Lisa McCue’s spirited animal characters have graced the pages of 175 picture books, including reworkings of classic Corduroytitles and stories by Margaret Wise Brown. This season the veteran illustrator ventures out on her own in Quiet Bunny, a picture book from Sterling that has already returned to press since its March release.

“I knew it was time for me to spread my wings, even though I have always thought of myself as an artist and didn’t feel I had the skills to be a writer,” McCue says of her decision to write as well as illustrate a book. A self-described “idea person,” she had compiled an “idea file,” yet hadn’t found quite the right inspiration to craft her own story. “All it took was finding something I felt passionate about,” she notes.

Lisa McCue.

That spark came from two sources. McCue’s experience raising her two sons, now teenagers, fueled the theme of the story, which centers on a bunny who listens to other animals’ sounds and longs to discover his own. “Over and over again, I have emphasized to my children the importance of being yourself,” she explains. “Kids feel as though they will be ostracized if they aren’t like everyone else, and they so easily lose sight of who they really are. ‘Be who you are’ has become a catch phrase in our family.”

The author’s imagination was also ignited by a conversation she had with a group of friends who have children, one of whom, Nancy Kriebel, is a speech language pathologist. McCue, who as a child struggled with a lisp, was surprised to learn that every one of these mothers had at least one child who had early issues with speech development and had problems learning to formulate certain sounds. “I was amazed to learn how prevalent this is,” she remarks. “I discovered that one out of every three children has speech development issues and it is crucial to catch this early, since otherwise it can delay development in other areas, including spelling and reading.”

An interior image from Quiet Bunny shows the protagonist listening to crickets.

Consulting with Kriebel, McCue devised key sounds to incorporate into Quiet Bunny (delivered in the voices of various animals) that targeted potential linguistic problem spots. She then worked to find a way to pull together the sounds and the “Be who you are” message in a story that would appeal to children. “I knew this had to be a fun book kids would want to hear or read over and over, or it wouldn’t be successful as a practice tool in term of learning the sounds,” she says. “Once I chose to focus on a bunny, the book flowed out—it seemed to write itself—and made perfect sense.”

McCue’s authorial debut is also her first book with Sterling. After meeting the artist through a mutual friend, Bill Luckey, Sterling’s executive editor of children’s books, asked her if she had any interest in writing and illustrating a book. “She had the concept for a book but didn’t yet have a lead character,” he says, “but before long she decided on the bunny and it all came together.”

Luckey reports that Sterling has received positive feedback from booksellers and parents on Quiet Bunny and that a plush bunny is in development. To continue to promote the book, the company plans online outreach to speech pathologists and early childhood development specialists. An untitled companion tale, in which the curious rabbit explores colors, will follow, likely in spring 2011.

Quiet Bunny by Lisa McCue. Sterling, $14.95 ISBN 978-1-4027-5719-8