Everyone is familiar with feeling blue now and again—but what does it mean to feel ecru, magenta, or teal? Debut author Lauren Rille and illustrator Aimée Sicuro explore some possibilities in I Feel Teal, a celebration of individuality and self-acceptance that uses color to identify the wide range of emotions children experience as they begin school. The picture book will be published July 31 by Simon & Schuster’s Beach Lane Books, where Rille works as an art director. The story behind the book involves a string of coincidences, serendipity, and a mini baby boom.

First the babies: not only were both Rille and Sicuro pregnant during the book’s gestation, but the editor (Andrea Welch) and the illustrator’s agent (Andrea Morrison of Writers House) were as well. First born was Sicuro’s daughter Cecelia, in July 2017, followed by Rille’s Jane in September, and Welch’s son Teddy in October. Morrison’s daughter Lani, born last February, was the final boomer to arrive.

The seeds of I Feel Teal were planted in September 2014, when Rille heard Gloria Steinem speak at the author’s alma mater, Brentwood High School in Los Angeles. “Ms. Steinem was talking about same-sex education, and mentioned that girls are less likely to speak up and hazard a guess in co-ed classrooms,” Rille recalled. “I was with my mom, who was an administrator at an all-girls high school, and she said that if she were to do it again, she would send me to an all-girls high school rather than a co-ed one. And I began talking with a friend, who was also at the event, about feeling intimidated and thinking that something you are feeling is wrong.”

That same night—well, out of the blue—a book idea came to Rille. “I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep,” she said. “I thought about a story that let kids know that their emotions are valid, and it’s okay to feel mad just like it’s okay to feel happy, and that led to the notion of feeling in the pink or feeling blue; I began typing away on my phone in the middle of the night. I never thought of color as a secret language, but since I’m a visually oriented person, the concept of experiencing moments dominated by a color was not a big leap for me.”

Rille approached Welch, executive editor at Beach Lane, with her book idea—with some trepidation. “Andrea is a colleague but also a dear friend,” she said. “I’ve known her for more than a decade, since we worked together at Harcourt, where I was an intern in the design department and she was an editorial assistant. I shared my story with her, and asked, ‘Is there something here?’ ”

Though Welch admitted to feeling a bit anxious receiving a manuscript from a close friend and co-worker, after reading I Feel Teal, she said, “My feelings very quickly transitioned from nervousness to excitement. I immediately loved the story and the way Lauren wrote it. It is deceptively simple, genuine, and unique, but even more than that, it is so Lauren. I know how important feelings and honoring others’ feelings are to her. I also loved imagining where we could take the book visually.”

The Birthing of the Book

After signing up I Feel Teal in March 2015, Welch tackled the task of finding the ideal illustrator, which proved somewhat tricky—until another coincidence occurred. “We couldn’t come up with the perfect artist for the longest time, and out of the blue, Andrea Morrison sent me samples of Aimée’s work,” she said. “As soon as I opened her email I realized that her style was exactly what I’d been envisioning. Her colors were perfect and her characters so endearing. Lauren felt the same way.”

Sicuro, who had previously illustrated The Moon Inside and Bright Sky, Starry City, was thrilled to join the project, though she had some initial trouble deciding what direction to take. “The story is so open-ended—I knew I could do a million different things!” she noted. “Andrea felt that the story needed a visual narrative that was relatable, and made a great call suggesting a child’s first school experience. Since my oldest child had just gone through his first pre-K experience, it was fresh in my mind, and that was a big help.”

Rille, who said she wrote the story “from the perspective of the art director in me,” knew that it was a tall order to ask an illustrator to create a visual narrative for such an open-ended story. “I knew that whoever took it on would either be energized or terrorized by the job,” she said. “Aimée hit it out of the ballpark. I have so many memories of being young and experiencing a pinball machine of emotions—bouncing all over the place. Aimée did such a beautiful job capturing the nuances of that and conveying that it’s okay to feel all that weird stuff—it’s who we are.”

The illustrator, as she wrapped up the art for I Feel Teal, was grateful that her daughter, Cecelia, was in no hurry to enter the world, waiting five days beyond her due date to appear. “I was working on the very last spread of the book, and I kept thinking, ‘This baby has to be late. I’m not done yet, and if she’s born now, I’m not sure if my head will be on straight enough to finish it with a newborn!’ I completed the last spread on the Fourth of July, my water broke as we were watching the fireworks, and Cecelia arrived four hours later. It was incredible—she knew to wait!”

Reflecting on the making of I Feel Teal, Welch described the experience as “serendipitous and wonderful,” and called the odds of four simultaneously pregnant women being at the center of the process “slim to none.” She added, “One of the fun things about it was that we were all working together on a book about feelings while we were dealing with our own explosions of emotions. It gave us a sincere personal connection when we were struggling with a particular line or trying to get an image just right. And it was wonderful to be able to complain together about how hot and swollen and hungry we were. I think it ultimately served the book very well!”

I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille, illus. by Aimée Sicuro. S&S/Beach Lane, $17.99 July ISBN 978-1-4814-5846-7.