Little Lulu, often known by her bold alter ego, Ladybug Girl, has delighted young readers since she first broke onto the literary scene 10 years ago. Featuring high impact text and bright illustrations, the Ladybug Girl series presents a young, sometimes shy, girl who uses her imagination to transform into a bold, spirited superhero. Dressed in a red-and-black costume and with an adorable canine sidekick, Lulu learns to overcome real-life challenges like making new friends, facing her fears, taking on new responsibilities, and more. We were thrilled to chat with author Jacky Davis and illustrator David Soman, the creative husband-wife duo behind the books, about the origins of the beloved Ladybug Girl character and what it’s like to look back on, and begin to let go of, a series they have worked on for over a decade.
Lulu is kind and smart, while her alter ego, Ladybug Girl, is strong, brave, and adventurous. Can you talk about your inspiration for this multifaceted young character?
David Soman: Ladybug Girl is based almost entirely on our daughter, and those traits are inherent in her, as they are in many children. In the everyday social and emotional challenges of a young child they find many opportunities to be brave and to grow.
Jacky Davis: Like when she’s being told she’s too little to play with someone, or she has to deal with the difficulty of compromising with a friend, Ladybug Girl is able to rely on her inner strength to learn about herself, others, or the world around her.
Throughout the series, Ladybug Girl displays boundless imagination. Why did you feel that was important for her?
DS: Imaginative play has been a big part of our family life. Toys, shoes, and appliances come alive in our house! Besides it just being plain fun and silly, imaginary play is part of how children process their actual experiences, and project themselves into new ones.
JD: A limitless imagination informs how Ladybug Girl sees things, and also relates to her motto that anything is possible, and nothing will stop her!
What was it like to work together as a team on the books? What was the process of bringing the words and illustrations together?
DS: We talk a lot together about what we want the story to be about.
JD: We’ve done a good amount of playground research over the years, and have seen firsthand the dynamics of play among young children, and the various issues that arise for them.
DS: Once we decide what the story is about we will work on how we want to tell the story. When we feel that we have the basic plot down, we take turns writing, editing, and sometimes arguing — we are married after all — until it gets to a place where we are both happy.
JD: Often we have upwards of 10 versions of the manuscript. Once we have it in a somewhat presentable place we share it with Jessica Garrison, our lovely editor at Dial Books. She adds her invaluable perspective, and we then revise again with her notes and questions in mind.
DS: After that, I take the manuscript off to my studio and go about the business of turning it into a dummy, which is a pencil mock-up of the future book. It serves to figure out exactly how the words and pictures should work together.
Often enough, we make even more changes to the story as we figure out different things that might work better to serve the story. At this point, I hand it over to Jasmin Rubero, designer extraordinaire, who I don’t think I could function without — as she helps me with so many different things during the course of the book — and I usually have to make some changes. Then I get started on the finished illustrations!
Over the course of doing the ink and watercolor illustrations Jacky, or our children, Lucy and Sam, might come up to the studio and give their comments on the paintings that hang the wall. I can be sort of grumpy about it at this point, but in truth, their feedback has been very valuable.
JD: True, and true, honey.
Of all Ladybug Girl’s adventures, which one was your favorite? Were any inspired by real-life events?
DS: That’s a hard one … I don’t know that I have a favorite, but Ladybug Girl at the Beach and Ladybug Girl and Bingo are two that I still love to read aloud to kids. Ladybug Girl’s Day Out with Grandpa is also close to my heart, as it takes place in the Museum of Natural History in New York, which was essentially a second home to me. But then again, Ladybug Girl and the Rescue Dogs has our dog Pico in it, so…
JD: I like Ladybug Girl at the Beach and Ladybug Girl and the Dress-up Dilemma. I love David’s ocean paintings a lot, the feeling of light and water at the beach is captured so nicely. In the dress-up story I find Lulu’s struggle to come up with a new costume to be funny and real, as we’ve gone through so many failed Halloween costumes in our household. I especially like the absurdity of the vampire-panda costume! Most of the books have moments of our lives in them, even if the specific details have been changed somewhat.
What have young readers told you they liked about the series?
DS: Well, I’ve heard some say that they have boots. And sometimes wings and a tutu. Or a dog. Or a younger brother in diapers.
JD: Connecting with readers and their parents is our favorite part of the whole book-making process.
There’s nothing more gratifying then when someone tells us that they enjoy our books. The joy that they share with us is sweet, and reminds us of our own experiences of reading with our young children, which was an incredibly happy and meaningful time that we’ll cherish forever.
How does it feel now that you know the series has reached its final pages?
DS: I don’t know. Jacky and I have been working on Ladybug Girl for well over 12 years now, and it is so much a part of our family. I think that for me, the fact that it may really be over hasn’t quite sunk in. We have put our hearts into these books, and I’m proud of them. Nothing has amazed me more than to see kids dressed up as Ladybug Girl for book events. I really still can’t believe that we’ve neared the end of the series, and it is sad to say goodbye to the world of Ladybug Girl.
JD: It feels like it’s naturally time for us to move onto other projects, and let the series stand as it is. There are 10 picture books in the Ladybug Girl series that explore various themes, and there are a number of board books for the very young ones, readers for those beginning to read on their own, and a very cute cloth doll too. This feels complete to me.
But who knows, maybe Ladybug Girl will fly again!
Books in the Ladybug Girl Series: