100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Preview: The Crusty Nibs

It’s been two years since we checked in with the Crusty Nibs. You know The Crusty Nibs, right? The collective of author/illustrators based in the Chicago area, including (but not limited to) Stacy Curtis, Larry Day, Chris Sheban, Eric Rohmann, Tom Lichtenheld, Jeff Newman, and Matthew Cordell?

It seems like a good time to check in, so let’s have a look at what some of them are up to . . .

(Click on images to enlarge)

Matthew Cordell

My next book to be released is called Wolf in the Snow.

Wolf in the Snow

It’s my first wordless picture book and the story surrounds a girl who loses her way in a snowstorm and simultaneously finds a lost and weakened wolf pup.

Wolf in the Snow 1

She’s forced to decide if she will help the pup find its way home (to larger wolves) or leave it and find her own way. This book evolved from a single image I drew (without a story) of a girl in a red coat staring down a large black wolf.

Wolf in the Snow 3

I didn’t know what that image would lead to, or if it would be something good that would ever be publishable. My Crusty Nib pals were very instrumental throughout, really, in helping me and this girl find her way home. (Thanks, guys!)

Wolf in the Snow 2

The book comes out from my good friends and collaborators at Feiwel and Friends on January 3.

Currently, there’s several projects on my mind and on my desk. I’m developing my next picture book with Feiwel (character studies). I’m working on other studies for a pitch I’m putting together with another author/illustrator pal. I’m in sketches for a picture book called If the S in Moose Comes Loose by author Peter Hermann (with HarperCollins). My most finished project though, is a picture book sequel to last year’s First Grade Dropout by Audrey Vernick.

Second Grade Holdout 2

The new book is called Second Grade Holdout, which follows our same ball-of-nerves kid as he is about to go into the 2nd grade. Problem is, he’d really just rather stay in first. It’s super fun. In fact, I just finished the art today!

Second Grade Holdout 2

(Note from Travis: All the Wonders has the scoop (including the cover, case cover, and interviews) on Matthew Cordell’s upcoming book with Philip C. Stead, The Only Fish in the Sea – a sequel to Special Delivery)

Larry Day

Raisin, The Littlest Cow, written by Miriam Busch (Balzer+ Bray) will be released late March, 2017.



Final Pencil for the cover

One day, I brought home a drawing of a holstein cow with the name Raisin. I showed it to my wife, Miriam Busch, and asked her to write a story. Shortly after, she came up with a wonderful story idea. Soon after that, she had it written. We showed the dummy to Alessandra Balzer,


The first image presented to Alessandra Balzer

who, with the help of art director Dana Fritts, helped shape it into something wonderful. This, in addition to Lion, Lion, is our second book with Balzer + Bray.


Thumbnail sketches of the title page and spread, 6-7


Final Pencil for spread, 6-7


Final Art for spread, 6-7


Final art for page 22

On my desk right now is Voices From The Underground Railroad (Dial, 2017). A third collaboration with Kay Winters. This is preceeded by Colonial Voices, Hear Them Speak, and Voices From The Oregon Trail.

At this point, I am at the final pencil stage.

There are two versions of my thumbnail sketches. The first round was with pen. I decided that I wanted to increase the emotional connection by switching to Wolff carbon pencil. That gave me a deeper richness, pulling out the drama that I was looking for. The final illustrations will be pen & Ink with watercolor and gouache.


Thumbnail sketch, Wolff pencil, Copyright page


Final pencil, copyright page


Jeb, first thumbnail sketch with pen


Jeb, second thumbnail sketch


Jeb, final pencil


Samuel conductor, first thumbnail sketch


Samuel conductor, second thumbnail sketch


Samuel conductor, final pencil


Blacksmith, first thumbnail sketch


Blacksmith, second thumbnail sketch. As in Samuel conductor, the drama was ramped up from the first thumbnail sketches


Blacksmith, final pencil

Chris Sheban

From Someone Like Me, by Patricia Maclachlan (Roaring Brook). Summer-ish 2017.

Someone Like Me 1

Someone Like Me 2

Sketches from Someone Like Me:

Someone Like Me Sketch 1

Someone Like Me Sketch 2

Someone Like Me Sketch 3

Someone Like Me Sketch 4

On my desk now… The Perfect Pillow by Eric Pinder (Hyperion), 2018

Perfect Pillow 1

Perfect Pillow 2

Not really on my desk yet… The Other Ducks by Ellen Yeomans. Roaring Brook. (some day)


Eric Rohmann

Here are a few pics from the upcoming Strongheart: The Story of a Wonder Dog, written by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade).

Below are early thumbnails as I read through the text a number of times. At this point I’m thinking about how to make the story and pictures work together without saying the same thing:

Early Thumbnails

First sketches. Thinking about the story, but also the nuts and bolts like the values—dark and light— and how each images will fit with the story and the other images:

First Sketches

Pencil sketch.  I don’t like to make my pencils too finished because I want most of the art making to happen in the final painting.  This also allows me to alter and adjust without feeling I’d put too much precious work time into the sketches.

Pencil Sketches

First painting:

First Painting

A bit of a failure.  Although there are some things that work, the image is a bit overplayed: too much attention to detail and not to the overall effect.  I took the painting too far and it is too dark and solid.  Missteps like this are familiar and always happens at the start of a book, because I need to learn each time how to make that particular book.

A more recent attempt:

Recent Attempt

I stopped before I embalmed the picture.  I want the active drawing active to convey the energy of the dogs and so I left more brush work and line to enliven the image.  It’s still not there, but has given me a pathway to the finished images.

Finally, a shot of my painting area this morning (with unfinished paintings covering up the unsightly water heater!).

Rohmann Painting Area

Jeff Newman

Here’s the cover and some interior illustrations from Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly?,  by Dan Richards, available now from Simon and Schuster…





…a few sketches (and a glimpse at the finished art) from Gum, by Nancy Willard, available sometime next year from Candlewick Press…

gum_sketch_1 gum_sketch_2 gum_finish

…two spreads from a book dummy I just finished called I Am Not Amused, about a little king without a sense of humor…


…and lastly, an image by Larry Day from Missing Prudence, the first book I’ve written and not illustrated. Larry and I have been collaborating on it over e-mail, and the occasional lunch, for the past year or so.


Travis here to say thank you to Larry Day, Chris Sheban, Eric Rohmann, Jeff Newman, and Matthew Cordell for sharing their work.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.