New Voice: Chiêu Anh Urban on Raindrops: A Shower of Colors

Chiêu Anh Urban is the first-time author of Raindrops: A Shower of Colors, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Sterling, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Look—a rainbow of colors is showering down on the animals!

This very simple, beautiful, and innovative concept book shows children how primary colors magically blend to create secondary ones. Die-cut raindrops with a see-through shaded acetate appear throughout; when the acetates are layered on top of each other, a new color emerges!

So it’s easy to see—and understand—how blue and red make purple; red and yellow make orange; blue and yellow make green . . . . and how, all together, they create a gorgeous rainbow!

The delightful art showcases a cute and cuddly-looking group of animals trying to escape the rain—and each one has an adorable accessory, be it a pinwheel, fancy hat, or bright umbrella.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The creative process was a lot of fun. When I was a child, I made little book dummies to play with, and crafted many ideas and playthings using paper. It was how I entertained myself; a creative time I really enjoyed. I still love art, crafting, and developing ideas. It is my hobby and something I look forward to doing when I get the chance.

When my kids were in preschool, I decided to design a hands-on book to teach them about colors. I didn’t want a book that simply tells how primary colors (red, blue and yellow) blend to make secondary ones (purple, orange and green); I wanted to demonstrate this visually, as a novelty book.

I have a background in graphic design, and love experimenting and working with different materials. Acetate is one of my favorites, and I knew that layering it would be a great way to show how colors blend.

I’m around children a lot, with my own, their classmates, and friends. So naturally, they were a big part of my inspiration. I recognized that animals and creatures fascinate them, making ideal characters for a concept book about colors.

Books about animals, sea creatures, and insects were great resources.

I often shared my thoughts and ideas with the kids. Young children are amazingly honest and love to show their emotions and excitement. They were my critique group!

While my proposal was under consideration, the editor asked me if I could work the acetate into the final page, which displays the rainbow. At first, I was stumped. Each page represents a color, and it takes three pages to demonstrate a color blend. So how could I incorporate this concept into a rainbow with many colors?

It took some brainstorming, and after many mock-ups, I finally got it. I positioned the colors and features from the blue butterfly, red robin and white cloud on the previous page to fall under the yellow sky acetate on the next page. This layering effect emerged into three new colors that make-up the rainbow on the final spread.

I was pleased with the results, which look effortless, and I do wonder how many readers even notice the subtle color transition.

As a board book author, you have succeeded in a tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

I love board books, and have collected a nice library full of them for my children. They are fun to look at and hold. I guess I’m a big kid at heart. When I’m at the bookstore and library, I gravitate to those thick, chunky books and see what it is about each one that appeals to me.

Many board books are created in-house, already in picture-book format, or of a licensed character. You’ll want to develop a concept and story that is fresh.

Believe in your work and keep crafting.

It is helpful to make mock-ups of your ideas. Seeing, holding, and hearing how a book reads from beginning to end is far more effective than looking at sketches on paper.

When you think you’ve finished the best piece possible, set it aside for a while and come back to it. You will have a new perspective and probably want to revise again.

Visit bookstores to see which publishers have board book titles and if they would be a good fit for your project.

Have patience, keep revising, and creating; your time spent will be well worth it.

Cynsational Notes

Chiêu Anh Urban received a BFA in Communication Arts and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. She has worked for an advertising agency and software firm designing corporate branding and advertising, and is now an independent graphic designer who works from her home studio in Laytonsville, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and three daughters. She enjoys art and drawing with her children.