Story Behind the Book

As parents and educators, Michael DeWall and Peter Elman were inspired to create a picture book where each season would have a children’s song associated with it. The two musicians started by composing “Warm Summer Night”, bouncing lyric ideas and melodies off of each other.

After completing the music and poetry, the publishers brought in artist Sara Kahn, whose original watercolor style is distinctive and elegant. Chillin’ Crow Books is proud to release a picture book for children that allows them to:

      • listen to words as poems,
      • learn how to read those words,
      • enjoy original music,
      • look at beautiful colorful depictions of the seasons.

MORE ON THE STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

By Peter Elman, co-author

Sara Kahn Illustration

Book illustration by Sara Kahn

In 2010, Michael and I stumbled upon an idea to write a young adult novel about a year in the life of a boy, with twelve chapters, each one representing a month, and each one having an original song associated with it. There would be a CD to accompany the book. Each chapter would be about some aspect of nature, like stargazing, or picking berries.  (Eventually, that first idea turned into a chapter book without pictures or songs—just a story, which I am in the middle of writing, and really enjoying working on.)

But that first thought soon transformed itself into an idea for a picture book where each month would have a children’s song associated with it. Michael had an idea for the song “Warm Summer Night” and I loved it the first time I heard it. So we got to work, bouncing lyric ideas and melodies off of each other.

We had a blast coming up with the songs, and began to record the tunes in my home studio, which proved to be even more fun. Michael and I had done a lot of work before Seasons. We had collaborated on his outstanding second solo album, Dreams, prior to this project, so we kind of had our respective roles down. He has an uncanny knack for coming up with catchy melodies, possesses a lovely baritone, and plays beautiful nylon-string guitar. Me—well I’m the arranger and producer guy who plays a few instruments and likes to sing harmony.

So, after completing the music we set out to find an illustrator who would want to be an equal partner in the book. After a year of looking at hundreds of portfolios online, meeting with several local artists, and getting discouraged, providence pushed Sara our way.

Sara has illustrated many children’s books, both in her native Iran and here in the states. Her original watercolor style is distinctive and elegant, and we are so fortunate that she is part of this book. When we first met she immediately got what we were trying to do with this project; that is, create a picture book for children that allows them to listen to words as poems, learn how to read those words and listen to original music, all the while looking at beautiful colorful depictions of the seasons.

When we started making plans for the actual book, we looked at our songs. In addition to four about nature, we also had three songs that were about food, and two about the holidays. Sara had a suggestion: Why not narrow the focus, and make every song use nature as the theme? After about two minutes of facing the cold hard fact that five of our beloved songs would have to wait—maybe for a second, or third, book–we also realized that Sara was right on the money. So we got to work. And we realized that our original idea bout nature had wonderfully come full circle, with Sara’s vision.

Phase two was coming up with five more songs. We kept Warm Summer Night, Pickin’ Berries, Lady Winter and Rainin ’from the original batch, but we needed two songs for winter, two more for fall and another for spring. So Lady Winter was born, a song whose melody rolled out of Michael as easy as a gentle snowfall.  After that, the new songs came pretty quickly. I wrote the music to Somewhere it’s Snowing as an upbeat rocker, but it didn’t fit. Thanks to the insight and talent of my wife Lisa, and Michael’s soulful vocal, it was transformed into a beautiful winter ballad. Green to Gold and I Love Fall are musical tributes to that most romantic of seasons, when the colors change and people get ready for winter. Finally, we came up with Spring Song when we thought about what children love about that time of year.

After much rewriting, editing and tweaking we had the songs the way we wanted them, and realized that they were all, in fact, poems about the seasons. It was then that Sara began to put her ideas to the brush. She went through many visual versions of each song until she got it exactly the way she wanted, and it was worth the wait. What is so unique about Seasons is that every illustration is a separate original watercolor painting.

The amount of time, hard work and dedication that Sara put in to this project cannot be measured, and Michael and I thank her profusely for her commitment to the final product. Her attention to detail is only matched by her creative vision. I’ve been writing and recording songs for many years, and to see those musical ideas come to life on the printed page, bursting with the colors of the four seasons, is a magical feeling.

We hope that you and your children enjoy reading, listening and looking at this book as much as the three of us enjoyed creating it.