CHESIRE – Allison Beitel knows all about picky eaters.
As a pediatrician, she is constantly exposed to children unwilling to expand their young palates beyond a few food items, and the families anxiously attempting to coax them to try more things. It’s not exactly the most common jumping-off point for a new career as a children’s book writer.
Yet, that’s what Beitel has become as she, along with fellow Cheshire resident and art professor at Quinnipiac University, Julieta Gomes, has published her first children’s book, “Priscilla the Picky Porcupine.”
“I work with children all the time, and picky eating is very common,” said Beitel. “So, somewhere along the way, I thought, ‘This would make for a great book.'”
“I write on my own — I have my own blog (about parenting) and have written novels for fun — but I have no artistic talent at all,” she continued. “When I approached Julie, I was so happy she agreed to do the art.”
The book, about a young porcupine who slowly begins to try new foods and enjoy them, took approximately six years to write, and required both Beitel and Gomes to step outside of their comfort zones. While Beitel had some experience as a writer, she’d never attempted a children’s book, which requires a different approach. Gomes, an artist by trade, had never done illustrations.
“I’m a fine artist,” said Gomes, “but when (Beitel) approached me, I said, I would try it.”
Beitel wrote the book, which she described as being “the quick part.” But then came the editing and illustrations, which took up the bulk of time.
“I got the story down on paper,” said Beitel. I worked with a professional editor (to fine tune the writing). Then I showed Julie the story and she created the (drawings). ”
The collaborative effort put both writer and artist in a unique position. For Gomes, she had to not only create drawings based on the text provided by Beitel but also find different ways to make the same character look unique based on the page of the story to which the drawing corresponded.
“It’s Allison’s story and I really wanted it to come to life,” said Gomes. “It was such a great challenge and I’m so happy how it turned out.”
For Allison, the text began to change as Gomes’ illustrations began to pour in.
“As we got deeper into it, I realized the best kind of story is one where you learn from the text but also allow the illustrations to tell a story not in the text,” said Beitel. “I think it’s exciting when the kids can pick out little details (in the illustrations) … so I started changing the text to allow illustrations to tell more of the story.”
At first, Gomes’ drawings were done in colored pencil, however she was not happy with the way they turned out so she went back and redid them all as watercolor illustrations. Then, when everything was set and the author and illustrator were happy with the results, the real work began — finding a way to publish the book.
Traditionally, someone looking to write a children’s book would work through an agent who would look to secure a publisher to distribute the book, but Beitel knew that, by taking that route, she would be inviting interference, particularly when it came to who the illustrator of the book would be.
“I knew I wanted to work with Julie,” said Beitel, “and so I knew this would probably be self-published.”
That meant Beitel would have to find a way to turn the beautiful watercolor illustrations created by Gomes into digital form, requiring her to learn a whole new publishing software on the fly.
“It was a very steep learning curve,” explained Beitel, who used Indesign publishing software. “It took a lot of trial and error.”
In addition to learning exactly how to build her book with the new program, she also had to contend with the differences in how the illustrations looked when converted from hand-painted works into a digital copy.
“Going from watercolor to digital… sometimes it prints differently than what you see on the page (via the computer screen),” said Gomes.
Beitel credited Gomes for helping to edit the book, allowing the two friends, who met years ago through their shared interest in tennis, to truly put their individual stamps on the work.
Now that the book is completed and available to the public, both are happy with the results.
“Starting a book is not the hardest part. Completion is the hardest thing. There are so many places where you can get snagged, ”said Beitel. “Even if it takes a long time, to finish (the book) really feels wonderful.”
The two are also happy that the story may help families deal with picky eaters, and provide a possible solution to their problem.
“I know, for me, I’m always trying to get my kids to eat carrots and they will say, ‘We want the chips,'” said Gomes, with a laugh. “(The book) may help people take healthy food and turn it into something fun. People may read this book and say, ‘Ok, maybe we will try this (to help with picky eating).’ ”
“I hope it shows people that there are always solutions to challenging problems,” added Beitel. “With a little patience, you can find something that works.”
“Priscilla the Picky Porcupine: A book for picky eaters and their parents” is available in both hardcopy and digital formats, and can be purchased via Amazon.