Thursday, March 2, 2023

Writing and Illustrating to Discover Ourselves

    As writers and illustrators of children's books, we often strive to create books for young readers to see themselves or to learn about others. This is something I hope for with many of my projects. However, in writing and illustrating my first book I was surprised with a different outcome: discovering myself.

    In the weeks leading up to my debut, I wrote about the process of writing Blob many times. Blob started as a joke about how no one could recognize the animal characters I was drawing. In exasperation, I declared that I would draw a blob. They were cute, so I decided I needed to learn more about who they were.

    In drafting Blob, I focused mostly on humor. The idea of a character who could be whatever you want them to be lent itself well to fun word play and cute illustrations. And yet, little pieces of me still creeped in. The narrator calling Blob “bob” and Blob painting the “l” in on every page was something I often did with the “e” in my own name. When I started working with my editor, she suggested that we lean in to this a bit more as a theme for Blob. In my first draft, it was a gimmick throughout the book, and she pointed out that Blob needed to stand up for themself and insist on the correct name. I agreed.

An illustrated page showing a character as a giraffe, an elephant, a unicorn, and an octopus
A page from Blob. Leaning into silly humor was fun!

    Halfway through the process of editing the manuscript, the pandemic began. As we all grappled with the fear and uncertainty of that time, my friendships moved to online forums, where I met more queer and trans authors and artists. For the first time in my life, I heard the word nonbinary. Hearing them describe their own experiences of self discovery, the old childhood uncertainty of making decisions about who I was and wanted to be began to bubble to the surface. I found myself relating to my friends’ stories and wrestling with questions about my own identity.

    As we worked on marketing materials for the book, including the book announcement, everyone was using he/him pronouns for Blob, which didn’t feel right. I asked that we switch to they/them pronouns. At the time, I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly about this, but the publishing team immediately agreed and updated the marketing materials.

    After Blob was edited and the art completed, my editor asked me to write a letter to readers talking about what it meant to write Blob. In this letter, I discussed the many themes of my own childhood that had woven their way into this humorous story: the fear of deciding what and who to be, the pressure to be who people expected you to be, the disappointment of people not bothering to learn my name because I am a twin, and the frustration of people constantly misspelling my name. In short, Blob is about identity: being who you are, no matter what.

illustration of white blob character with star glasses on head wearing a name tag that says "hello my name is blob" and surrounded by drawings.
In writing this letter, I wrote “I hope that Blob shows children and their adults the importance of being yourself, regardless of what other people want or expect you to be. That the best answer to “what do you want to be” can be “I want to be me”! There are many children who deal with people mispronouncing their names, whose reality includes people making no effort to know who they are or say their names correctly, or whose name doesn’t fit who they are. I want children reading this book to realize that it’s ok to speak up and ask people to call you what you want to be called, to recognize you as an individual, no matter how many times it takes.”

    A lightbulb went off in my head as I wrote that. All those questions I had wrestled with while writing Blob suddenly had an answer. Blob was not only all the things I had written above, it was my journey of discovering that I am nonbinary. Blob’s feelings of not really being one thing or the other, being all the things yet none of the things was me. Writing Blob was like finding a mirror that truly reflected who I was for the first time in my life.

    I wasn’t able to share this story when Blob published, and yet Blob still found their way to nonbinary readers whose parents’ messages to me will forever remain close to my heart. I love that Blob can be so many things for readers who will come across this story, and that readers can connect to this character in their own way. For me, Blob will always be about discovering myself as a nonbinary person. Thank you, Blob.

Image of cover of picture book titled BLOB with white blob character in star glasses in the center.
My advice to other writers and illustrators: write what your heart is pulling you to write. Draw the character that makes you laugh, the character that demands attention. You may find yourself on the page, and this authenticity will connect to you to your readers. 

    I ended my letter to readers with “Blob captured my heart. I hope they capture yours as well.” And so I’ll end this post to you, writers and illustrators: Blob discovered my true self. I hope your writing and illustrating discovers yours as well. Always be you!

Image of person in star glasses and tunic top holding picture book titled BLOBAnne Appert (they/them ) is a nonbinary author/illustrator who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book, while their wild imagination transformed their New Jersey backyard into faraway places. Anne still enjoys spending time in their backyard dreaming, and now their imagination turns their dreams into words and pictures for children. Anne wrote and illustrated their debut book Blob, which was published by HarperCollins in Fall of 2021. Their second book What If You Wish? will publish with HarperCollins in 2024. They are a member of SCBWI, from which they received an honor in the 2021 Conference Portfolio Showcase. When not writing and illustrating, Anne enjoys teaching college students, dying their hair every color of the rainbow, and attempting to roller skate.  You can see their work at

1 comment:

Shar Petersen said...

I loved learning more about you through this article, Anne - what a beautiful journey of self-discovery! Blob has definitely found a place in my family's heart. My kids love reading about them and so do I!