Behind the Book: Dear Komodo Dragon

dragonsDid you know…A Komodo Dragon can be a playful lizard…they have poor hearing and ok eyesight, so they rely on their keen sense of smell to capture their meals…or that they can swallow a goat in one gulp!

These are fun little tidbits that author Nancy Kelly Allen didn’t quite fit into her newest DearKomodorelease Dear Komodo Dragon! Readers will find many more fun facts as they read the letters between Leslie, a wanna-be dragon hunter, and Komo, a wild Komodo dragon. But how did Nancy come up with this idea? It happened after a trip to the Louisville zoo where she marveled at their Komodo dragon “Big Man,” Then she talked with students, and one girl said how she loved receiving letters, but they hardly ever came in the mail. A book idea was born — letters from an unlikely friend.

With the story set, now it’s time for illustrations. Artist Laurie Allen Klein was selected to put images with the words, and here is her story:

Ordinarily, I have a couple months between receiving a manuscript and submitting rough sketches, but this was something of a rushed story. Because the original book I was scheduled to work on got pushed back to the Fall, I suddenly had some open time. And then Hurricane Matthew hit! That’s when I got the news about the new manuscript but had to go down to my local shipping store to access their computer to print out the story.

You also have to bear in mind this was early October, and because this was something of a rushed schedule, the rough sketches were due at the beginning of November, not the usual time frame I’m used to. Not to mention, I didn’t have access to all my usual technology. However, prior to the storm, I had become interested in an illustration style that was a bit different from my usual look. Still “realistic”-ish, this new look was more graphic and simple. Not as semi-realistic as my usual style AND it fit the nature of the story perfectly.  A girl being pen pals with a Komodo dragon allowed for a certain amount of illustrative whimsy. I wound up whipping out fully realized, book-sized pencil roughs in the fraction of the time it usually takes me. The look and images just fell right into place.

Komodo - Leslie - Outfit Ideas

It probably didn’t hurt that I also had an immediate source of inspiration literally across the street at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm who have 2 Komodo dragons. Not to mention a great source of reference book materials. The minute I printed out the manuscript (at the shipping store) I went right over to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and checked out their exhibit, AND their books.

Then it was just a matter – as always – of letting the images come to me.  Aided in large part by a huge soft spot I have for dragons (not to mention a pretty extensive book collection of my own on the subject). I loved the opportunity to introduce images of dragons from mythology and other cultures with the real dragons across the street!

As for the character of Leslie, I made a determined decision NOT to base her on my own daughter (who is usually my Go-to Character Muse) but Jess still found her way into the illustrations by way of Leslie’s “Dragon Hunter” outfit, which I based on a long-ago Joan of Arc/Medieval Knight costume Jess wore for Halloween. I substituted the sword for a safer plunger-tipped “spear” but the medieval outfit is all Jesse.

Jesse - St Joan:Knight Inspiration

For the rest of the illustrations – I just had fun playing with textures and patterns.  And for the first time did not struggle with how to do the backgrounds – they just fell right into place. Not to mention, I have found a whole new style I can’t wait to explore some more.

Check out Dear Komodo Dragon and explore all of the educational extras that we have to offer!

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