February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Behind the Scenes of Our Sesame Street Cover | Inside SLJ

Final art inside!

When I first wrote to Sesame Workshop about the possibility of a Muppet-themed cover for School Library Journal, I had no idea if they would be agreeable. Fortunately, Jodi Lefkowitz, manager of corporate communications, got back to me quickly. We discussed possible imagery for the feature, and I was relieved to know that it was not going to be a problem getting photos, screenshots of apps, and images of Muppet characters to use in our article.

Then I broached the topic of the cover, and as an example, floated an idea that I had come up with shortly before the phone call. It was the idea that we ended up using: Big Bird as “The Early Bird,” which connected the themes of the issue—leaders in early learning—with one of Sesame Street‘s most widely recognized and beloved characters.

Jodi seemed positive about the idea, and so did the SLJ’s editors. A home run right off the bat? It’s not always this easy, but when you are starting off with Big Bird on the cover, you are starting out on third base! Sesame Workshop hooked us up with an illustrator, Louis Henry Mitchell, who is their associate design director of special projects. Imagine how happy we were to learn that, not only were we going to be able to feature Big Bird on our cover, it was going to be the real Big Bird.

What struck me about working with the staff from Sesame Workshop was how, when they talked about Big Bird and the other Muppets, it was not just business. They talked about the characters in a way that made it clear that the staff are the protectors and guardians of these beloved characters.

For example, when I sent over a crude thumbnail sketch to show them what I was originally envisioning, I sketched a lab coat on Big Bird. In pondering the “Early Bird” headline, I wondered if Big Bird should be cast in the role of the researcher. Sesame Workshop reminded me that Big Bird is only six years old—so it would make more sense if he was the one who was trying out the app.

In another conversation, I wondered if I could remove a suitcase that Ernie and Burt were holding in a promo photo of the characters, replacing it with a tablet that would display one of their apps. I was informed that the characters could never be seen as promoting products, not even their own.

There was an element of protectiveness of the Muppet characters—it’s clear that Sesame Workshop is committed to ensuring that the characters will always be portrayed with authenticity.

The white background of the cover art is ‘stripped out’ and Big Bird is then positioned in front of the logo.

Louis came back with a sketch that was straightforward but brilliant. By posing him in a sitting position it accentuated Big Bird’s size (he needs to sit to fit on the cover!) and also his childlike nature. He is on a tablet but instead of the Apple logo, you see a pineapple. And Big Bird was positioned to fit in perfectly among all of the cover elements—the logo, the cover lines, and even the inkjet mailing label box! SLJ’s editors and I quickly green-lighted the sketch.

Louis, who works both digitally and traditionally, said he relished the opportunity work old-school—on paper, with watercolor and colored pencil. We both felt it would be the right feel for this cover. The quick approval of the sketch bought him more time to work on his final art. And if you look closely at all of the detail in the feathers, you will see how much love and time went into this piece of original art, just further proof of how he, like all the staff at Sesame Workshop, care deeply about the Muppet characters.

Sesame Workshop is a group of smart, caring people doing exceptional work in the field of children’s education and entertainment. I was delighted for the opportunity to work with them.



  1. Josh Hadro says:

    I love just about all the SLJ covers, Mark, but making use of a Muppet puts this one out in front in my heart. Love seeing the progression, too. Nice work!