Research is My Friend by Lauren Castillo


This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors’/illustrators’ texts with your students.

Research. I could not make a book without it. No matter what type of a book I am working on—fiction or nonfiction—it helps to do as much research as possible before sitting down to illustrate a story. Whether it’s the onesie pjs on my little character, a bustling beach town setting, or the childhood barn of a famous author, I try to collect as much information on the subject as I can. The time and energy spent on this stage of the bookmaking process helps me to build a personal connection with the text, and I am therefore better prepared for that long art-making road ahead. Research leads to inspiration, and inspiration leads to my best, most authentic illustration work.

I might collect photographs online, check out books from the library, take photo reference of my subject matter, conduct interviews and draw on location. . . all forms of research that I use to begin my art. For my newest book, Twenty Yawns, written by Jane Smiley, I took my research to the next level—I picked up and MOVED to the town where the story would take place. I relocated to Southern California for eight months.

In the past, I’ve traveled to cities to collect visual inspiration for books (ex: CITY CAT), but I never moved to a new location for the sake of a project. Reading the manuscript for Twenty Yawns, I immediately imagined a beach town on the west coast, and something told me I needed to spend time out there. It’s no secret that travel builds visual vocabulary, and whenever I go somewhere new it helps me grow as an artist. Immersing myself in the beach town community would help me to connect with the story better, and that would hopefully be reflected in my visual storytelling.


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I made all the illustrations for Twenty Yawns while living in a tiny beach house rental in North County San Diego. I sketched at the beach, in coffee shops, and on the floor of my little bungalow. Working in a foreign location was a challenge, but a great one, which helped me realize just how important it is to take risks and get outside of my creative comfort zone.

I now live back on the east coast, in Harrisburg PA (yes, a very different atmosphere than SoCal!), and am in the process of illustrating a picture book biography about the incredible and legendary author, E. B. White, written by Barbara Herkert.  I have been happily living in ‘E. B. White World’ for the past few months; reading everything he ever wrote, and everything written about him. I have researched his family, homes and workplaces, as well as the historical timeline and era in which he lived. My heart is so connected to this beautiful story, and I cannot wait to put pen and paint to paper.


Research can be a tedious and stressful part of bookmaking, but it is also one of the most rewarding. I am grateful for all that I learn with each illustration and every book that I make.

LCASTILLO_headshotLauren Castillo studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has written & illustrated over 15 books for children, including the critically acclaimed Melvin and the Boy, The Reader by Amy Hest, Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts and What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins. One of her most recent books, Nana in the City, was awarded a 2015 Caldecott Honor. She currently draws and dreams in Harrisburg, PA.

Twitter: @studiocastillo 

Instagram: studiocastillo 


Giveaway Information (from Stacey):

  • This giveaway is for five copies of Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo.  Many thanks to Two Lions for donating a copy for five different readers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Twenty Yawns, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th.
  • 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 Two Lions will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – LAUREN CASTILLO. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. A special thank-you to Lauren for taking the time to respond to some of our readers’ comments!

I used a random number generator and the following people’s commenter numbers came up: Abigail, debkrygeris, Anne Lenox, mbhmaine, & Karen Sproul. Therefore, each of them will win a copy of Twenty Yawns.