How long does it take a book to be born?

A blue whale typically spends 10 to 12 months in the womb; an elephant about 22.

So are you surprised to hear that it took author/illustrator Chris Raschka 10 years to create the 32-page picture book A Ball for Daisy.

Many people assume that creating a children’s picture book is a relatively simple matter. For the writing, come on–500 to 1,000 words–how long could that take? An afternoon, a weekend, maybe. Certainly no more than a week.

Illustrators get a little more respect from benefit of the doubt, partly because the confession “I can’t draw” is as common as “I can’t do math.”

Still, 10 years for a storybook for little kids? And did I mention there are no words in this particular book. What could possibly have taken so long?

In this case, perfection.

The American Library Association awarded Raschka the 2012 Randolph Caldecott Medal for best illustrated story for A Ball for Daisy. Soon after the announcement, he told NPR that his first wordless picture book was a challenge. “It went through many, many variations.”

Any book of this type has technical demands. Here, it was the desire to tell a story solely through a dog’s face and body. But even more difficult was the need to convey emotions to an audience that has very limited experience with them.

A Ball for Daisy is about loss, which can be especially devastating to a preschooler who likely doesn’t understand its irreversibility. Raschka could have “explained” it all, but let’s face it, explanations don’t make loss any less  painful for those of us old enough to be familiar with it.

Instead, A Ball for Daisy, shows subtly and reassurringly that although the loss of something beloved can leave a hole that can’t be filled, it also can lead to a new appreciation and joy for what remains, whether it’s already known or is yet to be discovered.

Finding a way to give a three-year-old hope–in pictures alone–isn’t something that you can figure out overnight. In fact, I’m surprised it only took 10 years.

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