Marie O’Neill Interview

Marie O’Neill

Senior Creative Director, Highlights for Children

How did your publishing career begin and what are some of the most important lessons you've learned along the way?

I started at Weekly Reader, and over 13 years, worked my way up to Executive Art Director, managing a staff of 25 designers, illustrators and photo researchers. It was extremely rewarding.

Designing for children is a great way to learn about design. Kids are new readers, so everything you create must be visually logical and read easily. The most important thing you learn is to partner closely with your editors. Read and understand all the concepts and copy you receive before ever starting to design. Secondly, I usually sketch out a project before touching the computer. Only then can you truly get a sense of priorities, proportion, focus and pacing.

Could you select 3 of your favorite projects to share with our audience?

With Weekly Reader, we created a TV show for Showtime Network called KidsTV. I worked with the puppet creators and photographers at Children’s Television Workshop to create people-sized puppets of the characters in our magazines. The show only filmed for less than ten episodes, and Showtime folded, but the experience was fun.

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At Scholastic, we developed many great book series for the classroom & library division. My favorite was Mythlopedia: a funny series spilling the tea on all the crazy behaviors and experiences of the gods, goddeses and mythological creatures.

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Right now at Highlights, we are developing a CoComelon magazine. It has been fun working with CGI illustrators for the first time in my career!

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What portfolio advice would you offer members looking to appeal to Highlights? Are there specific subjects matters they should look to include?

Humor! We are ALWAYS looking for illustrators who bring a sense of humor to their work.

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Artwork by Susan Batori (member of, represented by Good Illustration.

Describe the most awe-inspiring sketches you have ever received from an artist.

One of our illustrators Rich Powell sent me a banjo playing hog, singing in the moonlight. I love this art!

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Which children's book character makes you laugh out loud the most?

Hands down, The Wonky Donkey!

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What are some of the most important factors when considering an illustrator for a project?

Sense of humor in the art, timely delivery, and openness to feedback.

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Cover art by Travis Foster

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Cover art by Monika Filipina

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Cover art by Erica Sirotich

Do you enjoy nurturing emerging artistic talent, or prefer working with established illustrators?

We do both. As far as nurturing new artists, our designers frequently groom new artists into learning the ins and outs of creating Hidden Pictures. There are a lot of visual nuances that most don’t get by simply examining a Hidden Picture, but once trained, they become an invaluable addition to our roster.

Professionally-speaking, what's been your a) most challenging b) proudest moment so far?

Losing staff is always challenging. Most rewarding is I have the most awesome staff in the world. All very different, kind, and fun.

Who or what has inspired you most in your career so far?

My boss at Scholastic, Jackie Carter. She was a true visionary.

Which books from your own childhood did you enjoy reading?

Harold and the Purple Crayon, and The Snowy Day

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