The last book that I illustrated was The Bookstore Valentine in 2002, an Easy Reader by Barbara Maitland. It was the third book in her series. The previous illustrator, Nadine Bernard Westcott, chose not to illustrate this volume. I was asked to continue with Nadine's style and make the reoccurring characters look the same. It was a challenge, and could have been a bruise to my pride, having to illustrate in the manner of someone else, but it proved to be a wonderful learning experience. Trying to decipher Nadine's palette and studying her use of shadows, color, texture, and background, taught me an enormous amount. I was pushed into trying new things that I would have never tried on my own. Ten years later, as I am finally illustrating one of my own books, I am using so much of what I learned from "copying" Nadine's style, tailoring it to fit my own way of illustrating.
And speaking of Valentine books, my all time favorite book for this holiday (and a favorite ANY time of the year) is Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz. Lonely, dull Mr. Hatch spends every day doing the exact same thing, until one February when he receives a heart-shaped box of candy in the mail with the mysterious note, "Somebody loves you!" His outlook on life begins to change as he contemplates who might have sent him this package. He starts smiling, saying hello to his neighbors, and lending a hand to folks in need. He becomes a new man...until the postman returns and sheepishly tells him that the delivery was a mistake, and the candy - and note - were meant for someone else. Of course it ends happily, but go read the book for yourself to find out the details. Or better yet, buy a copy and send it to somebody you love.