The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus had a long journey. I don't allow most of my book ideas to kick around for too long. If I can't sell one quickly and get enthusiasm from the start, then I toss the idea and come up with a new one. However, Patty just wouldn't go away. I guess the book was just meant to be.

The book was first thought up in my sophomore year in college at RISD, which was then titled "Patty and the Big Red Bus." The story was my very first attempt at writing a picture book. It's evident, looking at the early drafts of this story, that I had NO idea what I was doing. The story was too long, rambling, and just plain awful. It pains me to read it... not to mention the horrendous spelling errors. Have you ever seen chauffeur spelled like: "scoffer"?

After a few wise words from my teacher, I got a better grasp of how to write a children's book.  I often recommend to fledgling picture book writers to read read read! I did just that. I went to the library and bookstores and read as many picture books as I could. Armed with a better knowledge of how a picture book was constructed, I created this book dummy:
Crude, but it was a start! I whittled down the original manuscript of 2000 words (yikes) down to 200. As a rule of thumb, always keep a picture book manuscript under 1,000 words. Many picture books are under 500.

I painted a sketch of what I wanted the characters to look like (Emily and Amy were childhood friends) and a more finished sample illustration where I added a sibling. They looked like this:
These illustrations were some of the EARLIEST examples of my now children's book illustration style. Although no backgrounds existed in ANY of my early illustrations, the colors were void of shading and light, and the characters were often stilted, these early illustrations were the start of my author/illustrator career! Having visions of grandeur, I also sewed this doll head for the book class. I thought that not only I could I get a book published, but could have a whole doll line!
Perhaps you're wondering, why is there just a doll head? Where's the body? Well, as I distinctly remember, my teacher took one look at and said "You can't sew. The head is good enough."

Continuing with my visions of grandeur and excited about the prospect of being a published author, I sent the story to Little, Brown while I was a junior in college.

Alas, it got rejected. But it was a very kind rejection!
The story went back to its dark, dusty drawer. A year later, right after my graduation from RISD, I began work on my second book idea––George Upside Down.

A year or so later, and after I moved to NYC, I sold George.
I gave the new Patty dummy to my editor at Viking. She liked it a lot and considered making that my next book with them. But time passed and again, Patty was forgotten. I'd given my editor there a new story idea––Show Dog. We were both excited to do it so Patty stayed in the filing cabinet.

After the publication of George and the completion of Show Dog, I craved more work to keep busy. I dusted off Patty, tweaked some sketches, changed the cover and the title, and sent it off to Alfred A. Knopf.
A month passed and the book got accepted! After the book's acceptance, I came up with a few plot "twists." I ran them by my new editor and she loved the suggested changes! Instead of Patty being the "hero," her sister became the secret star. I also felt the need to change the illustrations considerably. I added more drama, atmosphere, and adventure. The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus was born! CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE BOOK
Below are a few sketches and a photo reference. I thought it would be amusing to pose Patty and her sister as if they were in an official NASA photo. The bottom sketch is the one I showed my publisher and the next slide shows the finished back cover.
One major change I made was that I took the girls out of reality and placed them into their fantasy. Instead of showing all the characters staring at the viewer without much variation, wearing costumes and PRETENDING to do things, I allowed the characters to DO. The reader would get a front-seat view into the characters' imaginations. That way, the ending would be a surprise and the reader could take the adventure with the characters, rather than just watching them from the sidelines.
Some people may wonder if my sister was the model for "the sister" in the book. My sister would sure like to think so! I received this e-mail from her a while working on the book: " more thing - not to be pushy, or even risk being suggestive - but, ahem - there are several darling baby photos of a certain ringlet-haired wonder-wheel you might glance at (while chez parental units) - only if you need ideas, that is to say if you are terribly hard up for character inspiration and would benefit from a certain prototypical example of absolute perfection."

Here is one of the photos she was referring to. Cute, but how could I possibly use her as a model when I have two sisters!
Perhaps the sister is a combination of both?
Who knows. Others may wonder if I was the prototype for Patty. What do you think?
The truth is that Patty was mostly inspired by a doll I used to have named Patty. She had two orange pigtails and lots of zippers and buttons. I learned to tie my first shoe while practicing on her!
Although our look was not a large influence, our sibling relationship was definitely fodder...
We did a lot of play pretending. Here we are playing firefighters.
Check out Part 2: The story of the real red bus. It's kind of a nutty story. ClLICK HERE TO READ.