As a child, Kelly Hill fell in love with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved red-haired orphan. Now a senior designer at Penguin Random House, Hill combined her sewing skills and deep knowledge of all things Anne-with-an-E to create a series of board books for babies. Here, she talks about her inspiration, her crafting cred and why she has yet to read the Green Gables books to her own young daughters.
A few years ago, I was tasked with redesigning the whole Anne series. One idea I had was to make the covers look like they were sewn and embroidered. I’d started making patchwork quilts and pillows about 10 years ago, when my friends started having babies and the thrifty person in me thought, “What am I going to give all these new parents?” The covers looked too young for Anne’s target audience – young teens – but the sewn-and-embroidered idea stuck with me.
I pitched Anne’s Alphabet to Tundra, one of our imprints, and they came back with the idea of doing four books instead of one. My editor, Samantha Swenson, and I worked on the concepts for each. Anne’s Alphabet, Anne’s Colors and Anne’s Feelings are based on scenes from the books, but Anne’s Numbers is more of a walk through nature, something that stuck with me – that she was so connected to nature.
After I sketched out each scene, I cut out all the fabrics and used raw-edge machine appliqué, which I learned from my mother, who is a quilter. The smaller details I did with embroidery. Then we photographed each one so you can see the shadows – it’s important that people run their hands over them as though they can actually feel the fabric. I used Photoshop to add freckles and rosy cheeks.
The books have to work for the kids, but they have to work for the parents, as well, because as parents we all have books we enjoy reading to our kids and ones we don’t. Young children aren’t going to understand that on the red cordial page, Diana has had too much alcohol to drink – but parents will.
Anne’s Feelings is entirely based around “depths of despair.” I knew I wanted to do that one, so all the other feelings were built around despair. There has been some criticism that children aren’t going to know what that and a few other words mean – B is for birch grove, D is for dare – but it was important for me to stick as close to the novels as possible.
My daughters are 7 and 9, so the board books are a bit young for them, but they were along for the ride as I worked on them. Isla, the youngest, picked out a character she wanted to be on the “10 friends” page of Anne’s Numbers – she’s the one in glasses – and Sadie, who’s 9, is in there, too. On the picnic page, my daughters are dancing together, getting along beautifully. It is fiction, after all.
I’m really nervous about reading Anne of Green Gables to the girls. My mum read them to me when I was young, and I loved them, so I’m pretty invested in the idea that they do, too.
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