The “Story Behind the Story” of Lou’s Zoo

Who’s New At Lou’s Zoo

My original story idea was going to be about opposites, and zoo animals, but the story changed after a few names that came to mind like Mickey the Meek Monkey, Peter the Chatty Parrot, Kimo the shy Koala or Gina the gentle Giraffe were a few of the first names and then the animals and names started to flow. That’s typically how my story ideas evolve. As I began listing the type of animals and giving them names, I decided I wanted them to have unique personalities, so I started looking for an illustrator.

Often, I have some idea of what I want my characters to look like; my go-to to find an illustrator is author groups on social media. One day while scrolling, I saw a post of a quirky owl, sipping on a straw, illustrated by Lauren Sparks.
I loved the bright, vibrant colors she used, and the style was not necessarily what I thought I wanted but I loved her style. After sending an email, Lauren was quick to respond even though we were located in different countries. It’s not uncommon to hire an illustrator in another country as social media connects us to people all over the world.

Once I met Lauren, I knew she was the one to help me create my characters and give them the personalities I needed to tell my story. At this point, I had no idea of Lauren’s talent, but I could tell she was a wonderful, kind, and gentle soul and I thought she would be great to work with. At this stage of an author/illustrator relationship, you really don’t know someone until you begin working together. It wasn’t until later that I learned just how talented and wonderful Lauren is to work with.

When an illustrator, hand paints illustrations, the process of sketching a storyboard is done prior to painting to be sure we both agree the illustrations follow the manuscript, and this is when changes are made based on suggestions that we both have about each page and/or spreads.
After Lauren completed her storyboard, we met again. This time we discussed the page layout of some of the animals, the design, and the facial expressions of the animals to give the reader an idea of what the character’s personality is like. It’s not until the illustrator begins painting that the pages come to life.

Lauren painted Alvin the alligator first. I fell in love with his big, bulging eyes as he spoke right through them, the stained spots on his teeth, and his big clumsy look as alligators are. She captured everything I wanted that character to be and she nailed the personality better than if I painted them myself. You see sometimes we have an idea we think we want, and the illustrator may come up with another better than an author could have imagined for her story. It was then; I knew I wanted to work more with Lauren.

As Lauren worked through painting the illustrations, we met a few more times until she completed all of them and that’s when I realized how special this book was going to be, so I requested Lauren to paint the end sheets (pages glued to the inside front and back cover) to make this book even more beautiful.

After she completed all of the illustrations, Lauren then scans them in high resolution and sends them to Praise, my book designer. Praise then chooses special font styles for the front, back, and interior pages like Rylee The Young Rocketeer or John’s Camping Adventures.
But Lauren painted the title for Lou’s Zoo, so Praise chose several interior fonts that paired well with the design of the cover and title. Praise then places the manuscript on the pages and formats the book to be printed.

I never cut corners on my book design and formatting, this can make or break the style or design of a children’s book. The type of font used, and layout will give a children’s book its personality that’s needed to be chosen over other books. This is the fifth book Praise has designed and formatted for me, and in my opinion that is Praise’s greatest talent in “dressing up” the cover and pages with her font choices.
Praise and Lauren worked so well together to get any small changes corrected and ready for the printer as we did have a few adjustments.

Once the book is formatted, the book designer will send the file to the offset printer, we used Signature Book Printing, and then the printer is able to print the books. There is nothing better than getting the first copy of your book from the printer for proofing. The feeling of accomplishment is greater than any other I have experienced.

I cannot say enough about Lauren! She is one of the most talented illustrators I have met as she can design characters to my description, and capture personalities in a manuscript, and her painting is always above your expectations. We will be working together again, the next book to follow is Lou’s Zoo and Winston Too, and there will be a third book out later next year, Hint: It’s about a baby rhino named Rory. I came up with this story idea after watching a video from Wild Tomorrow Fund. Check them out at

If you enjoyed my “story behind the story” article, I would love to hear your thoughts as I continue to share my book experiences with you.
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