Since its release in 2015, author-illustrator Emily Winfield Martin’s picture book The Wonderful Things You Will Be has gone on to achieve, well, wonderful things. A dreamy tribute to the boundless potential and imagination of all children, the book spent 256 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and has sold more than two million copies in North America. We spoke with Martin about the book’s latest milestone and wrapping up her companion book, This Is a Gift for You, the cover of which is revealed here exclusively for the first time.

Martin described her new work as “a love letter to the universal ‘you’ and the world I wish for everybody.” This Is a Gift for You is set to release on September 21 from Random House Children’s Books, offering a message of love and everyday marvels that resonates in pandemic times. But the book got its start a couple of years ago, before the Covid-19 crisis, during a summer visit by Martin’s editor Mallory Loehr to her home in Portland, Ore. “We were wandering around the city together, getting lunch, and talking about the way that I perceive the world,” Martin recalled. “We hit on this idea: what if there was almost a valentine that would encapsulate the world that I feel everybody deserves and that I want to give to them.” Later, she said, “I percolated on that, accumulating in my mind an idea of what all of the gifts would be, making the armature or skeleton for the book. I made this list, starting with physically very small and intimate items and then gradually getting bigger and bigger. The book ends with the cosmos, stars, Earth, and the giant endless sea.”

The first draft “emerged quickly and almost fully formed.” Martin went to a cabin near Mount Hood, where she hunkered down and focused on the text for a couple of days. “I worked really diligently and sketched some covers. I wanted to get it out of me. I wrote it with my husband and everyone I love in mind. Then, about two weeks later, I went to New York and showed it to Mallory,” who had very few changes for the manuscript and the subsequent dummy. The result, Martin said, “is my most personal picture book by a mile; it’s close to my heart. But it’s also my most universal.”

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Martin referred to this past year as “such a surreal time. Some moments feel so slow and things are at a standstill, while others seem to race by. As quiet as the world has been, my life has been nonstop [with projects].” On the success and continued momentum of The Wonderful Things You Will Be, Martin told PW, “I’m really dumbstruck whenever I hear a milestone like that. I had no idea, until [my team] told me about this interview! When I wrote it, I didn’t know the life this book would have. Over the last five years, I think of it as running off into the world in a way that is bigger than me and any of my other books. I feel very lucky that it happened—whatever magic or happenstance that made it work.”

As for her thoughts on what that “magic” might be, Martin reflected, “Someone said to me once that my books help people articulate things they feel but maybe can’t put into words themselves. I think that might be getting to the heart of it.” She hopes that “the unconditional love and open-endedness of the book resonate. It’s about the big question mark [of a child’s future] and how you’ll love them regardless.”

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has recently taken on yet another dimension, with the launch of a collection from Nordstrom and Peek Kids Clothing. “These tiny clothes are like a dream,” she said, “I’m a very tactile person, and everything is really soft.” In a previous interview with PW, for her middle grade book Snow & Rose, Martin shared her interest in fashion and how she brings it to her illustration. “I love clothes so much, and the care in the way people are dressed. Clothes are just a great way to express yourself. They make the internal external.” In terms of future clothing collaborations, she said, “We’re working on a fabric line and a second collection with some old and some new art for patterns inspired by my book The Littlest Family’s Big Day.”

Speaking of the thematic threads that tie her work together, Martin explained, “At first I didn’t think of This Is a Gift for You dovetailing with my other books, but then I realized if The Wonderful Things is all about the potential and mystery of what children might become, this book is what I feel every one of us deserves: a life of simple joys and magic and love.” Martin said that she gave herself “internal rules” when composing the book, such as “no material gifts, unless they were creative, like a box of watercolors.”

In this liminal moment before the world opens up again, Martin expressed her gratitude for her ability to make art, and for the enduring creativity that surrounds her. “Watching little signs of new life—like spring or anything being born, a new book or a new business—has been so much more poignant for me. People are still making things and doing things: trying to make a life. I’ve felt that more deeply than ever.” She said, “The forced slowing of the world has been a gift in a way, as hard it was.”

This Is a Gift for You by Emily Winfield Martin. Random House, $18.99 Sept. 21 ISBN 978-1-5247-1416-1