Something There Worth Exploring: An Interview with Author-Illustrator Jessie Sima
Jessie Sima is an author-illustrator who entered the publishing world in 2017 with Not Quite Narwhal, which was a massive success. They followed this with more equally adorable picture books, including Spencer’s New Pet and Hardly Haunted before delivering Perfectly Pegasus, the eagerly awaited companion book to Not Quite Narwhal. But their journey to publishing was not straightforward, so we asked if they could give us some more details. “Drawing has always been a big part of my life,” Sima said, “[…] but it wasn’t until I was in college that I started to think more about visual storytelling, and it wasn’t until a few years after college that I realized that picture books might be a good fit for my writing and illustration style.” Things continued slowly at that point, but they “joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), attended a few conferences, and began going to author events at local bookstores.”
“I finished a few book dummies,” they continued, “(this is what we call rough drafts of picture books) […] and queried a few agents before I was really ready. Those were good learning experiences. As my skills improved, […] I remembered an idea for a story about a young unicorn who grows up with a pod of narwhals. I put together a dummy and used it during a Twitter pitch event where unagented authors and illustrators could pitch their books to agents.” Once they found their agent, Thao Le, “Together we did some editing on the story that eventually became Not Quite Narwhal, and that’s the book that got me my first publishing contract. It’s been over six years since my first book came out, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to continue putting my stories into the world.”
From our point of view, we think the world is lucky to have authors and illustrators like Sima. They truly enjoy time spent interacting with young readers, which has been limited to virtual visits since the beginning of the pandemic. Sima’s new book that came out in early May, Weather Together, is part of the world of Not Quite Narwhal and Perfectly Pegasus and Sima is “excited to be returning to in-person events in a modified way. […] Stepping away for a few years gave me time to reflect on what elements of touring I like most, and what I find most challenging. As I ease back into things, I’ll be staying closer to home, […] but I hope to expand out further as my energy and comfort levels increase.”
What’s next for Sima? “I have a new picture book in the works that hasn’t been announced yet,” they said. “It delves a bit into science fiction – which is a genre I love. There is also an animated television show, based on Not Quite Narwhal and developed by Dreamworks that is coming to Netflix in the near future. I don’t know an actual date for the release yet, but I’m excited for this adaptation of Kelp’s story to be out in the world. Other than that, I’m developing a bunch of new book ideas and seeing which of them ‘stick.’ I’m always on the lookout for concepts that I can’t stop thinking about. If I keep coming back to something while I’m walking my dogs, daydreaming, or cooking dinner, there’s usually something there worth exploring.”
Finally, just for fun, since Sima’s work background is in graphic design—specifically for t-shirts—we asked what they would design for their characters Kelp and Nimbus. “I would give Kelp a white t-shirt, with rainbow-striped sleeves, and a picture of a uni-cone (a unicorn delicacy that resembles a rainbow snow-cone that Kelp was introduced to in Not Quite Narwhal) on the front. I would also put a zipper or buttons on the back so that Kelp could have room to pull the shirt over his large helmet,” they said. “I would give Nimbus a deep navy-blue t-shirt covered in a toss pattern of stars and her favorite constellations. A toss pattern is a seamlessly repeating pattern where the elements look randomly ‘tossed’ on. It would be a nice way to emulate looking up at the night sky and would give Nimbus a chance to find pictures in the stars during any time of day. I would also add two holes on the back for Nimbus to put her wings through.”
We think this is a fabulous idea.