OUR LAST BACKWARD GLANCE TOWARD SUMMER…AND FIREFLIES.
True, Labor Day is in the rearview mirror. And the new school has begun. But…before we wave bye-bye
to summer, I’d like to take time to re-post a 2013 interview. So, let’s turn back time and re-visit my
chat with children’s author/illustrator extraordinaire, Betsy Snyder (www.betsysnyder.com). Betsy is
the artist responsible for those drop-dead-gorgeous visions of a summer night, a little girl and fireflies in
our book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT.
Originally available only in hardcover, it has been released this summer in a paperback version from Blue
Apple Books (ISBN 978-1-65905-618-6). The interview originally appeared in Rob Sanders’ outstanding
blog, PICTURE THIS! (robsanderswrites.blogspot.com). Rob is an award-winning children’s author who is
truly “a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches”. My interview with Betsy may help every picture
book author see why leaving room for the illustrator to tell his/her half of the story (instead of imposing
our own ideas) is so important. And please scroll down to read Betsy’s complete bio before leaving this
post. She’s both author and illustrator of many other books you’re sure to enjoy!
DIANNE: Betsy, I’ve loved your artwork for IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT from the very beginning. This book’s
illustrations are getting woo-hoo’s and high-fives from reviewers, parents, grandparents, teachers,
librarians, and booksellers. What was it about the story that first sparked your imagination?
BETSY: I grew up spending time at my family’s rustic cabin in the Appalachian mountains of
Pennsylvania. I have fond memories of warm summer days and nights spent with my dad and
grandparents—fishing, stargazing, camping out, and of course, chasing fireflies. That childhood
experience gave me an early appreciation for nature that influences much of my work today. Your
manuscript was something I connected with instantly because it really spoke to the nature-lover in me.
DIANNE: The book’s color palette of deep blues, vivid greens, glowing yellows, and purple-pinks really
bring the magic of a summer night to life. Did you see the colors first before you began to sketch, or did
the palette evolve as you worked through the black-and-white dummy?
BETSY: Hm, probably a little of both. I always begin a book with black-and-white thumbnail sketches to
generate ideas and explore composition, scale and pacing, so I don’t focus on color right from the start.
But since I am more of a visual thinker and this is a bedtime book, I did naturally envision the colors of
twinkly night skies and glowing fireflies right from the beginning.
There were certain places in my sketches where I knew I wanted to incorporate dark, graphic silhouettes
against the sky, so I had to consider how nighttime values would read against each other. The palette
really came to life when I started to paint all the textures—adding color is my favorite part, so I’m always
excited to move on to that stage of the art!
DIANNE: In IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, the summer night sky is almost as much of a character as the little girl,
the daddy, and the fireflies. Could you tell us a little bit about how you develop your vision of how a
story character looks, acts and feels?
BETSY: The publishing team and I discussed the child character upfront. We quickly settled on a girl—it
felt more personal to me. The girl was originally supposed to have darker hair, but I ended up making her hair a lighter brown, so it would read better against the dark skies. I explored what she should wear—a
nightgown seemed comfy and nostalgic. And of course, she had to be barefoot!
While the presence of the dad is established in the beginning, I opted to not reveal all of him until the
end—I wanted to mostly zoom in on the girl discovering fireflies, so we get a sense of her independence.
The end reveals the bigger picture (and Dad), showing us the girl’s place in the world and leaving us with a feeling of togetherness.
For the fireflies, I experimented with how realistic I would make them, and how they would look close-up
vs. from afar. The fireflies are the real stars of the book, so I gave them deep, rich backdrops so they
could really shine on the page.
DIANNE: The illustrations in IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT are so expressive and textural. What tools and
techniques did you use to create these wonderful effects?
BETSY: My final art is digital, but I always try to give it a handmade feel. I start by getting messy and
painting large sheets of textures and colors that feel like all the parts of my pictures—grass, trees, sky,
fireflies. I use whatever works and fits the mood—watercolor, dyes, acrylics, pastels. Then I scan all my
textures into the computer and build my collages in Photoshop, using my sketch as my guide. When I’m
working on the computer, I use a drawing tablet, which gives me a lot of control and helps me make the
final details feel like they were done by hand.
DIANNE: How long does the creative process typically take when you’re illustrating a picture book, from
first sketches to final art? How do you determine when it’s ‘final art’ that’s ready to go to the publisher?
BETSY: I usually have about 9 months to a year to complete sketches and art for a picture book. It sounds
like a lot of time, but it really isn’t when you mix in promoting other books and juggling other work. I
work on multiple projects at one time, so there is some overlap and stop-and-go throughout the process,
especially when the publisher needs time to review sketches and art.
I like to collaborate closely with my editors and art directors and really respect their expertise. I share
progress often and always do a few finishes early on, so we can agree on a direction for the art and so
there aren’t any big, scary surprises for the publisher (or big, scary revisions for me) at the end. When I
get really stuck on the art, or I start to waste too much time noodling, it’s usually a good time to ask my
publishing team to weigh in—sometimes a fresh perspective helps me finish things up.
DIANNE: You’ve added so many lovely details in this book’s illustrations—like the cute family dog—that
augment the text so well. This makes it more fun for readers, having these extras to look for, as they
read the story (hopefully) again and again. How did you decide what to add? And, was it fun for you?
BETSY: I like when the pictures have smaller stories tucked within them, giving readers little surprises to
discover along the way. The details keep it fun for me too—making books can be a tedious and lengthy
process, so adding extras keeps me engaged and interested as well.
I created the dog as a secondary character to give the girl a curious little buddy to explore with. I liked
the additional relationship that it brought to the book. To emphasize nature’s interconnectivity, I also
added other night friends to find—an owl keeping watch, a red fox, a bird, a skunk, and tiny critters like a
caterpillar, and inchworm and a ladybug.
DIANNE: Thanks for answering my questions, Betsy! Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask you about
your artwork and creative process that you’d like to add here?
BETSY: My favorite spread? All ten fireflies, of course!
So, there you have it: my final nod and a fond farewell to summer nights, and fireflies! What do YOU miss
most about summer when it’s time to turn the page to autumn? Please feel free to share your thoughts
in the comments below.
BIO: Author and illustrator Betsy Snyder has twenty years of experience creating for the children’s
market. Her smile-inspiring art can be found on everything from social expressions products, board
games, plush, decor, fabric, wallpaper, and of course—children’s books! Since making her publishing
debut in 2007, Betsy has teamed with a diverse mix of publishers, earning recognition from groups
including the Society of Illustrators, The New York Times, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, Indie Next
List, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and Please Touch Museum. Her newest titles, I Can Dream
and I Can Explore (May 2018), join the earlier I Can Dance and I Can Play in an innovative board book
series with Chronicle Books. Betsy lives in Independence, Ohio, where she enjoys chasing fireflies with
her family in her own backyard and venturing out to schools and libraries to encourage kids (and even
grown-ups) to share their stories and follow their dreams. Learn more about Betsy and her books at