Starting conversations around inclusivity, affirming words and actions, and encouraging healthy eating.
Peculiar Produce presents opportunities to learn about uncommon foods and discover the names of children from different cultures. With its alliterative text and aspirational vocabulary, the book encourages discussion around variety in fruits and vegetables while accentuating their differences and imperfections. An essential reading tool from early childcare through elementary school, the direct and indirect messages of diversity through the character names and physical descriptions tied to positive new adjectives is designed to engage readers of all ages. Exploring the characters, their shapes, and their actions will open conversations around using affirming words, uplifting actions towards others, body positivity, and encouraging healthy eating. From Ashanti, the active Asparagus, to Izumi, the interesting Ice Cream Bean, and Udo, the uncommon Ulu, meet the simple and silly characters and start talking about all that is peculiar.
It was probably the third month of the lockdown in 2020 when an old friend reached out to say hello again. This connection was one of many I was making at the time, so it felt natural to talk about old times and propose new projects.
“Old times” was Los Angeles in the early 2000s, where we’d lived and worked a few blocks from each other. We connected creatively and through shared health and wellness stuff. Yoga, hikes, cooking. All the sort of stuff you might expect from a couple of west LA guys in their 30s. I was working in graphic design, and he was studying.
He was working on a children’s book back then. And when we got on video in 2020, he finally asked if I would illustrate it. Once I heard the prose, I immediately had to say yes. And what a great way to reconnect. Let’s just call it the bee book.
Flash forward to October. Pencils, pastels, crayons, watercolors, colored pencils, gouache, and pens. You name it, and I had tried them all. None of them were giving in. I could not illustrate the bee book. I could not commit to a style, commit to the characters, or do any justice to the story. No matter what was in my head or black and white on the page. I couldn’t get it out in color.
So we met again on video in a moment of despair. Was I mistaking my willingness for ability? He suggested, “How about we put this one on hold and do an alphabet book?” I was relieved. I was getting nowhere with the bees and needed a way out. Removing a storyline, simplifying character development, and shifting from animate to inanimate subjects paved the way for something unexpected.
Both he, as a writer, and I, as an illustrator, got to collaborate in real time and develop the whole thing from scratch. Drawing on the now decades of health and wellness practices we had between us and some inspiration from previous prototypes, Cucumber Zoo, and a school garden project, we landed on Peculiar Produce – The Alphabet Book. This book would be about health, wellness, body image, and diversity awareness simultaneously. Once we’d landed on that, the evolution came quickly.
By May, we’d published. Peculiar Produce was a great formula to get our collaboration going and dip our toes in the business end of producing art together. With sales growing in many countries and now offering packages to schools everywhere, we’re both excited to see this grow. Hopefully, soon, the bees will come back to the drawing board. It’s time!