“We’re aliens from many galaxies on Planet Kindergarten.” This was author Sue Ganz Schmitt's
inspiring, but only description of a large portion of the characters in her book, PLANET KINDERGARTEN (Available now!).
As explained in my first PK post, the book equates a child’s first day of Kindergarten to an astronaut visiting an alien planet. The idea was not to be overtly literal with the space visuals, but to make things in our world feel symbolic, or representative of space. Chronicle Books
decided that I would be the person to explore the possibilities, and as the illustrator of the book the first thing I did was play with the characters. No visual description of any character was given in the book, so they left that to me.
Lets start with the main character of our story (above)…. a nervous but determined little boy who approaches life with the focus of a NASA Astronaut. In order to hone in on what he might look like, I started to research everything NASA. In doing so I was obviously inspired by the astronaut’s uniforms, suits and gear, but I also pulled inspiration from NASA spacecraft and symbols as well. For example, the overall body shape of the main character was inspired by a specific NASA space capsule. I even designed his eyebrows to reflect the red, jet stream swish in NASA’s emblem.
I also gave the characters broad graphic shadows inspired by images of planets (and our own moon)lit on one side by the sun. These are not things that I expect the viewer to see blatantly. These are just elements that inspired me to design a character that was hopefully more specific, unique and relevant to THIS particular story. A viewer might “feel” these elements subliminally. Creating a visual “feel” inspired by things relevant to the subject matter and tone of the story is important to me. I don’t just design something to “look cool”, I want to design something that is relevant to, and inspired by the story….and hopefully that is what’s cool.
Next I started exploring the classmates that our “astronaut” would encounter in our story. Inspired by the text, I thought about how I might portray these kids as “aliens”. Here are a few of my solutions, along with their inspiration. I gave them names for my own benefit (and for fun).
EEDIE: A wide-eyed, awkward, nose picker, Eedie was inspired by one of the most loveable and unusual aliens of all time. I imagined that Eedie picks her nose as a way of coping with events such as this first day of kindergarten. In the book I had her keep the booger throughout the day, as a kind of comfort… a small, reassuring companion of sorts (like Wilson is to Tom Hanks in Castaway).
GREYG: I definitely wanted a classmate to represent a classic Grey Alien. Another kid trying to cope with his first day of Kindergarten, Greyg hides under the tightly drawn hood of his grey sweater hoping that, if he can’t see you, maybe you can’t see him. I geared his overall silhouette to feel like the large headed, thin-bodied aliens we have all seen represented and described for years.
BUCKEY: A highly imaginative but shy kid, his first day of Kindergarten begins with finding the class crayon bucket and creating a new persona. Buckey was loosely inspired by several of my favorite classic green “monster” alien types from science fiction lore.
ANNE and DORIAN: These petite, white haired twin sisters were inspired loosely by the Andorian aliens from Star Trek. They are lucky to have each other on their first day of Kindergarten, but potty breaks and recess activities pull them apart from time to time.
ROB: Not able to wait until lunchtime, Rob messily eats his mustard, catsup and pickle sandwich. The ingredients now dot the front of his shirt (and face) like the small buttons and lights of a classic sci fi robot.
Those are some of the kids you’ll encounter on PLANET KINDERGARTEN.
I’ll share a bit about the thinking, and inspiration for the environments and world of the story in my next PK post. I look forward to sharing.