Created by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld, The Umbrella opens on a less-than cheery note. In a town where it rains incessantly, residents live a soggy existence, until a resourceful girl comes upon a dilapidated umbrella at a vintage shop and ingeniously, if unwittingly, summons the elusive sun.
Published this month by Clarion with a 100,000-copy announced first printing, The Umbrella should brighten the spirits of many children who otherwise might not have had the chance to read it, thanks to an initiative sponsored by the publisher and the Amy Krouse Rosenthal Foundation. Founded in memory of this children’s author (who died of ovarian cancer in 2017 at the age of 51), the nonprofit organization provides funding for awareness of and research for the early detection of ovarian cancer, as well as child literacy programs.
This spring, HarperCollins Children’s Books and the AKR Foundation have partnered to donate 5,000 special-edition paperback copies of The Umbrella to Save the Children for use in its educational programs in the U.S. The picture book is dedicated to Rosenthal, who collaborated on numerous books with Lichtenheld, among them the bestselling I Wish You More and Duck! Rabbit!
Jason B. Rosenthal, Amy’s husband of 26 years and founder of the AKR Foundation, noted that this initiative is rewarding given The Umbrella’s close alignment with his late wife’s spirit, which he is dedicated to perpetuating. “It is so important to me to let people know what Amy was like, not just as an author or filmmaker but as a wonderful person,” he said. “Spreading joy and creativity and appreciating those small moments in life that we sometimes pass through without noticing was very important to Amy. With this book, through a yellow umbrella that had been a hallmark of Amy’s ‘The Beckoning of Lovely’ project, Beth and Tom personified the hope and optimism that captured Amy’s spirit in a nutshell.”
A Creative Team Takes Shape
Ferry and Lichtenheld’s first book together and the author’s debut publication, the bestselling Stick and Stone (Clarion, 2015), involved a distinctly different creative process than The Umbrella.
Their inaugural collaboration entailed a more traditional model of collaboration: after Clarion signed up Stick and Stone and Lichtenheld (who “adored it”) agreed to illustrate the story, the two did not meet until after the book’s publication. When that finally happened at a film festival in Denver at which a short film based on their book was featured, Lichtenheld recalled, “I realized that there was a creative harmony between us.”
For subsequent collaborations (Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever! and The Umbrella), Ferry and Lichtenheld worked closely together, which suited both well. “My background is in advertising, and that business involves a very collaborative way of working,” Lichtenheld said. “Beth and I began to do just that—tinkering together—which to me is a big part of the joy of creating books. That became our working relationship.”
And, Ferry added, that strong collaborative spirit spilled over to the genesis of The Umbrella, whose premise was an amalgam of book ideas they each individually conceived.
Not long before Covid descended, Ferry traveled from her New Jersey home to Chicago to discuss book ideas with Lichtenheld. Coincidentally, each brought an idea to the table that reflected the other’s. “Tom told me that he had an idea for a story called Sad City, set in a place where it always rains and everyone is sad,” Ferry said. “I said that I had an old story idea about a place where people planted and grew umbrellas—but I didn’t have a story to go along with the setting. And so, we merged the two ideas.”
And how does Lichtenheld think that Rosenthal, his former collaborator, would react to this new picture book dedicated to her? “Amy was wonderful at celebrating other people’s work and success,” he responded. “She would get more excited about my little successes than her own—she was very generous that way. I think Amy would fully embrace The Umbrella—in fact, she’d probably go out onto the street and sell it herself!”
The Umbrella by Beth Ferry, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Clarion, $19.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-358-44772-6