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© 2008 by Bob Staake -- All Rights Reserved. Published in the United States by Golden Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc, New York

In The Kitchen

How 'The Donut Chef' Got Cooked Up

 

Oftentimes the book you purchase has gone through various twists and turns before winding up on a bookstore shelf, and that's certainly the case with The Donut Chef.

Since 2002 Bob Staake had been toying with the idea of a picture book called 'The Great Bagel and Donut War'.

"I thought it would be fun to create a story", says Staake, "about the proliferation of bagels that suddenly started tasting more and more like donuts. I wrote a draft of the story, but felt it wasn't working so I essentially abandoned the story."

However in 2006, Staake his revisited original donut/bagel manuscript and felt there was a way to make it work better.

"In the original Donut Chef manuscript", says Staake, "the chef opens his donut shop and once it is successful, an army of competitors opening bakeries on the street -- maybe 10 or 12 in total. He let's them all battle among themselves, each trying to outdo the next. Once the neighborhood donut market collapses, the Donut Chef quietly slips away to put a new plan into effect."

Let them plot their donut finagles,
By morning I'll be baking ... bagels!

debbie sue"Rhyming poetry for kids", points out Staake, "is a very delicate business, and just because two words rhymne it doesn't always mean that they'll work together. In the bagel-oriented version of the story you absolutely needed to manuscript to end on the word 'bagels', and the problem there is that the only suitable word is 'finagle' -- and that's three syllables, not two. Ultimately, those two simple words were judged to be too forced and compelled me to take a completely different direction on The Donut Chef."

Staake felt that the story needed a child character - one to embody the new message that the author hoped to be telling through the book.

"Debbie Sue", says Staake, "is a good name because it offers many rhyming possibilities. She's the one who comes into the story and with her fresh, innocent and youthful donut tastes helps teach the town that sometimes keeping it simple really IS best."

Telling you what Debbie Sue wants in a donut, and what she convinces the town to want in a donut, would spoil the surprise of the book, but when you read The Donut Chef it may very well open your eyes -- as well as those of a child.

Staake has originally envisioned the precocious Debbie Sue as having "a couple blond poofs of Brillo-like hair and a more 'pulled out' face". In the book, she becomes red headed and green faced."

Even the original look of the Donut Chef himself went through a significant redesign. "When I was writing the story", points out Staake, "I saw him as almost a logo-like character lined in light blue. It was a real departure from the usual way I build a character, but for some reason it had an odd appeal to me. But when I showed it to Diane, my editor at Random House, she felt the it was such a far cry from my typically color-saturated characters that somehow it was 'off'. She was right."

The Changing Scene

Staake even placed the original blue-lined Donut Chef within a sample spread (left top) intended to show publishers what the book would look like -- but the difference between it and the scene that ultimately serves as the first and second page in the book (left below) is striking.

"I'm kind of known", says Staake, "for creating fully saturated color scenes in my books, but in 'The Donut Chef', I wanted to try an incorporate more white and open space into the spreads".

Of all the scenes in a book, Staake considers the first vista one of the most important. "It's pretty obvious why", he says, "because that initial two page spread sets the graphic tone of everything else that follows."

"I was happy with the first spread (left and center)", points out Staake, "but once I completed the entire book I realized that the initial spread wasn't as in line graphically with the way the following imaged appeared. It had too much white space."

Ultimately, Staake refined the spread (below and left) by adding more secondary characters, buildings and better filling the white space with forms and colors.

A Cop? Of Course!

In a second 'pitch spread' (right), Staake shows the angles, colors and characters that will carry along The Donut Chef story. "Of course you have to show a policeman in any donut-oriented picture book, but he ultimately drives by in a cruiser. Still, I would have liked to have kept that line 'it's hole is even sweet' in the final book."

Taking Note

After the look and design of the book was established by Staake, it was time to finalize the manuscript. The give and take between the author and Random House editor Diane Muldrow is apparent in the notations to this page (left) from the story. "At this stage", says Staake, "it's a real give and take. Diane and I respect one another and see eye to eye on so many big issues that when it comes down to editing the manuscript we both focus on tightening up the story, making sure we keep the language economical and really getting the cadence as perfect as possible."

The notations are interesting because they show the play between Muldrow and Staake. She wonders if kids will know what "coney" means -- and assumes he was making a reference to an adult rabbit (sometimes called a "coney"). The author later claimed he wasn't that clever -- or obscure. Staake had always intended that the illustration of the scene would convey something straightforward, so he shows his editor a small doodle of what he has in mind -- a donut covered in ice cream cones -- even showing an 'airy' donut, one pocked with swiss cheese-like holes.

Muldrow then suggested the hyphenated spelling of "cone-y" in the story.

"There no doubt", says Staake, "that tweaking the manuscript like this with Diane makes for a better book. She's a wonderful editor who always trusts me -- and I in turn trust her."

Sketchiness

With the manuscript in final form, Staake then sits down to rough out the entire book.

"This is really one of the most appealing parts of building any picture book", he says. "You're all alone in your studio with nothing but a pencil, a stack of white bond, some typed-up pages, and the images you have in your head. Pulling them out of your head and getting them on to paper is assumed by non-artists to require some sort of insane skills and talent, but for an illustrator, this is what we live for. It's almost a superfluous experience. At the end of a few hours of drawing, I look at the sketches with text in place and think, yeah, that's they way I've always seen the story."

But the sketches are a crucial part of the process -- for his publisher as well as Random House -- because they serve as a roadmap -- a visual guide for what can be expected.

" I have done books without creating a single sketch first and books (like 'The Donut Chef') in which every scene is visually built first in pencil. There's an immediacy to working without a sketch, but when I doodle out my scenes in pencil first, I'm able to note problem areas that will need to be fixed when I dive into the final, color art."

Paying Tribute

When an author decides to whom they should dedicate their new book, it isn't a decision that they take lightly.

"In the beginning of my publishing career," points out Staake, " I'd use this as an opportunity to express my love and gratitude for a family member -- to tell them thanks for putting up with me, for inspiring me, for toughing it out while I worked on that given book. What I soon learned was that I had a very small family -- and was crunching out a fair amount of books -- all of which had to be dedicated. I then started dedicating my books to very close friends who have stuck by me, teachers who have always been there to give me a pat on the back, fellow artists who inspired me in ways they can't even imagine. For The Donut Chef, I wanted to dedicate the book to someone whom I'd never met -- but whose work continues to enthrall me -- A.M.Cassandre. Everyone knows Cassandre -- even if they may not know his name -- and while I'm certainly not the only artist whose contemporary work is inspired by Cassandre's sponged colors, spatters of toothbrush cast shadows or simlified characters, I was just tickled to think I'd have the change to give him a nod in this book. The best part? Getting to mimic his 1932 'Dubonnet Man' (albeit with a 8 donut totem instead of a bottle of liquer) on the dedication page."