Imagine you’re an eighth grader in Woodbury, NJ – slightly bored, slightly anxious – drawing horses in your notebook while a teacher makes drones, à la “Peanuts”, at the front of the classroom. Suddenly, the child in front of you turns around and says, “One day you’re going to make children’s books. You might think you’re too cool for such a job, but the prediction stays with you and somehow comes true. You now have two picture books on the bestseller list.
Welcome to the career trajectory of Jessie Sima, a writer and illustrator who uses her pronouns and who, in a phone interview, seemed both thrilled and humbled by the success of “Perfectly Pegasus” and “Not Quite Narwhal. “. Their accompanying stories take young readers into the worlds of Kelp, a unicorn who doesn’t fit in with his narwhal brethren, and Nimbus, a Pegasus who feels lonely among clouds and stars. The pastel-colored creatures come from opposite parts of the planet (sea and sky) and have different distinguishing features – Kelp a striped horn, Nimbus feathery wings – but both have equine bodies.
“I’ve always liked the challenge with horses,” Sima said. “They have so many weird joints.” Sima never went to art school but spent a lot of time poring over animal anatomy books, perfecting a realistic steed: “I’m a person who thinks there’s an advantage to learn how to make a fairly technical and realistic drawing of an animal. So even though Kelp and Nimbus have little tapered legs that can wiggle, I think about horse anatomy when trying to figure out how they gallop.
Sima wrote and illustrated five other picture books and collaborated with Christian Trimmer on “Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies”. These days, they live in New York and are no longer in contact with the prescient classmate. Sima doesn’t spend much time with horses in real life; the author is terribly allergic. They now draw on a Wacom tablet, which “uses digital brushes intended to reproduce certain types of traditional media, such as watercolors or ink brushes”. But when they’re thinking about a new project or just sketching for fun, they always pick up an old-school black-and-white marbled notebook — the kind that brought peace, promise, and escape to 14 years old.
Sima said, “Nothing I can do in this book will be nice enough to show anyone. It’s really not intimidating; it’s just for me, doodling and writing and writing down my ideas.