Aimee Stewart Interview

Aimee Stewart

Design Manager - Illustrated Books, Scholastic Children’s Books

Walk us through your professional background including how you came to your current role as Design Manager - Illustrated Books Scholastic Children’s Books.

From as young as I can remember, I LOVED picture books. But more so for the visual aspect – getting lost in the world they create and the detail on the spreads. One of my earliest memories was reading the Lion and the Mouse in reception class at school. I was obsessed with the illustrations and I drew my own version of the cover. That day when I came home from school, I told my Mum that when I was older I wanted to “make” picture books. I feel so incredibly lucky that my journey has led me to where I am today.

After a very arty and creative childhood, I went on to study a degree in Illustration at the University of Cumbria. Both the Illustration and Graphic Design courses ran alongside each other, so we had the opportunity to dabble in both. It was when I got to second year that I realised graphic design was my true calling. I particularly recall doing a book cover project that I absolutely LOVED! In 2015, Scholastic came across some of my work at a degree show I was attending in London. I jumped at the chance to send them my portfolio, not really knowing what would come of it, and I was ecstatic to get an interview for their Junior Designer position. After a second interview and a one-word design challenge, I got the job and started at Scholastic in 2016 – I have been thanking my lucky stars ever since! I hit the ground running and with an abundance of unicorn, rainbow poo, dancing dogs and celebrity books under my belt, two promotions and a baby(!) later, I landed the role as Design Manager for Illustrated Books in January of this year. As well as continuing to work on the fiction and non-fiction list, part of my role now means I get to work very closely with the Picture Book team and oversee many of our fantastic titles, scouting out new illustration talent and collaborating with the team, to create new and exciting ideas. My almost two-year old has now become somewhat of a book guinea pig and I can’t wait for him to grow up with the books that I have been part of creating. (Yes, I was ‘that mum’ who sent my child to nursery dressed as a character of one of the books I designed for World Book Day… and I will do it again!)

Select a recent title to share with our audience explaining the creative process & what you particularly enjoyed about that artist collaboration.

Dogs Don’t Dance is a fabulous picture book that published in February this year, written by Strictly and CBeebies Toddler Club star, Gemma Atkinson. We were in search of a commercial illustrator who could capture lovely humour and interaction, particularly in their animal characters. I came across Lisa Hunt, who is agented by Susan Penny at the Bright Agency, and instantly thought she could be a perfect match! We asked Lisa to do a sample of the two main characters Dusty and Dave – two dachshund siblings who couldn’t be more opposite.

When we shared Lisa’s cheeky characters, there was no doubt from the reaction in house that she was the artist for the job. I supplied Lisa with a layout of the book and a loose artwork brief for each spread, asking Lisa to have fun with it and insert humour where she saw fit. And boy, did she deliver… Not only was Lisa super fast in sending us the rough artwork, but it was also fabulous! So many ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aahh’s’ came from that design meeting, (which is always lovely!). We of course had some comments and suggestions along the way, but nothing was too much trouble for Lisa and we both had SUCH fun bringing this book to life.

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Illustrations by Lisa Hunt © Scholastic, 2024

Which three projects are you most proud of and why?

This question is a very hard one as I have collaborated on so many amazing books. But if I had to narrow it down, I would have to say, Lightning Girl by Alesha Dixon, Omari McQueen’s Best Bites Cook Book and the Stephen & Anita Mangan series. There are so many more I could name, but these three will always stand out for me.

When I first started, I had the opportunity of working with Alesha Dixon on her debut children’s book, Lightning Girl. This was one of the first high profile fiction series that I worked on, and although it was a little daunting at first, with so much promise expected from the package, I absolutely loved working on these books. Creating the Lightning Girl branding and collaborating with Steve Simpson and James Lancett to bring the vision to life was amazing. Alesha Dixon and Katy Birchall were the perfect pairing and SO lovely to work with, which made it all the more rewarding. The Lightning Girl series has remained one of our best-sellers and I’m extremely proud that I was part of its creation!

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Illustrations by Steve Simpson and James Lancett © Scholastic, 2018, 2019

Omari McQueen’s Best Bites Cookbook was a special project for me. I came across an article about Omari whilst travelling into work one day on the tube. I instantly thought, ‘we need to work with this young chef!’. As a bit of a foodie myself, the prospect of proposing the idea of a cookbook with Omari was very exciting! The team got on board, and we invited Omari and his family into our office to pitch him our idea (I like to think the vegan cupcakes I baked for the pitch sealed the deal!). The seed of that idea led to us creating a fabulous vegan cookbook for kids called Omari McQueen’s Best Bites. Omari and his family were amazing, and Omari’s positive attitude proved that if you’re determined to put your mind to something, you can make your dreams come true. He really is an inspiration, and I am so glad that I came across him that day on the tube.

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Recipe Testing and Prop Styling by Nicola Graimes, Omari and Family Photography by Haarala Hamilton Photography, Ingredient Photography Silvio Bukbardis, Food Photography Xavier D. Buendi© Scholastic, 2020

The Mangan’s books are one of my more recent projects, with The Day I Fell Down The Toilet which published in April this year. Stephen and Anita are a fabulous brother and sister duo and together create such exciting, inspiring, and hilarious books. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Anita on four of these books and each time has been a joy, even with our super tight, if not slightly stressful deadlines! Anita’s artwork is so quirky and full of humour and warmth – you never quite know what she is going to send in next and then bam, you have an ogre doing the chicken dance! Being part of the process in bringing these wacky ideas and characters to life will always remain one of my highlights.

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Illustrations © Anita Mangan, 2024

Which illustrated character really makes you laugh-out-loud?

Squirrel from the best-selling Leaf Thief series by Alice Hemming. Illustrator, Nicola Slater (member of captures his humour PERFECTLY! Just look at these examples of Squirrel… need I say more?

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Illustrations © Nicola Slater, 2024

When browsing artists' portfolios, are there particular styles or subject matters you are looking for?

It is totally dependent on the project, audience and market we’re aiming for. We publish such a vast array of subject matters and stories for different audiences, cultures and ages, so we’re always on the hunt for different styles of illustration. If I had to pinpoint a style, I would say that for the majority of my titles to date, I’ve been in search of more commercial styles with a bright colour palette and endearing characters full of personality and humour. The characters are crucial in bringing the book to life – especially in picture books; so it’s vital to find an illustrator who can carry the feel of the book and immerse themselves in the story. You can always tell when an illustrator is having fun with their work as it shows in their art and makes for a successful book.

I have a particular love for patterned and decorative illustration, especially anything linked to animals – being a mum to a Husky and two Bengal cats, I am a bit of a crazy animal lady! So whenever I come across an artist that catches my eye, I keep them in my back pocket ready to put forward for the next beautiful non-fiction or novelty project. We’ve also been known to create projects to pair specifically with illustrators that really stand out to us – we love to collaborate!

What's been the proudest moment of your career?

I think the proudest moment in any book designer’s career, is the moment you see one of your books in a book shop and watch a child pick it up. Nothing can beat it and it means more than anything knowing that something you have helped to create has made its way into the hands of a budding reader. I know how much I valued my favourite books as a kid, and young Aimee would be so proud that I’m now part of creating that for kids today.

I also have to give a mention to the time that I was featured on a book cover with my cat – that was a real win for the crazy cat lady in me!

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Cover character artwork by Nuno Ramalhão © Scholastic, 2019

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Tell us about some of Scholastic's greatest success stories so far.

Scholastic Children’s books have published some absolute gold over the years – being the largest publisher of children’s books in the world means we’re home to a huge range of best-sellers from picture books all the way up to YA. One of our most recognized is probably the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins which as I’m sure you know, has made its way onto the big screen! We’re also home to many of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture books, such as Stick Man and Zog, in the fabulous Alison Green Books imprint. And Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates is one of our all-time best-sellers having sold a whopping 16.5 million copies in 47 different languages. I was once involved in a World Record attempt for the largest disco dance at a primary school in celebration of the release of Tom Gates Epic Adventure. Liz Pichon herself was there, and we managed to secure the World Record!

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Copyright © Suzanne Collins, 2020

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Illustrations © Axel Scheffler

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Illustrations © Axel Scheffler

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Illustrations © Axel Scheffler

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Describe the most touching story you've ever read.

Without a doubt, this has to be The Day I Got Trapped in My Brain by Amy Hubberman. It’s a beautiful story about 11 year old Frankie Finkleton who finds herself dealing with grief in the most imaginative and heart-warming way. Frankie lives with a world inside her head called Thoughtopolis, full of weird-and-wonderful places and creatures, and together with her brother, Fred, and dog, Blue, they encounter all kinds of wild adventures. Until one day, Frankie gets trapped, and has to uncover a secret hidden deep within her if she is to get back to the Real World. I won’t say anymore, as I don’t want to give anything away. I was the designer on this book and so I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript whilst placing in all of the art and watching it come to life. I was HOOKED and I very literally could not stop reading. I think for most of the last third of the book, I was reading through tears. Granted, it probably didn’t help that I was pregnant at the time (!) but the emotion and message that Amy gets across in her writing, paired with the super sweet and hilarious illustrations by Katie Kear, is just so touching and downright genius. I highly recommend giving this book a read – but be warned, you need to have your tissues at the ready!

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Illustrations by Katie Kear © Scholastic, 2022

Outside of your own list, what children's books are you drawn to or admire?

As well as The Lion and the Mouse, The Rainbow Fish, was another of my favourites growing up. So much so, when it was time to pick another book from the shelf at school, I would scramble to search out that sparkly fish scale. Again, it was more of the visual that appealed to me… I loved the holofoil finish (probably where I get my expensive foil taste from now!), and I just loved getting lost in the underwater scenes. Something about all of the lovely blue and pastel textures was dreamy.

I have to give the adorable Owl Babies a mention, as it was another of my staple books growing up. Like I said, I am and always have been a ‘crazy animal lady’ and I’m a sucker for a cute baby animal. Those gorgeous fluffy feathers – who could resist! I have actually just had the pleasure of working on a beautiful book called Unicorn Babies which took me right back to my childhood of reading Owl Babies. Unicorn Babies written by Lucy Rowland and illustrated by Tilia Rand-Bell is due to publish next year and we’re super excited!

These days, I love beautiful, gifty, pattern books – the chunky ones that are a real coffee table head turner. One that I have always admired for its lovely large format, beautiful typography and gorgeous textured illustration style is the Animalium book. Again, the animal theme creeping in!

Professionally-speaking, who has been your biggest mentor?

My Creative Director, Andrew Biscomb has without a doubt been my biggest supporter since day one. He has taught me so much over the years, not just in the world of publishing and children’s books, but also about life itself. His knowledge and advice is invaluable, and I can categorically say that I would not be the person I am today without him. I am so incredibly grateful that I have been able to work with Andrew for the best part of a decade and soak up all of his design greatness. Our team really is like a little family and that is all thanks to Andrew.

I also have to give a mention to the hugely talented, Sean Williams. Sean was appointed as my line manager when I first joined Scholastic as a young junior designer. He took me under his wing and shared all of his tips and tricks in the world of book design. I will be forever grateful to Sean for giving me such an amazing start to my career and giving me the confidence to believe in myself.

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