Behind the Scenes of A Picture Book

Jo Robinson lives and works in South Africa.

I worked there repeatedly in earlier years. (I even bought this favourite tablecloth in Johannesburg.) But I live in Canada. 

Blog Photo - Dining table with tulips

Photo by Hamlin Grange

Jo and I have never met in person.

Well-respected in the independent publishing world, Jo is an author, editor, book designer and illustrator. I follow her blog so I’d seen this small photo of her there.

Blog Photo - Jo Robinson


In early January I told my husband: “I’m sending Myrtle to Chris Graham as a guest post for his blog.”  

The printed story of Myrtle the Purple Turtle had been in my desk drawer for 27 years, surviving our family’s house moves.

Hamlin shook his head. “I’m telling you — it should be a book.” 

I sent it to Chris in the UK anyway. 

Chris replied quickly: “I think your husband is right – you should get an illustrator to help you get this made into a children’s picture book.” 

“Trust you men to support each other!” I told Hamlin, hiding a grin.


On Chris’ recommendation, I sent the story to Jo Robinson. 

Jo quickly replied:  “I love your story and would love to have the opportunity to illustrate it!”

Within days, she sent a few sketches, including this one:

Blog Photo - Myrtle1

And our family knew: this was Myrtle.


I had difficulty describing the images I wanted.  So back I went to Hamlin, pouring on emotional blackmail: “Since you and Chris are the ones who got me into this trouble, can you help? Pleeease?”

Blog Photo - Garden White Lilac Flowers in Vase

Photo by Hamlin Grange

Hamlin runs a busy company, but he knows photography. Studied it, worked in it and now is my blog photographer.  He understands images. So, next thing you know,  Jo was working with Hamlin and me both… entirely by email.

Our daughters and sons-in-law also have an eye for these things.  So when Jo sent us sketches, I asked their opinions too.

Poor Jo! She was now working with a whole family! (Except for the pets.) 

Blog Photo - Jerome sitting.jpg

Photo by Tim McCarthy


In August, Jo sent us several versions of the book cover. The picture of Myrtle was the same, but titles and fonts can make a cover look very different.  

We narrowed it down to two then chose one.


I dashed off an email to Jo.


Minutes later, my friend Jean called.

“I have a vanload of kids here,” she said, sounding breathless — as you’d expect from a woman surrounded by 7 grandkids on a very hot day. “Did you decide on your book cover yet? Would you like me to ask which they like?”

Seven kids, ages 3 to 7. Girls and boys.

Sounded like a focus group from my target readership! 

“I’ll ask them individually, so they don’t influence each other,” Jean said.

I sent her two covers, almost sure which they’d like.


Are you ready for this?

Every child chose the one the adults had rejected!

Back to Jo I went.

“The kids have spoken!” I said. 

“Fabulous!” she replied.

It was the first version she’d created.

Myrtle the Purple Turtle Cover


Daughter Lauren, an expert in digital marketing strategy, took over next.

She and Jo devised banners for my social media platforms, finalized the text and illustrations — and other stuff that I don’t really understand.

Blog Photo - Lauren profile picture

It meant that Jo was now working with the person for whom this book was written 27 years earlier.  Wow. 


Photo Credit: Toronto Star Newspaper

Big thanks to Jo!

And to Chris, Hamlin, Lauren, Dan, Nikisha, Tim and Jean for your contributions. 




Filed under A Good Home, Author Cynthia Reyes, Children's Books, Children's Story, Illustrations by Jo Robinson

58 responses to “Behind the Scenes of A Picture Book

  1. Yes! A big thanks to everyone for bringing us dear Myrtle. I loved Jo’s story about the internet outage.

  2. I love to hear how the right people are brought together so that a project can take wings. Myrtle has waited a long time for her chance to be seen, but the wait has proved to be worth it. She is beautiful! The back story is worth a chapter in her book ❤

    • It really has been a great journey. Thank you so much for for your lovely comment! And I must have been reading your mind, kiddo, because I actually put a link to Lauren’s story on the back inside page of the book.

  3. I can’t wait to read Myrtle. I am saving a spot in my November newsletter/blog for her story.

  4. I love this, and the cover looks perfect. Can’t wait for the launch 🙂

  5. This is all so exciting. Can’t wait to order a hard copy.

  6. How interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes the kids just know.

  7. What a great story Cynthia. I’m glad you listened to your husband and the children! The illustrations look wonderful. Did Jo create your new header images too? They look fun too. Best Wishes on your new book! 🙂

  8. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    You’ve already met Myrtle and Lauren, now meet the illustrator, Jo Robinson 😎

  9. I recently met Jo, virtually, after seeing the fabulous cover of your book. She’s wonderful!

  10. So Myrtle was very patient! Congrats

  11. Ann Moser

    Hands down, BEST focus group ever … kids are real, know where it’s at! Myrtle has had quite the journey; can’t wait 🙂

    • Thanks, Ann. It was a great impromptu focus group. And I’m glad Myrtle is finally published after such a journey – now available on and UK but only on Kindle on .ca I expect it to be published available there too on Monday.

  12. They are wonderful images, and the kids always know best 🙂

  13. How wonderful to hear about the story’s route from idea to illustrated reality. I am fascinated by the choice of your market research group, I love to do these kinds of research. I have bought my copy of myrtle and am breathlessly awaiting its arrival.

    • Thank you, Hilary, for buying a copy of Myrtle. I’m honoured. I used to work with focus groups of children when I worked in television, but this one was an unexpected gift from Jean.

  14. She’s very good, and was an excellent choice!
    I’m glad the kids had a voice in it too.

  15. I have no doubt Myrtle should be a book, not a blog post. Too special to not be available on a widespread basis to children everywhere. Can’t wait to see it! Love the new banner, BTW. 🙂

  16. This was such an interesting read! I had no idea that so much was involved in getting a book published. What a team effort!

  17. This is one great story!

  18. Is the cover turtle the one I have been seeing? Is Myrtle pushing 30?

  19. Such a fun post–and yay for focus groups who really know what they like!

  20. Cynthia, this is a terrific post explaining the great collaborative effort to bring your book to publication. Well done to Chris for recommending Jo – you two seem the perfect fit together and her illustrations here are wonderful…moving, tender and joyful…she really ‘gets’ your story! It’s lovely how your family are involved, including your grown daughter for whom the story was told…I adored how the final cover was chosen – yes, always ask the intended audience!! 😀😃

  21. Laurie Graves

    What a story! Love how the children chose the cover. Also, those illustrations are charming and warm yet vibrant. Doesn’t get much better!

    • I’m coincidentally thinking the same of your truly amazing book Maya. What a storyline. I’m on page 176 now.

      • Laurie Graves

        Thanks so much! I’m glad you’re enjoying Maya. As for Myrtle, I’m going to buy it for a friend’s granddaughter, and I’ll be looking for a plush purple turtle to go with the book. Not sure if I’ll be able to find one, but I’m going to try.

  22. What a great story behind the story! It’s so funny how the children chose the cover the adults rejected. Haha! The children have spoken.

  23. What a fun behind the scenes of a book! I like that the kids chose the final cover. I buy books for baby showers and new babies. This one will be on my list! Congratulations to all!

    • Thank you! I’m glad to hear that, JoNell. Wishing you a good week — it’s rainy here now, but we had a beautiful day yesterday and it was Thanksgiving, so yet another thing to give thanks for.

  24. Great back story on how a picture book gets made. Educational and fun.

  25. Cynthia, what a wonderful behind the scenes story. I got teary-eyed when I saw the the picture of you, your daughter, and the delightful doll. ❤ I love happy endings and beautiful beginnings. This has both.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  26. Wonderful journey of your book. Isn’t it always the first one of everything we go back to? 🙂

  27. Pingback: Myrtle the Purple Turtle: Book Review – Wendy L. Macdonald

  28. Wonderful Cynthia .. I’m so excited for you all. Myrtle is gorgeous. Yay the kids 😃

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