Book designer, Susan Gaylord, and I go to the home of Dal Rai, the illustrator of the Bhutanese Nepali-English folktale we are producing. It is October 7, the day of a Hindu festival. Dal’s neighbor tells us that the festival is about cooking and eating, and all your family comes together. In our few hours of work on the folktale, Dal’s wife, Birkha, cooks, and we eat delicious, very spicy noodles. We are sorting out the illustrations for a scene in our folktale-in-progress, The Story of a Pumpkin.
In the scene is a palace kitchen and we spend a long time imagining the cooking tools Dal might illustrate that would be on wooden shelves. Then Birkha and the storyteller, Hari, fetch a long wooden utensil they use to chop up lentils – the one you can see here in the photo in Birkha’s hands. Here’s a site I found, Nepali Cooking, with recipes and even the names in Nepali of some of the cooking utensils that Dal will illustrate. Some of the missing parts of the story come together this night. Dal asks Hari for details in the story. We all imagine how the king’s daughters will stand when they are all laughing at the pumpkin. Dal demonstrates with his face bent into his hand.
When it comes to the wedding scene, which – not to spoil the story for you – is one in which the king’s youngest daughter takes the pumpkin for her husband, Dal says, “This I think is quite hard.” Susan asks, “Does the pumpkin wear anything?” “Yes”, says Hari, who first told this story. He is wearing a wedding garland. “And the bride?” Birkha shows the veil the bride will wear that partially covers her face. We all laugh at this image of the bride and the pumpkin that is taking shape. Susan and I have brought a real giant pumpkin to Dal and his family on this October night, and the pumpkin brings us good luck and a good grasp of this story. We have a sense that this book is coming together in just the right way.
Originally posted on The Elephant Rag on October 7, 2011.