Behind the Scenes of I Haiku You + a Giveaway


Leave a comment on the bottom of this post for a chance to win a copy of I Haiku You.

Betsy Snyder has been my author/illustrator heroine for the past two months. Why? Because she wrote the book, Sweet Dreams Lullaby, that promises a smooth transition to bedtime for my daughter every single night. Sweet Dreams Lullaby is the perfect book to help a little one drift off to sleep with nature-inspired dreams. To learn more about it, check out my blog post where I assert that it’s the best bedtime book ever.)

Right around the time I started reading Sweet Dreams Lullaby to my daughter every night, Betsy Snyder published yet another book of poems. I Haiku You is a collection of 20 haiku poems about childhood friendship and love. It’s not only a perfect Valentine’s gift for any young child, but it can serve as an excellent mentor text if you’re teaching children how to write haikus, at Valentine’s Day or any time of the year.

This post is one of the stops on the I Haiku You Blog Tour. On this stop, Betsy shares some information with you about how this book came to be, from the title to the poetry to the illustrations. If you choose to use this book with your students, then you can certainly use excerpts from the interview during minilessons or in your conferences. (Please note: Betsy shares lots of images in this post, which you can click on to enlarge.)


Behind the Scenes of I Haiku You

by Betsy Snyder

From book to book, the creative experience is never exactly the same. Each book presents its own set of unique challenges, so I find myself adjusting, learning and growing along the way. Below I’ve shared my behind-the-scenes process for writing and illustrating I Haiku You, my newest picture book published by Random House.

1. The idea. After Haiku Baby was published, I knew I wanted to make another haiku book, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take. The book began to take shape when my editor at Random House offered me an idea for a title—”How about “I Haiku You?”, she suggested. I loved it instantly (and I loved Heidi for entrusting me with such a gem). Having a strong title gave me the inspiration and nudge I needed to start writing.

2. The words (well, sort of). While I’ve numbered the stages for the sake of clarity, in actuality, the steps of writing and illustrating are often intertwined and inseparable for me. I’m more of a visual thinker, so sometimes I write around the image, going back and forth between the words and the pictures. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s start with the words.

I set out to write a collection of haiku centered around simple moments of love and friendship. I brainstormed subjects for my haiku by making a list of childhood objects of affection: a favorite teddy, a pet dog, a smiling moon—even a cherished bedtime book. Using the same traditional 3-line, 5-7-5-syllable, third-person format that I adhered to with Haiku Baby, I began writing the haiku. But they didn’t work. My early drafts lacked the intimacy and sentiment I was searching for. I was stuck.

I found my muse in the most unlikely of places—kids’ sappy valentines. Looking at haiku through a different lens made me realize I needed to shift to a second person point of view. When I began to imagine the haiku as sentiments being read aloud to a child, I found a voice that was meaningful and heartfelt, yet playful and clever, all at the same time. The haiku worked on two different levels—as a valentine from a parent to a child and as a valentine from a child to an object of affection.

you be my jelly,

i’ll be your peanut butter—

let’s stick together!



3. The sketches. After my editor and I were happy with all the haiku, I was ready to move on to the pictures. As always, I began with lots of thumbnails (little sketches that help me quickly explore basic concept and composition). Then I went back and picked my favorites from the bunch.

Next came the tricky part. I had to build an arc. At that point, the haiku and thumbnails were all individual moments—I needed to string them together and bring some continuity to the collection. I began arranging the haiku moments from morning to night AND in order of the seasons.

Determining the final order of the haiku was like trying to solve a puzzle with a gazillion different solutions. To help me visualize the page turns (and not go crazy), I made a blank mini-dummy of the whole book, using paper clips to secure the thumbnails in place on the pages. This allowed me the freedom to shuffle things around to my heart’s content. When I finally had an order established, I shared a thumbnail storyboard with my editor and art director.


I finalized the sketches by drawing them at full-scale, refining characters, tightening details and designing open spaces for the text.


4. The final art (at last!). While it may seem like my style remains constant from book to book, in reality, I make conscious decisions to push my art and color palette in one direction or another, depending on what’s right for each project. My editor, art director and I agreed that the art for I Haiku You needed a different sensibility than my previous books—something warm, nostalgic, and more universal in appeal. Yay, a new style!

While I loved the imperfect, stampy feel that a true linocut technique could bring, I just didn’t have time (it was early 2012 and the book has a fast-track pub. date of December 2012). I found a speedier solution for the line work that was more immediate yet still reductive—I drew the line with marker on acetate and scratched away at the edges with a stylus. This process gave me the naive, handmade line quality I was aiming for.


After drawing the line and painting the watercolor washes separately, I scanned everything in and assembled all the pieces and parts on the computer. So, my final art ended up being digital, which felt natural to me—it’s how I do my collage style as well.


5. The finishing touches. Lastly, I needed to make some final format decisions. For paper choice, we opted for the softer, natural feel of an uncoated matte stock. It was also time to resolve the remaining book elements, like the jacket, end papers, title page and credits. I had fun with these bonus parts of the book, incorporating secondary details that kids (and parents) could discover little by little, with each consecutive reading. For example, the boy on back of the cover also appears mailing his valentine on the title page. Thoughtfully designing these extra features truly completes a book—it’s like wrapping your package up with the perfect bow.



So, that’s the true story of making I Haiku You, in a nutshell—or shall I say “in a thumbnail”? (sorry, corny valentine humor). I’ll leave you with the book’s trailer animated by my husband, a “making-of” story I’ll save for a another day…



  • Many thanks to Random House for sponsoring this giveaway. One lucky commenter will win a copy of I Haiku You.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy please leave a comment on this post about Betsy’s behind the scenes information about her book, writing haikus, or teaching poetry.
  • All comments left on or before Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. EST will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Friday, February 15th. I will announce the winners’ names at the bottom of this post no later than Sunday, February 17th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Random House will ship the book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you only leave it in the e-mail field.)


Want to check out the other stops on Betsy’s blog tour? Here are the links:

1st Stop: The Children’s Book Review

2nd Stop: Writing and Illustrating

3rd Stop: U.S. Kids

4th Stop: Here!

5th Stop: Watch Connect Read , Colby Sharp, Nerdy Book Club


Comments are now closed.  Thank you to everyone who left a comment.

I used a random number generator and Kay’s comment number was selected.  She wrote:

I loved reading about the process you went through for both writing the haiku and creating the artwork–especially the work organizing separate moments into a whole. I’m also thinking of how I can use haiku in my class. I’ve been wanting to experiment with book spine poetry, and haiku might give an added twist.