Freshly baked: Dennis Lee
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of Dennis Lee’s classic children’s book of nonsense verse, HarperCollins Canada will release the poem “Alligator Pie” as a standalone board book ($12.99, Oct.). Given the original collection’s close association with the art of Frank Newfeld, HarperCollins Canada took an unusual approach in finding a new illustrator: a nationwide contest.
A panel of judges that included Lee, author-illustrators Barbara Reid and Jon Klassen, agent Hilary McMahon, and HarperCollins Canada children’s books executive editor Hadley Dyer vetted submissions from more than 60 hopefuls. The unanimous choice was Calgary commercial artist and illustrator Sandy Nichols, who reacted to the win with “surprise, followed by joy, followed by surprise (did I say I was surprised?), followed by joy.” Nichols decided to take the illustrations in a completely different direction from Newfeld’s, with one exception. During consultations, Lee “suggested introducing a few wonderfully ridiculous elements, because not everything has to make sense in a kid’s imagination,” says Nichols. The baby-friendly format will appeal to a new generation of readers, but their nostalgic parents will be the ones buying the book. As such, Nichols is cognizant that she’s treading on hallowed ground.
“I am keenly aware that I am drawing for posterity,” she says. “Alligator Pie has a history of 40 years, and another 40 years to come.”