When Chronicle Children’s Books design director Kristine Brogno called artist Meg Hunt in June 2013 to ask whether she wanted to illustrate Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood, Hunt was delighted—but she had to tell Brogno that she was too busy to start on it. She was teaching illustration classes in Portland, Ore., planning her forthcoming wedding, and she’d just asked 50 artist friends to each produce a work of art to hang in the gallery where the wedding was to be held (“I thought it would be easy,” she says).

Fortunately, Brogno was willing to wait. The wedding was in June 2013, and Hunt started work on Interstellar Cinderella that August. She was immediately taken with the way Underwood turned the traditional tale on its head. Instead of being a servant girl who is desirable because of her looks, Cinderella is a smart, cool-headed mechanic who wins the prince’s admiration by fixing his spaceship. Instead of a gown and glass slippers, her fairy god-robot gives her new tools and a spacesuit.

Hunt began to work out what life in fairy tale space would look like. “Chronicle’s vision of the world of Interstellar Cinderella was very light,” she says. “They gave me a lot of freedom.” She found inspiration in unexpected places, including “couture fashion like Dior and Alexander McQueen” and the “covers of science fiction mass market paperbacks.” The palette for Interstellar Cinderella doesn’t include pastels; instead, deep shades of rust, shadowy purples, and ultramarine beckon readers into the spreads. “I was looking at NASA’s photos of space, nebulae, different planets,” Hunt says. “Space is dark and mysterious.”

Creating the Cinderella character raised many questions. How young should she be? How “girly”? How much of a space nerd? Hunt gave her Cinderella a thoughtful expression, magenta hair, and a pair of space goggles pushed up on top of her head like sunglasses. Cinderella looks old enough to be proposed to, but says it’s too soon to get married (“but I’ll be your chief mechanic!” she offers).

Hunt’s deeper connection to Underwood’s story reveals itself as she details her work as an artist: “I’ve done editorial. I’ve made and designed my own products—books, textiles, jewelry. I’ve done some animation and background design. I’ve done window displays and designed pieces for a bar.” Hunt describes herself as pragmatic and says she likes figuring out what clients need, adding, “I’m fascinated by problem solving and finding out how things work.” Does she feel a bond with Interstellar Cinderella? “Oh, definitely! I’m a lot clumsier than she is, though.”

Brogno and editor Melissa Manlove liked Hunt’s early character sketches, and she began to sketch out a dummy; it was a crash course in the mechanics of picture books. “I had never thought about the page turn having that kind of power,” she says. She learned more about pacing: “When Interstellar Cinderella is fixing the spaceship the first time it was a single page; it just didn’t seem like a big enough moment.” Brogno suggested that Hunt make it a spread, and she found that the extra space gave the scene the impact it needed. Hunt says she learned a lot from the collaboration with the team at Chronicle: “They were excited about what I showed them, and the suggestions they offered strengthened the work.”

Hunt’s first experience with picture book making gave her new respect for the form. “The books I grew up with had so much warmth and vitality,” she says. “Now I know more about how to help move the reader along so they’re really excited about turning the page. I look at the work of illustrators in a new way.”

To see all six of this season’s Flying Starts authors and illustrators, click here.