I’m thrilled to be sharing a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at Amara and the Bats by Emma Reynolds. With the perfect blend of story and facts this unique picture book will inspire you to start your own bat adventure!
There are two things you should know about Amara. First, she LOVES bats. She knows everything there is to know about them, except one thing. Why are there no bats near her new house? It’s not long before she learns the sad truth that it’s because bats are losing their natural habitat.
The second thing you should know about Amara, is that she is not the sort of girl to sit around and do nothing when there is a problem. Although initially the task seems scarily big, she realises with the help of her friends, that she can make a difference.
I felt so inspired reading this book. My little girl noticeably asked more questions when reading this than other picture books. She was utterly captivated by Amara’s quest to save the bats and straight away asked if we could help. Thankfully, Emma had that covered too. At the back of the book is a selection of fabulous fact pages including a guide to building your own bat box at home.
This is Emma’s debut author-illustrated picture book and the love that has gone into creating it shines through – even the end papers are incredible! While it is has a unique nocturnal twist to environmental activism, the messages at the core of this gorgeous picture book are universal: hope, togetherness, and perseverance. If you didn’t love bats before, you will by the time you’ve finished the book. I think it is perfect for fans of Clean Up by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola.
But now, with no more ado, it’s over to Emma to tell us about her creative process…
It all started with this drawing I drew in 2016. And I knew I had to make a story about her.
I thought of the name ‘Amara’ and started imagining possibilities for her. I thought about how I’d always loved bats since I was a kid, and that there are hardly any children’s books about them. I imagined her looking up curiously at a bat, and imagined a title page.
In the finished book, I kept the title page pretty similar, but reversed, as a homage to my original idea!
Over the next couple of years, I began to develop the idea further and in 2018 in my evenings and every other weekend, I was putting together a dummy book of ‘Amara and the Bats’ and putting together my kidlit portfolio, to pitch to agents!
Here are some of the early sketches from earlier versions of the dummy book that ended up being cut in various versions, but I still like:
Amara eventually hangs like this in her bedroom off her bunkbed in the finished book, too excited about bat facts to sleep!
In August 2018 I signed with my agent Thao Le! We then worked on the dummy book some more before pitching to publishers. In May 2019 we shared the news that Amara and the Bats had a book deal with Atheneum, Simon & Schuster! My editor Julia McCarthy is absolutely wonderful, and she and my designer Greg helped me make this book the very best it could be, I am forever grateful!
‘Amara and the Bats’ is my author-illustrator debut, my dream since I was 5 years old! I absolutely LOVE the puzzle solving process that goes into making a picture book, and fitting the story into the page limit allowed. Amara is an especially long picture book at 48 pages (most picture books are 32 pages, so Amara is like a picture book and a half!) as we wanted to include some back-matter in the book with extra bat facts.
We worked on the story, on Amara’s initial connection with bats, and in the details and finalised the sketched dummy. Then I laid all the sketched pages out so we could see the book as a whole. Here is the beginning sequence of the book. As you can see, one is coloured already – some of the coloured artwork was remaining almost the same from my pitch, but being updated in my current style and with Amara’s updated design.
Next, I did the colour roughs for the whole book. Here is the same sequence in colour rough stage.
I spend a lot of time on this part of the book development process, as it massively helps me plan and make the final artwork, as I can colour pick from these colour roughs and see the book as a whole – making sure the colour palettes work thematically throughout. I had three palettes I was working with – The ‘day time’ warm palette, the night time palette (which took some editing once we had the printed proofs back to make sure the dark colours showed up well in print), and the green nature palette which appears later on in the book. The contrast between blues and warm oranges and reds was a recurring theme throughout the book (even when they’re indoors), reflecting the colours of the sky and sun setting when bats come out.
I don’t put tons of details in at this stage (otherwise it feels like you’re making the artwork twice, and you lose some of the excitement when making the finished artwork) and so I keep the brush strokes expressive and don’t zoom in too much, so that I can get the overall feel of the page expressed through colour.
Here is one of the pages as a gif from sketch to finished artwork so you can see how it develops:
I did all the outlines for my picture book in Procreate on the iPad, and then coloured and painted them in Photoshop.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my process!
Thank you so much, Emma, it is amazing to see the creative journey of this book!
Amara and the Bats is published by Atheneum in the UK, 22 July 2021
ISBN-13 : 978-1665903271
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I am very grateful to the author and publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.