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Q&A with An Unsolved Proof Illustrator Shannon O'Toole

There's a new Math Kids book on its way! An Unsolved Proof is the ninth book in the series and features the Math Kids trying to catch shoplifters who've framed Justin for stealing from the local comic book shop. Illustrator Shannon O'Toole returns to help bring the characters to life in this addition to the middle grade series, so we asked her a few questions.

An Unsolved Proof is book 9 in The Math Kids series. Have you had to "grow" the characters through the years?

Absolutely! I’ve had to consider how they would visually age and mature throughout the stories. I’ve also tried to think about their body language and how they carry themselves as they get older. The audience for the book is also growing alongside the characters, so the illustrations themselves have matured to match that as well.  

Do you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?

I enjoy illustrating all of the Math Kids, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would be Justin. I feel like he is a really expressive character and has a lot of unique personality traits that are shared in the stories. In A Knotty Problem, I had the opportunity to illustrate Justin’s bedroom. That was a really fun image to make because I was able to add elements and details to his room that expressed his interests and personality.

Do you have a favourite illustration in the story? If so, which one?

My favourite illustration is found in chapter 5, which shows Justin and the disastrous storeroom he needs to organize. It was really fun making the room feel overwhelming and drawing all the clutter!

Did you hide any Easter eggs in this book?

I did! In many books I illustrate, I often include my old dog, Edgar, as a fun Easter egg. In this book, I was able to hide a few fun things in the comic books that were on display or on tables. Edgar is on one of the comic book covers. Another is that my father used to own a jewellery store, so since this story is set in a mall, I thought it would be fun to include his store in the background of one illustration as well.

You are a full time elementary school teacher, where do you find the time to illustrate?

It can certainly be difficult to balance both careers at times. However, illustrating is something I love to do, and it is something I find really relaxing. So I make the time on weekends and evenings to do what I love. 

You've illustrated picture books and middle grade books. Do you have to do anything different when creating for different readers?

I would say that the main difference between working on picture books versus middle grade books would be the initial planning process. For a picture book, I draw out larger thumbnails and will often add the text to each thumbnail. This way, I can draw my ideas with the text placement in mind and move it around the pages as I draw. I also need to consider how the book looks as a whole, from page to page and what two adjacent pages or a “spread” looks like together. In middle grade books like The Math Kids, each illustration aligns with a particular moment in a chapter, and it usually doesn’t have another illustration across from it. I don’t need to worry too much about how it will look with the next illustration beside it, I just need to ensure the illustrations throughout the book are consistent and uniform in style.

The Math Kids: An Unsolved Proof


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