Today we’re sharing another post in our interview series where we talk to the creators behind some of our favorite products. We were lucky enough to chat with Donna Farrell, the illustrator behind the Mom’s Choice Award-winning personalized children’s book, ABCs with Me! She is also a co-founder of Read Your Story, a personalized publishing company seeking to inspire children in new ways. We spoke with Donna about getting into the illustration industry and getting involved in personalized books.
MCA: When and how did your career in illustration begin?
Donna Farrell: My career began about the same time I was old enough to hold a pencil. From a very early age, my creative endeavors were supported. I loved the feeling I had when sharing my art and seeing how it would seem to brighten the day of those who received my drawings and cards. I always knew I would do something creative career-wise. My undergraduate work was concentrated in graphic design, which I still really love and those are skills I use a great deal when working on the marketing aspects of Read Your Story.
Professionally, I think the career shift really happened after my first child was born. There was something about sharing books with her, and later my other two kids, that just literally drew me in. Books were a magical way to share language and also a vehicle to expose my children to art. Tiny hands clapping in delight, belly laughs from silly rhymes, a gasp evoked by a surprise plot twist, I loved every moment of sharing books with my little ones. Our library grew, and so did my interest in both writing and illustrating. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) to learn all I could about how a book comes to life. This was early 2000s.
The internet boom made creating an online presence for artists accessible. Sure there were/are still real portfolios with cellulose pages, appointments with art directors and portfolio drop-offs at publishing houses, but things were changing and changing quickly. Because of my background in design, I was computer savvy and I was able to create a personal website and share my work. With a website, work started to come in. My illustration work has been used by mass-market distributors on everything from gift bags and teacher supplies to books.
MCA: So how did you get involved in creating personalized children’s books?
DF: The online presence I had created caught the attention of my now business partner, Jeanette Bahn. It all started with a simple email query from Jeanette asking if I would at all be interested in illustrating an alphabet book that could be personalized with a child’s face and name. I was curious. I had seen some personalized children’s books in the past (remember that huge library I had built with my little ones…not a single personalized book) so this wasn’t a revolutionary idea, but what I had always disliked about the books that I had seen was the quality. The illustration work wasn’t stellar and the stories weren’t especially well written. What I found creatively inspiring was the question: “How can we do this better? What will it take to make a really amazing product?”
MCA: Well you certainly rose to the challenge. The illustrations in the Read Your Story Books are wonderful.
DF: Well, thanks for saying so!
MCA: Do you think children get something from personalized books that is maybe harder to get from other picture books?
DF: We try to make our books super personalized, by adding the child’s name and seamlessly incorporating their photo into the book, so they are literally the hero(ine) of their very own story. Our customers can also add a personal dedication to make the book feel extra special.
Take all of these personalization elements, and add in a well-written picture book with compelling illustrations… now there is magic made just for kids. I think our customers would agree that a personalized book makes story time that much more entertaining and engaging.
MCA: To finish up, can you tell us a bit about Read My Story and your mission?
DF: Our business is called Read Your Story and was founded in 2016 by myself, Jeanette and her brother, Eric Bahn.
Read Your Story was borne out of an observation Jeanette made with her then 1 year old daughter, who — along with her peers — was fascinated by a book full of pictures of people she didn’t know. We thought, what if we could make a book that incorporated pictures of someone she did know, namely herself, and execute it well? Surely something like this would make books even more interesting and exciting for children… And that’s how the idea of making personalized children’s books came to be, along with our mission of inspiring children with a lifelong love of books and reading.
Our team is obsessed with quality and the customer experience. We have spent a lot of time iterating on site design, so our customers can easily create a high quality keepsake book in just a few clicks. We don’t stop there though – once an order comes in, a human, not a robot, carefully reviews each order and makes adjustments as needed, before it is sent to print. The end result is a professionally printed book, made of thick, acid-free, archival quality paper to withstand little hands and the test of time.
We invite your readers to give it a try and create the perfect keepsake gift – all you need to get started is your child’s name and photo!