Hello World by Lisa Shanahan & Leila Rudge
ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers
LISA: Picture books often grow out of a wild hotchpotch of memory, keen observation and deeply felt emotion. With regards to Hello World, I was certainly inspired by my own memories of parenting little ones. Like most kids, my three boys were often delighted by small ordinary things, whether that was the taste of a honey sandwich or the glint of a lizard on the footpath or a foamy bubble beard at bath time. I’ve always been a careful observer of other babies and toddlers too. I can remember one such lovely moment at school pick-up time, when I watched a grandmother trot down the street with her toddler grandson. She was lunging forwards, clutching on tight to his chubby hand, intent on getting to the school gate before the bell rang. Meanwhile, her little grandson was lunging backwards, stretching out to greet every dandelion along the footpath like a long-lost friend. I was struck by the exultant way that little boy said hello to each flower, undone by their sunshiny brilliance.
With all these swirling memories and observations, it was with some trepidation that I set about drafting a story about a small toddler saying hello to the world. I was hoping to capture some of the exuberant, wonderstruck energy of my three boys and that toddler, all the moment-by-moment joy to be found in the rhythms of an ordinary day, from the first ray of sunshine in the early morning, to the first pearly smudge of moonlight in the evening.
(Illustration by Leila Rudge. Note the dandelions here, even though Leila and I never discussed the inspiration for Hello World. These tiny moments of synchronicity are just so entirely magic!)
All picture books are extremely tricky to write but books for babies and toddlers are especially so. These books are often short and poetic. They play a huge role in cementing a warm and deep connection between an adult and a child, alongside their foundational role in building literacy. So, while there is a real impetus to keep the text tight and economic, there is also this contrasting spur to keep the language rhythmic and delicious, fit to be read over and over. No wonder writing a picture book can feel the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest!
Even with the best text though, the fundamental success of a picture book rests on the brilliance of the illustrations. Chren Byng, my publisher at HarperCollins was the first to suggest Leila Rudge for Hello World. She had been loving the little sketches that Leila had been popping up on Insta, capturing her daily life with her two small children. I was thrilled with Chren’s suggestion because I had worked with Leila before on The Whole Caboodle.
(Cover by Leila Rudge from our first book together The Whole Caboodle, Scholastic Press.)
I had loved Leila’s artistry, her flair for taking a moment, a scene, in fact sometimes the whole story and turning it almost upside down and inside out, so that a reader (and to be honest, even a writer) could somehow see something entirely new and fresh. So, you can imagine my intense delight when Leila said a wholehearted ‘Yes!’ to illustrating Hello World.
(Image of Lisa’s writing journal containing the early drafts of Hello World, including a small snatch of a wordpool on babies, lullabies, and bedtime, written a few pages before the first drafts begin.)
LEILA: When HarperCollins first approached me with Lisa’s text, it already had all the magic a story could hope for. It gave me goosebumps when I first read it, which is always a good sign! It was impossible not to see all the parallels with my own life and my own tiny people. And I was determined to create illustrations with the same level of life and love that leapt out of Lisa’s text.
As I began illustrating, the characters appeared first and then I built their world around them. Luckily for this project—I have two tiny people who provided endless amounts of inspiration! And even in the early stages, I found myself constantly reaching for my sketchbooks to reference old sketches and memories.
(A snippet of inspiration from Leila’s sketchbook with the parallel that appears in Hello World.)
By the time I’d finished the roughs, I felt like I’d created another story which wound in and out of Lisa’s text. And I really hope we’ve created plenty of space for readers to weave their personal narratives into the pages too.
I usually try not to overthink too much when I’m illustrating, but I spent quite a while reflecting on the pacing for Hello World as I wanted the illustrations to follow that familiar daily rhythm. It’s always temping to squeeze as much as you can into the pages available, but by using white space quite heavily in the last few images of the book, it really allows the viewer to slow down alongside our mini heroine. Oh, the power of white space! And oh, the power of a good bedtime story…
(An internal illustration from Hello World by Leila Rudge)
LISA: It has been such a thrill to see the way Leila has brought Hello World to such vivid life. I love that perky sunshine girl with her barely-there pigtails and her tattered well-loved catty. While the text lingers on the small moments, the illustrations carry the momentum of the whole life of this one small toddler, the tender connection with her family, all the close-up minutia of a messy real home. I adore the patterns and textures that are scattered throughout the book (the stars, stripes, and checks, and all the flowers and the polka dots too) that absolutely invite a little reader to reach out and touch the pages. And being an endpaper aficionado, I can’t help but be overjoyed by the way the endpapers so cleverly connect the whole story.
As a parent, when your kids are little, life can often feel like a whirlwind. It can be sometimes impossible to savour the small moments, to grasp their beauty and true significance. One of the things I’m hoping with Hello World is that this book might offer a lovely window for toddlers and their big people to gather up close, to linger together on all the little things that count the most in a single day—waking up and being together, eating, playing, adventure, creativity, community, kisses, hugs, cloud watching, stories on knees, moongazing, comfort in the dark, the lifegiving power of delight and wonder.
LEILA: This book really was a joy to work on and I think the level of collaboration right the way through the project between Lisa, myself and the team at HarperCollins is evident in the all the magic moments of the finished book. In a lovely full circle, one of the most delightful things about illustrating Hello World has been sharing this with my young daughter Albie, who constantly asked for daily updates about my progress along the way. So when Albie says now, ‘It’s the best book in the whole world’ that feels like proof enough for me!
(Internal illustration from Hello World by Leila Rudge)
Sincere thanks to Lisa and Leila for composing this beautiful introduction and background to their resonant picture book for the very young, Hello World.
The care and thoughtfulness in their words here reflect the warmth and love in their story. This book would be an ideal gift for a newborn or toddler.