Five years after Simon & Schuster released Jessie Sima’s first picture book, Not Quite Narwhal, the publisher will issue a companion title, Perfectly Pegasus, next February. The author-illustrator’s debut book has sold more than 250,000 copies across all formats since its February 2017 publication, prompting S&S to order a robust 300,000-copy first printing for its follow-up, whose cover is shown here for the first time.
Set in the same magical world as its predecessor, Perfectly Pegasus spotlights a very different character who is on her own unique journey. Not Quite Narwhal, starring Kelp, a unicorn born under the sea into a narwhal family, is a story about fitting in, standing out, and the all-encompassing love of kin. Yet its companion tale centers on a young Pegasus named Nimbus who lives alone among the clouds until she finally discovers a sense of connection and community when she finds her people. “I sometimes get asked what Not Quite Narwhal is really about,” Sima told PW, “but I always want to leave it open to individual interpretation.”
The success of Not Quite Narwhal put some pressure on Sima when the author decided to set a second story in Kelp’s universe. “My first book had a positive reception, and I have been very thankful for that,” they said. “Yet any time you have a book that does well there are a lot of different things to be nervous about. I knew I did not want to do anything that would detract from the original book. When a story is meaningful to people, it’s important to me that I not betray the heart of it. I had heard from a lot of readers and I knew that Not Quite Narwhal touched people in various ways. Some said that Kelp’s tale reflects their own adoption stories, and I heard from people from LGBTQIA+ communities that it felt like a coming-out story.”
Finding the right companion tale to tell was a challenge, Sima acknowledged. “Since Kelp’s story felt finished to me, introducing a new character seemed like the natural way to go, but I had to make sure I was not making the same book again,” they said. “Pegasus’s story did not pop into my head right away, which is why this book is coming out five years after my first. There was a lot playing around in my mind, but when I finally found what seemed like the right story and character, and figured out Nimbus’s wants and needs and what she must overcome, things came together quite easily.”
The Look of the Book
The cover of Perfectly Pegasus was designed by Lizzy Bromley, art director at S&S Books for Young Readers, who also designed Not Quite Narwhal’s cover and those of Sima’s several picture books that were released in the years between those two titles: Harriet Gets Carried Away; Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies (written by Christian Trimmer and illustrated by Sima); Love, Z; Spencer’s New Pet; Jules vs. the Ocean; and Hardly Haunted (due out next July).
“All of Jessie’s books have always had a special place in my heart, and even more so now that I have a three-year-old son,” Bromley said. “It is Jessie’s books that we both want to read over and over, night after night.” Predicting that Perfectly Pegasus will take its place on her family’s shelf of Sima favorites, she noted, “I think the appeal of this story is that everybody feels like Nimbus at some point—wishing for that special person in our lives, perhaps not realizing that that perfect person is right in front of you. And longing for friends is a universal feeling during the pandemic, when even if you have friends, you cannot hug them.”
Since the cover of Perfectly Pegasus echoes that of Not Quite Narwhal, Bromley did not have to start from scratch with design decisions—but she recalled the challenges of finding the right cover feel for Sima’s first book. “It is easier to be over-the-top with type design, but with Jessie’s books simplicity works best,” the designer said. “Because they have created these wonderfully sweet characters, we wanted to feature them alone on the cover, surrounded by lots of space, to show their delicateness and small place in the universe. I wanted to match Jessie’s strong art with quiet rather than loud type.”
Sima said, “Since it was my very first time thinking about a cover, I had about 20 different ideas for Not Quite Narwhal. I initially envisioned borders around the images for a storybook style and illustrious, fancy hand-drawn type, but when I began working with Lizzy, I realized my vision was way too cluttered, with too much going on. Her idea of simple imagery and understated type quickly grew on me and we pared it back so much. I learned a lot from her.” Sima added, “The final cover features lovely, pearlescent paper stock, with a few spots of sparkly glitter, and a square trim size, and Perfectly Pegasus has the same treatment. It feels like a very special package.”
Sima is, well, still up in the air about their post-Pegasus publishing plans, especially after their whirlwind creative output since 2017. “I feel as though I have done a lot of books back-to-back, and I have always been on to the next thing before the previous books was entirely finished,” they said. “This time I want to take a bit of a pause. I have lots of ideas percolating, but I need to take some time to figure out which one I am most interested in.”
Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 Feb. 2022 ISBN 978-1-5344-9717-7