It’s unusual to come across a book that represents multiple “firsts” on the parts of its creators, especially when no one involved with the project is a children’s publishing rookie. Such is the case with I Don’t Care, due in October from Holiday House’s Neal Porter Books, the cover of which is shown here for the first time.

This isn’t the only “first” for the picture book, written by Julie Fogliano, winner of the 2013 Ezra Jack Keats Award and two Boston Globe-Horn Book Honors, whose books have been translated into 10 languages. I Don’t Care is the first of the author’s books that is illustrated by two artists, best friends Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal, both Caldecott Honor winners who have never before teamed up with another artist to illustrate a picture book. And this is the first time that Neal Porter, in four decades of working in children’s books, has worked simultaneously with co-illustrators on a single story.

In I Don’t Care, two best friends initially take turns guardedly referencing what sets them apart: “i really don’t care/ what you think of my hair/ Or my eyes or my toes/ or my nose….” The tone of the narrative changes as the two focus on the far more important aspects of their relationship that they do care about—deeply: “and i care that we’re always/ and i care that we’re two/ and i care that we’re friends/ and I care that we’re true.”

Fogliano was struggling with the second half of the manuscript when she first showed it to Porter, her longtime editor, in 2017. “Even though this story has a different kind of rhythm than my past books, the first part flew out easily and was very fun to write,” she told PW. “But it took me a long time to write the second part, about what is important to kids, so that it wasn’t forced. I got stuck for months and months before I figured it out!”

Another turning point for the book came when Porter and Fogliano began discussing a possible illustrator for I Don’t Care. “The idea of Molly Idle suddenly came to me,” Porter said. “When I showed it to her, she liked the story very much, but she saw and heard it a bit differently—with two voices.”

And not just any two. “I was completely smitten with Julie’s manuscript, but I knew right away that it needed two people, in more than one way,” Idle said. “I saw two characters: one a younger version of myself, which I could draw, and the other as a young Juana, which I knew she could draw.”

When her “bestie” was quick to agree, Idle emailed her agent, Steve Malk, who ran the idea by Porter, and within minutes I Don’t Care had co-illustrators. For Martinez-Neal, this was a plum assignment. “I have always been in love with Julie’s writing, and Neal had been my dream editor forever, long before this opportunity surfaced,” she said. “When I read the finished manuscript, I started crying. I felt that it was such a perfect reflection of who Molly and I are, and I thought, ‘How can we not make this happen?’ ”

Strength in Teamwork

The illustrators were very much on the same page from the start. Martinez-Neal credited Idle with sorting out their respective roles in the collaborative process, noting, “I am not as focused as Molly is, and I can get lost in the details, so she organized us.” Selecting the media for the art entailed a bit of a compromise, Idle said. “We decided that the best way to level the playing field was to use graphite, since we were both comfortable with that. And adding color overlays of just two colors—teal and yellow, one for each character—helped our art styles fit together.”

Pulling together the book’s cover was another creative team effort. “Juana and I had so much input with Jennifer [Browne, the book’s designer] on the cover design and the interaction between the art and the text,” Idle said. “It is wonderful when a team is as fluid as it was in this project. No one had defined roles. When it came to making decisions, nothing mattered except what was the best for the book.”

The collaborators’ close rapport hit a bit of a snag when Martinez-Neal’s family moved from Arizona to Connecticut as Covid escalated in spring 2020, but the book’s creators persevered. “Juana and I knew that if our friendship could work long distance, our art could too,” Idle wrote in her illustrator’s note in the book. “So, it traveled back and forth across the country, between Molly’s studio and mine. With each trip, we added color and more details.”

Porter expressed admiration for the “seamless collaboration” among the book’s art and design teams. “I could not have imagined such a smooth process, with Molly and Juana passing images back and forth physically and then digitally, to finish this wonderful book about two best friends—themselves, in fact.”

For the illustrators (who each dedicated the book to the other), co-illustrating I Don’t Care at a distance was a challenging yet rewarding experience. Commenting on their collaboration, Idle said, “Isn’t everything easier when you play with friends?”

I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illus. by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal. Holiday House/Neal Porter Books, $18.99 ISBN 9780823443451