Just over a year ago, when 11-year-old Tigerlily Butler got a call from her aunt, author Dess Butler, asking her if she’d be interested in joining together to create a children’s book, Tigerlily jumped at the chance.
“I was so excited about it,” Tigerlily said. “I had been doing a lot of art around that time, and I had been thinking about different styles, and so when she asked me, I was really intrigued at the idea. I had never illustrated anything before, and I thought that maybe when I grew up, I might illustrate something. But I never thought that I’d do that at my age — I wasn’t really expecting it.”
For Dess, an author who lives in Spokane, Washington, partnering with her niece on this project seemed like a perfect idea right from the start. “I’d seen some of her drawings that her mom and dad would put on Facebook or send to the family. We knew she had such talent, and to be able to have the perspective of a kid contributing to a children’s book was even better.”
Over the course of the following year, the aunt and niece collaborators worked together to create a picture book called As Different As Can Be.
The book celebrates individuality, and encourages kids to recognize what makes them unique and what makes others unique, and to see the value and beauty in those differences. “Growing up, I really struggled to like myself,” said Dess. “I compared myself to other people. But eventually, I realized that God created everyone so different and so beautifully. When I decided to do a children’s book, my heart was to help every child to grow up knowing that they are beautiful.”
There was a lot to learn in the illustration process, Tigerlily said. “Dess split it up so that we knew what paragraphs would be on each page, and then I used those dialogues as inspiration of what to draw. At first, I did a rough draft of all the pages, and laid them out to see what they would look like together, and decide what kind of layout I wanted to keep for each page before I started the good copies.”
As the project continued to take shape, Tigerlily recognized how she had grown as an artist. “If I look back to the first pages where I sketched the initial designs of the characters, they look a lot different. They’re less cartoony — I was actually told, ‘You gotta make them more cartoony,’ so I did,” Tigerlily smiled. “By the end, I was used the style, and I knew exactly how to make them look how I wanted them to look.”
“I wasn’t sure how much work it would be, or what went into illustrating a book. It definitely was a lot of work,” she reflected. “I remember sometimes not really wanting to work on it as much and thinking, ‘I just want to take a day as a break,’ but my Grandma stayed on me! She made sure I got the work done.”
Grandma Carolyn Butler laughed at this. “We plugged along! She had to fill full pages, and it was all hand-done. We’re talking about hours — that takes a lot of concentration, and encouragement!”
Dess agreed that the whole project was a true extended-family effort. “From me writing, to Tigerlily illustrating, to Grandma and Grandpa helping Tigerlily stay on top of her work — this was the Butler family coming together and creating a masterpiece. It’s beautiful to be able to have a family be able to be that supportive and loving and creative.”
Tigerlily said that the whole experience has made her keen to do it all again. “It was definitely really fun, and Dess has another book coming up, I heard, for me to illustrate, which I’m excited about. I think for that one I may actually do the artwork on my tablet, because I’ve been doing a lot of work on my drawing app, and I’m getting into digital art.”
Now 12 years old, Tigerlily is continuing to explore her creative talents through the Limestone Education through the Arts Program (LEAP) at Calvin Park Public School.
And true to the spirit of the book, Tigerlily encouraged any other kids who have the chance to express themselves through a project like this to explore their unique talents.
“They definitely have to be prepared for a lot of work, but overall, it’s a really fun experience,” she shared. “If they’re really passionate about something, they should go ahead and try it, especially if they get the opportunity. Because who knows how often opportunities like this will come your way.”
Readers looking for the opportunity to have their own copy of As Different As Can Be can purchase copies on Amazon, either in paperback or e-book format. Carolyn added that Kingstonians can also skip the shipping and contact her to purchase a paperback for $10. “Folks can just contact us,” she said, “and we can get a copy to you.” Carolyn can be reached via email at [email protected] to request one — and lucky book-purchasers may even be able to have the illustrator sign their copy.