Imagine you’re an eighth grader in Woodbury, NJ – a little bored, a little anxious – drawing horses in your notebook like a teacher’s drone, “Peanuts” style, in front of the classroom. Suddenly the kid in front of you turns around and says, “One day you have to make children’s books.” You may think you’re too cool for such a job, but the prediction sticks with you and somehow comes true. Now you have two picture books on the bestseller list.
Welcome to the career path of Jessie Sima, an author and illustrator who uses pronouns, and who in a telephone interview sounded both happy and humbled at the success of “Perfectly Pegasus” and “Not Quite Narwhal.” Their accompanying stories bring young readers into the worlds of Kelp, a unicorn that does not fit into his narwhal brothers, and Nimbus, a Pegasus who feels lonely among the clouds and stars. The pastel-colored creatures come from opposite parts of the planet (sea and sky) and have different characteristics – Kelp a striped horn, Nimbus feathery wings – but both have horse bodies.
“I’ve always liked the challenge with horses,” Sima said. “They have so many strange joints.” Sima never went to art school, but spent a lot of time studying animal anatomy books and perfecting a true-to-life horse: “I am a person who thinks there is an advantage to learning how to make a fairly technical, realistic drawing of an animal. So even Kelp and Nimbus have small cone legs that can wiggle, I think of the horse’s anatomy when I try to find out how they gallop. ”
Sima has written and illustrated five other picture books and collaborated with Christian Trimmer on “Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies.” These days, they live in New York and are no longer in touch with the foresighted classmate. Sima is not going to spend much time with horses in real life; the author is terribly allergic. They are now drawing on a Wacom tablet that “uses digital brushes designed to replicate certain types of traditional media, such as watercolors or ink brushes.” But when considering a new project or just drawing for fun, they still pick up an old-fashioned black-and-white marbled notebook – the kind that brought peace, promise and escape as a 14-year-old.
Sima said, “Nothing I can do in this book will be nice enough to show anyone. It really does not feel scary; it’s just for me to scribble and write and get my ideas down.”