Fly! takes off . . .

It’s officially official!  I’m pleased to announce that Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House, is publishing my debut work as a children’s picture book author and illustrator. Fly! is the title, and it will be released spring of 2015.


revised Fy! blog first illustration


Fly! is a picture book targeted to 2-4 year-olds, but its universal theme of self-discovery through perseverance is a message parents can appreciate.

The protagonist is a young fly. If he were a child, he’d be a toddler. He looks to his peers — the spider, the pill bug, the beetle — to figure out how to function in the world. These other bugs are able to do things that our hero finds challenging. It’s frustrating and hard, but give him the chance to use his imagination, move his body, discover his wings, and do what he does best . . . fly.

 Fly! is a simple story, told in just 13 words. It’s also an activity book — in the most literal sense. Single verbs and corresponding action images propel the plot forward. Each action flows across one double page spread to the next. The entire book is made of action verbs that invite kids to wiggle, roll, and jump by imitating the insects.

With tremendous help (and patience) from my editor, Kelly Delaney, and senior art director, Isabel Warren-Lynch, we refined, streamlined, and improved the story and characters. They helped me turn a message and a character into a real book. It must be real. Here’s the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.


PW-Fly blog


Most of my blog posts talk about the steps in my process. I’d like to use this post to share just a small part of the process involved to produce a children’s book.

I’ve been illustrating other people’s ideas my entire career, so it’s exciting to illustrate my own. Most of my assignments have been single illustrations, so the idea of developing a character with consistent personality and physical appearance is new to me.  It’s much harder than I thought. You get so close to your own work that it’s hard to see the big picture. Concepts, characters, and drawings become too precious. It’s wonderful to have the input and advice of a good editor and art director.

Some author/illustrators begin with a story, while others begin with a character, and build a narrative around that. For me, Fly! began with the concept that a fly can fly and things developed from there. It occurred to me that every insect has its own unique ability and function, just like people. Ask any parent with two or more kids. They will tell you each of their kids has a core personality that was apparent from birth. Each child is unique. They just are.

Publishing, I’ve discovered, is all about collaborating, adjusting, and making positive compromises. Choosing an oft-maligned fly for a protagonist is a fun challenge.

Try to draw a cute fly!

Here are some of the initial sketches I drew months before I even approached Knopf.


initial sketches 2



This is my first layout — also known as a book dummy. This sequential series of page sketches provides visual notes to help with the developing the plot, action, and characters. It’s all very loose and casual.

first dummy


The layout begins to gel. I tighten up the loose sketches. The core concept of the book is becoming more obvious.


tighter dummy

I presented a color dummy (below is a mock-up of the cover) to Isabel at Random House, and to my good fortune, editor Kelly Delaney felt it had sufficient appeal to pick it up — but it needed work!


inital cover fly blog


First, we developed the fly character. Eventually, he has six legs (hey, he is an insect after all), we decreased the size of his eyes, and placed them to the side.


revised fly chaaracters



Here is a screen shot of the next revision of the dummy title page with art direction notations.


art direction from second dummy


Here is the final version of our hero pondering his wings.


fly looking at wing



See how the legs of the grasshopper act as a “page turner” or “teaser” to entice the reader to see what’s next? Children can imitate the action. It’s good for kids to get up off the couch and wiggle, jump, march, swing . . . You get the idea.


wiggle final


For the endpapers/pastedown of the book covers, Isabel suggested that I create realistic renderings of each insect shown in the book. Factual text near the art helps teach children a bit more about each insect. I enjoyed doing two different illustration styles for the same book.


realisitc rendering for blog copy



I’m working on stories, scribbling down notes, and sketching characters for new books ideas.  There’s more in the pipeline, so stay tuned!


20 Responses to “Fly! takes off . . .”

  1. Al Fasulo says:

    Congratulations Karl!
    It’s outstanding!!!
    Thanks for sharing


  2. Dave Kenagy says:

    Holy Cow and congratulations to Knopf for their vision. Love Fly, everything about the little guy and his message. Congratulations, Karl. Perseverance, indeed. This is a winner.

  3. Jung says:

    Karl! What wonderful news! Congrats! I’m so excited for you. I love reading your updates and the progress/process on your work. Much love to you and Erica!

  4. Charles Drayman says:

    I always knew flies were good for something and have come to admire their survival throughout the ages. Innovative and adorable at the same time. Congratulations!

  5. ClaireP says:

    Delighted…charmed…tickled…enchanted! Can’t wait to see the book! Congratulations, Karl!

  6. vida p says:

    Congratulations Karl!

  7. Go Karl ~

    Hope the book flies!

  8. Debbi Hansing Leto says:

    So cool, Karl! Can’t wait to buy the book for my almost-2-year-old grand daughter. Hope we can get an autographed copy!!! Keep me posted about the when and how to get it.
    So happy for you…congratulations!

  9. Linda Glass says:

    Can the fly do laundry???

  10. Lynne says:

    Whoo Hoo! I am so pleased and proud of you! You must do a book signing in Noe Valley – toddler locus of San Francisco. I just helped 5 two-year old girls cross the street with their teacher. One is my upstairs neighbor. Much Love to you and Erica!

  11. Amy Ross says:

    Congratulations, Karl! This is fabulous! Can’t wait to get the final book and squirm, jump, and fly myself silly!

  12. Noel cisneros says:

    Adorable! You’re so talented! Keen to see this fly off the shelves!

  13. Becky says:

    I love that a simple ‘Musca Domestica Linnaeus’ is the protagonist of your new book!! As always, your illustrations capture the essence of the subject and captivate our attention. I will happily order this for our sweet Charlotte and for my classes, as well. High school students say they are too old, for such books; however, once I start to read, they are taken back to a time when they actually knew how to pretend and imagine! As one of my favorite people (Albert Einstein) said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
    You are the best! Big congrats to you!

  14. Joseph Pope says:

    Congratulations Karl! I hope the book flies off the shelves. I’ll pick one up as I may have a toddler of my own soon. The question on my mind is…do you still swat flies in your house?

    Cheers to you and E.


  15. Jackie says:

    Congratulations, Karl! Your great idea for a book has finally come to fruition!
    I am so happy for you,

  16. Richard Cotter says:

    Hi Karl,
    Congratulations Karl and thanks so much for sharing this news! It is really interesting to read through the process, and see the how the look of the character evolved. You can tell your publisher that you have already sold one copy as I definately want to buy one for my grandkids!

    Well done!

    All the best,

  17. Wayne Lo says:

    Looks great Karl! I’ll be sure to show this to my mother, the preschool teacher… I bet her students would love this!

  18. Christine Kernan says:

    Karl you continue to amaze me and inspire Caroline. I can’t wait to purchase the book to use with my children to incorporate into my PreK art classes.

    Chris and Caroline

  19. Carol says:

    So happy for you! A wonderful book – adorable fly. Will be following its release and purchasing for our friends with preschoolers.
    Carol and Tom

  20. Al F. says:

    Congratulations, Karl! Your little Fly will capture the imagination of the 2 thru 4 set. Good work. Keep expanding!

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