In early April, Book Designer David Miles and I finished designing the cover and interior of The Train Rolls On. It took us roughly two months and eight rounds of revisions to complete the job, but I am really excited about the finished product!
Following the design process, I uploaded the book files to IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon's self-publishing platform. I then ordered proof copies of the hardcover and paperback versions of the book. As of this week, the Amazon paperback proof has arrived, and the IngramSpark hardcover proof is on its way.
When the paperback proof came, I was legitimately shocked. The package arrived two days early, and I was not expecting to find my book inside. As I opened it, I was actually racking my brain to figure out what book I had recently ordered from Amazon (that should tell you how many books I order...it's A LOT!) When I peeked in and saw the book, my jaw dropped. I was both surprised and elated. I can't even describe how exciting it is to finally hold the book in my hand. I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face for the rest of the night. 😁
Since the official book launch is still more than a month away, this article is meant to give you a sneak peek at the inside of the finished book and to fill you in on some behind-the-scenes details that make the book really special. So, here's a quick insider tour:
Endpapers are the colored or decorative papers located at the very front and back of a picture book. Not all books have them, but they can really add a fun element to a book if they are done right.
In this case, David Miles chose the perfect endpapers for The Train Rolls On. When I saw them for the first time, I immediately fell in love with them. I love the colors and how they tie in with the book's cover and title. My favorite thing about them is that kids can trace the railroad tracks with their fingers. (Case in point: That was the first thing my daughter, Avery, did when we opened the paperback proof. 😊) I think kids will love the interactive nature of these pages!
The Name of The Train
At the start of the publishing process, the train didn't have a name. Throughout the story, it is simply referred to as "train," and I had intentionally left it that way because I wanted to keep the train as gender-neutral as possible, hoping it would appeal to both boys and girls.
However, during the illustration process, Christina Wald suggested adding some text to the side of the train's engine. She thought that adding a name would provide more visual appeal and lend even more character to the train. After seeing the engine with and without text, I totally agreed, but the question became: What should the train's name be?
In her early sketches, Christina experimented by adding "Zoo Express" to the side of the engine. Although it was a perfect option for this book, "Zoo Express" didn't leave any room for additional books in the series. I already had some ideas for other stories featuring this train, but they didn't involve transporting animals to the zoo. So, I asked Christina to remove "Zoo Express," and I went back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out a name for the train...one that would also work for future books in the series.
Lots and lots of ideas were tossed around, to include: "U.S. Express," "Anywhere Express," "Relentless Express," "Steely Express," etc. (There were so many names considered that I can't even remember them all.) In the end though, I decided to go with "Animal Express" because each book in the eventual series (fingers crossed!) will feature the train carrying animals to a different location. Hence, the name "Animal Express" was born (albeit pretty late in the process), and Christina added it to the engine in each illustration. (I still might nickname the engine "Steely" for both its color and determination, but we'll see...) For now, the trick will be introducing the train's name in future book manuscripts.
I am a sucker for rhyming picture books, but my favorite part of the rhyme scheme in this particular book is the refrain. A refrain is a section of text that is repeated throughout the story. For example, related to the photo at left, the text says the following:
"The train is afraid
but won't be delayed...
SO THE TRAIN ROLLS ON!"
In this case, the refrain is "SO THE TRAIN ROLLS ON," and it breaks up the book's rhyme scheme and reinforces its primary theme: perseverance. In my (admittedly biased) opinion, it's also really catchy and memorable. My hope is that "THE TRAIN ROLLS ON!" will become a go-to saying for kids and their caregivers when they feel like quitting or giving up on a difficult journey of their own. If this phrase and its context within the story can serve as a reminder to others to keep pushing forward despite whatever obstacles they face, then I will be one happy author!
I hired Christina to illustrate this book largely because of her ability to draw animals, and she definitely delivered. Each of the book's fifteen animal characters is expertly drawn and has its own personality that shines through on the page. Check out three of the book's illustrations that really highlight the brilliance of her animal characters below:
Aren't these spectacular? I absolutely love how they turned out and how the animals' personalities enhance the overall story!
In addition to giving each animal its own personality, Christina worked hard to incorporate the animals into every illustration that she could. For example, several pictures that feature the traveling train include animals peeking out of the windows or stretching out of the train car roofs. I think that kids will enjoy looking for the animals in each illustration, and, because there are eight different kinds of animals represented, there is an animal for every kid to love!
Perhaps my favorite detail about this book is the cardinal that accompanies the train on its journey to the zoo. If readers look closely, they'll find this cardinal hiding somewhere on every spread in the book (sometimes on both pages of a spread).
During the sketch phase of the illustrations, I asked Christina to add in this cardinal character, and she did a phenomenal job of incorporating him into every phase of the story. Sometimes, he's flying alongside the train. Other times, he's perched on the train or on something nearby. But, no matter what happens, he's always there keeping the train company. In reading this story, I hope that kids will pick-up on the friendship that the train and cardinal have and will have fun looking for and pointing out the cardinal on each and every spread.
The idea for the cardinal was inspired by Avery. Avery has been fascinated by birds ever since she was one, and her favorite bird has always been the cardinal. In fact, "cardinal" was one of the first 3-syllable words that Avery said. So, it just seemed appropriate to include a cardinal as a tribute to her and her love of birds.
One of my goals with this book was to incorporate some vocabulary words that kids might not have seen in other books or have heard in everyday language. I strongly believe that regularly introducing kids to new words helps them to develop their own language skills.
So, at the end of the book, I've included a glossary containing several terms that are used throughout the story, some of which kids may not be familiar with. My hope is that the story, the glossary, and the associated free educational activities (located on the Resources page of this site) will be used to help kids expand their vocabulary.
(For the associated free activities, see the "What Does It Mean?" activities in the Advanced Activities folder.)
So, there you have it: a behind-the-scenes look at the finished book, some of its most unique details, and how they came to be. As of right now, I am tentatively planning on launching the book in early June. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek, and I hope that you and your kids will love these special details as much as I do!
For an insider look at the creation of the book's cover, check out my blog entitled The Train Rolls On Cover Reveal. For a behind-the-scenes look at how the first 3 spreads in the book evolved during the editing, illustration, and book design phases, read Behind The Scenes: The Evolution of The Train Rolls On. To learn about the inspiration behind the story, check out Inspiration For The Train Rolls On. Or, find out how I started writing children's books in the first place by reading My Road To Writing Children's Books.
For more information about Illustrator Christina Wald, check out my Illustrator Spotlight article.
For more information about Book Designer David Miles, read my Book Designer Spotlight.