Linda Joy Singleton & Richard Smythe Discuss Their Inspiration & Collaboration on Sun & Son

By Linda Joy Singleton

As a reporter for Cynsations, I love sharing articles and interviews. This is the first time I’m turning the tables and sharing an interview between myself and my illustrator, Richard Smythe, as we celebrate the March 2022 release of our second book together, Sun & Son (Amicus Ink).

Publishers are brilliant in the art of matching picture book text with the perfect artist. I was delighted when Amicus Books matched my first nonfiction book, Crane & Crane (Amicus 2019), with the very talented Richard Smythe. From rough sketches to finished book, Richard brought life to both bird and constructions cranes. And when I approached him about promotion, he very graciously created a coloring page.

Fun fact: We almost met in person when I had a trip to Europe planned for Fall 2020, but that’s on hold for now. Fortunately, we can chat online, and here’s a fun Q&A we shared about our experiences working together. Enjoy!

Linda: What is your process when you first read a manuscript? For instance, When you first read Sun & Son, did images immediately spring into your head?

Richard: When I read the manuscript I let my imagination take the lead. I try to remember those initial images that come in to my mind when I first read the text. I’ll then make notes and use this as a starting point from which to start the process of sketching out ideas.

Linda, Do you get anxious or even worried about how the illustrator will interpret your story?

Linda: No, I trust my editors to hire amazing illustrators like you. Since we already worked together on Crane & Crane, I had no doubt you’d create the perfect illustrations for Sun & Son. And you did! When I write a picture book, I only have a vague idea of the art and I can’t wait to see what an illustrator will come up with. I was especially pleased when I saw you’d included a cat in the book because you know I love cats.  It was also important to me that the word “grow” show a child’s measurements against a wall—like my parents did with me. And you exceeded this with the lovely giraffe drawing!

Speaking of art notes, since Sun & Son has so few words, I included many art notes. What are your thoughts on art notes? Writers are advised to only include art notes when necessary to explain the story. In your experiences, what are the pros and cons of art notes?

Richard: I don’t mind having art notes. I think it was necessary for our book because the story is told via single words. So in this case it was beneficial to have as much help as possible. For me, there has generally been a lot of flexibility with the books I have worked on. If there is an art note I disagree with, I would just share an alternative idea and see what the editor/author thinks. Most of the time people are willing to meet in the middle. I think it’s best to try and be as collaborative as possible, but at the end of the day it’s the author’s text, and the publisher’s product, so they have the final say.

When did you first get the idea to do a book with single words? And did it come from a sort of story-telling exercise, a self-imposed limitation that you wanted to set on yourself to see what would happen in terms of developing a narrative?  Or was there another reason?

Linda: It was a story exercise to write a picture book idea every day for a month (now called Story Storm created by Tara Lazar). My very first idea was Crane & Crane. I love word play and since my husband was a crane operator, I had the mental image of a bird crane mimicking a metal crane. Here’s what I wrote:

Idea 1—November 1, 2014:

A bird lifts and carries and tries to be like a metal crane, making noises and scaring other cranes. Or maybe they think he’s crazy. But he can fly away when there’s trouble. It could teach leverage and have fun with heavy equipment.

Boom. Lift! (Shows crane lifting equipment)

BOOM! LIFT (Bird crane carries a big fish and lifts off)

Plop. Spat. (Heavy equipment drops something heavy)

PLOT. SPLASH! (Bird drops his fish into the water).

When I showed my 30-day idea list to my agent, this is the one she loved and urged me to write. But at first I had no idea how to turn minimal words into a complete story. I went to a Sand Hill Crane reserve and was inspired by the magnificent birds.

I also interviewed my crane-operator husband—it was his idea for the construction crane to build a log home. Lots of research went into this book of only 27 words. And then the magic happened when you illustrated layers of story with your amazing art.

What was your illustration process?

Richard: When I read the manuscript I let my imagination take the lead. I try to remember those initial images that come in to my mind when I first read the text. I’ll then make notes and use this as a starting point from which to start the process of sketching out ideas.

How did you come with the idea for Sun & Son?

Linda: While researching Crane & Crane, I discovered there were only three homonyms that offered a complete story of characters that compliment, contrast, and teach STEM. And a second book in this paired-word style, Sun & Son, was born. I was delighted when you signed on to create the illustrations. With your beautiful art, it bloomed into a sweet story of growth, nature, and a parent’s love.

Speaking of being a parent, can you share any personal experiences that inspired your art?

Richard: I dedicated Son & Sun to my son, who at the time was in utero—it did make working on the book extra special. As I worked on it, I was trying to put myself in the shoes of the dad, and thinking about all the fun me and my own boy will have. He is nearly two now so still a bit too young for any camping adventures. I also remember trying to think of my own childhood, with my own father. I wanted the overall look and feel to have a bit of a nostalgic feel to it too, especially with the colors.

Cynsational Notes 

Richard is from England, and when it’s not raining he likes to go out with his family as much as possible. Whether that’s taking his son to the park or going to see the rest of their family. When not doing art, Richard works as a software developer and also enjoys messing around in the garden. He’s worked on many children’s books over the last few years working with major publishers such as Simon & Schuster, Faber & Faber and Walker Books. Some other books coming out this year are They’re Tearing Up Mulberry Street by Yvonne Ng (Amicus Books) and Bedtime Band by Tania Guarino.

Linda Joy Singleton is a reporter at-large for Cynsations. The author of over 55 books from picture books to YA/MG series, including Curious Cat Spy Club (Albert Whitman, 2016), The Seer series (Llewellyn/Flux) and Dead Girl series (North Star Editions). She’s also written picture books, her most recent are Crane & Crane, illustrated by Richard Smythe (Amicus 2019). And March 2022, Sun & Son, illustrated by Richard Smythe (Amicus). She offers Creative Kidlit Consultations. Learn more and visit her at

She lives in Northern California foothills, surrounded by a menagerie of animals including dog, cats, peacocks, horses, and pigs. Linda reports on writing and publishing children’s literature for Cynsations.