color to match the humor of the story. I wanted Bina’s fur to have a rich texture, so that was done separately with watercolor and colored pencil. There are other pieces here and there that use a scanned texture, like canvas for the lampshade and brown paper bag for…a brown paper bag.

These are fragments of Bina’s fur textures for different pages throughout the book. High quality watercolor paper is expensive, so I used every bit of the surface as possible!

Similar to Elliot though, Bina is a mix of traditional and digital media. These elements were scanned and assembled in Photoshop. Then I colored digitally in both Photoshop and Adobe Fresco.

my first book illustrated on iPad
the final ilustration

On the surface, Where Is Bina Bear? is a cute hide and seek book. One could read this book and quickly chalk it up to a funny story about a bear with social anxiety. But for me it’s even more about two people trying to be good friends as best they can with what they have to work with. Tiny sees past Bina’s anxiety with compassion and playfulness, and we come to learn that Bina only came to this party because of her love and loyalty to Tiny. In the end, the most important thing is being together, and the two find a creative way to do just that.

Any of my loyal readers know that the theme of friendship never gets old for me. This book is a love letter to those friends who understand and accept each other’s idiosyncrasies without question. Vulnerability, so often seen as a weakness, can be an opportunity to allow others, to allow love, to enter our hearts and make us feel whole.

For reviews and to download the activity kit, please visit my website. I hope you’ll join me this evening for a virtual book release event with High Five Books! Click here to register and order your personalized and signed copies! I’ll be reading, drawing, and answering your questions live via Facebook. Don’t be shy…