Ladybug Girl evidently spoke to the inner superhero in young readers after this Dial picture book reached store shelves last March. Written by husband-and-wife collaborators David Soman and Jacky Davis and illustrated by Soman, the book centers on a child who transforms herself into adventure-seeking Ladybug Girl after her brother announces she’s too little to play with him. The book spent 22 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold 120,000 copies. In a new follow-up tale, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, this imaginative gal acquires a sidekick.

The couple’s own daughter Lucy, now seven, inspired the character of Ladybug Girl when she was a toddler. Soman recalls a day when Lucy decided to dress up in “one of her crazy costumes,” in this case ladybug regalia—complete with wings, antennae, a tutu and boots. “It was over the top,” says her father. “Jacky said, ‘Oh look, it’s Ladybug Girl!’ We looked at each other and knew we had something there.”

Though Soman has illustrated 15 or so children’s books over the last two decades, Ladybug Girl marked his debut as author. It was also a first for Davis, a graphic designer. “At the beginning, we talked about how Ladybug Girl moves through her day and explores her world, and we took turns writing versions,” says Soman of the collaboration. “It took a while to find a way to work together comfortably, but eventually the story arc started to evolve.”

While they developed Ladybug Girl’s character and plotted her adventures, Soman began the art, experimenting with watercolors and ink, a new medium for him. His prior children’s book illustration had consisted primarily of realistic watercolor or pastel art, though he also illustrated two titles with collages. “I wanted to illustrate Ladybug Girl more along the lines of books I loved as a child, like The Story of Ferdinand and books by Dr. Seuss and other illustrators who worked in pen-and-ink and watercolors,” he says.

David Soman and Jacky Davis.
Photo: Melanie Einzig.

Soman sent an early version of the book to some publishing people he knew, including Nancy Leo Kelly, a designer at Dial. She passed it on to Dial editor Liz Waniewski. “Nancy thought the illustrations were fantastic and wanted my take on the story,” says Waniewski. “I thought there were great ideas there. David, Jacky and I worked together on the book until it was ready to sign up.”

Waniewski credits the authors’ focus on “real kid concerns and experiences” for Ladybug Girl’s success, noting, “It’s a story about imagination, creativity and empowerment, and it really speaks to children.” She says that strong sales, fueled by enthusiastic word-of-mouth buzz, sparked her and the authors’ interest in sequels. In addition to this new title, Ladybug Girl at the Beach is due in summer 2010 and a fourth adventure will follow.

Soman and Davis again drew from their family life to create Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, in which the girl and a boy she meets at the playground forge a friendship when they agree to concoct games they are both happy playing. “The boy is based on our son, Sam, who is five,” Davis explains. “Collaborating on these books seems such a natural extension of the creative endeavor of having children.”

Dial has a 100,000-copy first printing on order for Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy. Penguin’s marketing plans for the March title include an online banner ad campaign on parenting Web sites, a retail floor display, an event kit for booksellers and outreach to the school and library market. Soman and Davis will be featured speakers at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April.

One retailer looking forward to the new Ladybug Girl arrival is Kristen Swope, assistant manager of Kidly Winks, a children’s book, toy and clothing store in Longmeadow, Mass. Soman and Davis did a book signing at the store last Thanksgiving weekend, with Lucy and Sam in tow, which had a good turnout. “We’ve done well with Ladybug Girl and the sequel has great potential, since it will appeal to boys as well as girls,” Swope says. “I think the ladybug aspect catches the eye. And ladybugs are supposed to bring good luck.” Soman and Davis would agree.

Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Judy Davis, illus. by Soman. Dial, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-8037-3339-8