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Book Cover Reveal: BLUE FLOATS AWAY by Grant Snider and Me

I wrote a story about an iceberg. Grant Snider illustrated it. It’s called Blue Floats Away, and it comes out on March 23, 2021.

Today we’re going to get a look at the cover for the first time, but I wanted to ask Grant Snider some questions first.

Travis: Hey Grant! Thanks for illustrating Blue Floats Away. Should we talk about how we got together for this book?

Grant Snider: It was fate… Or social media serendipity. If memory serves me, I saw a sketch you posted to instagram that aligned with a story idea I had in my notebook. I messaged you about collaborating someday. 

Later, I posted a comic on my instagram that you thought would be a great illustration style for your story about an adventurous iceberg. I did some sketches, we put the idea out into the ocean of book proposals, and a few years later, we have Blue Floats Away.

Travis: I corroborate this story. Can you talk a bit about the illustration style for Blue Floats Away? Safe to say it’s different from your work in cartooning. What did you like about working in this style? What were the challenges?

Grant: The illustrations were made by cutting and tearing construction paper and gluing it together, collage style. I used white ink and blue colored pencil for details, but the pictures were mainly “drawn” with scissors. 

This is in contrast to my usual cartooning work, which is meticulously drawn in pen and marker then colored in Photoshop. I had tried the cut paper technique on a few comics (Slices of Life, Paper Love, and The Missing Piece), but it was still quite new to me.

My favorite part of the art style was stealing art supplies from my children. Instead of using fancy artist pens, I used kids construction paper and Elmer’s glue sticks (the kind that change from purple to clear!). It felt like going back to elementary school art class, in the best possible way. 

Also, I could stand up at my drafting table while working. I would turn on loud music and find myself swaying back and forth to the rhythm while I worked. (Thankfully, no one walked in on me.) Dancing while drawing in my ordinary style would prove disastrous.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to scan the giant collages. My scanner only fits about a quarter of a finished page, so I had to stitch the scans together with quite a bit of digital manipulation. And the hastily glued pieces kept falling apart and needing pieced back together.

Travis: Oh wow – I had no idea about the scanning! Okay – cover talk. Could you name a book cover or two that you especially like and something you like about it?

Grant: I saw this book cover in a Penguin anthology. It’s amazing. It’s designed by book jacket design genius Peter Mendelsund. The layered paper and marine colors were definitely an inspiration for some of my BLUE sketches. 

I also love the covers of the Bear’s Song series by French author/illustrator Benjamin Chaud. The text, the colors, and the poses of the characters give you a hint of the worlds found within. And you can clearly see how it influenced my cover for Blue Floats Away.

Travis: How do you usually go about illustrating a cover? What do you think makes for a good cover?

Grant: I start with thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook, then work up in size to a larger image. I’ll send about four or five ideas to the editor and art director, who then suggest changes and narrow down the search. Usually I revise a sketch a time or two more before working on the final image. I try not to stress about the fact that the cover is the most important illustration of the book!

A good cover grabs the viewer, whether on a crowded bookstore shelf or on a tiny phone screen. That’s a difficult design challenge. It also helps tell the story in some way: hinting at the character’s actions or feelings, setting the mood for the rest of the book, even giving clues as to how the story might unfold. 

Travis: Comparing your early ideas to the final cover for Blue Floats Away, is there anything that jumps out at you? How did initial ideas evolve?

I like how the cover evolved from a small, lonely looking iceberg in a vast sea to a friendly, intrepid iceberg floating with a purpose. Blue grew in size and personality. He seems to be an active character and less a victim of circumstances beyond his control. Although maybe that’s just an illusion…

In my “sketches” I tried various color schemes and paper ripping techniques. In the process, the title also changed, as you can see. I’m glad I got to sneak in the picturesque lighthouse that appears briefly in the book. I’m from landlocked Kansas, where the only similar landmarks are water towers and grain elevators. Many have flashing lights so planes don’t fly into them – not quite as romantic as a lighthouse. And after this hot summer in Kansas, I could use an Arctic vacation.

Travis: This is my first time seeing all these rough drafts. So cool to see the evolution of things.

Thanks for the chat, Grant! Also, thanks for illustrating Blue Floats Away.

Now how about we have a look at the final cover? Illustrated by Grant Snider, designed by Pamela Notarantonio.

And why not the full jacket?

You can pre-order Blue Floats Away here.

So what’s the book about?

Little Blue lives at the North Pole with his parents until, one day, he floats away and strikes out on his own. Along the way, Blue encounters new things (sharks) and beautiful things (sailboats). He starts to wonder which way is home when something unexpected starts to happen. Little Blue is getting smaller and smaller until . . . he transforms!

A story about the water cycle, Blue Floats Away explores the power of transformation and growing up.

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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.