Mining for Heart: “Mining for Hugsby’s Heart” by Dow Phumiruk

What a treat to have an author/illustrator share the process of “mining for heart”! I’m always fascinated to learn more about how illustrators think. Here, the amazing-how-does-she-get-so-much-done Dow Phumiruk shares her process with her forthcoming book, Hugsby.

AND…Dow is generously offering a GIVEAWAY of one of her books – your choice! Just leave a comment below to be eligible to win. 

The winner of last week’s GIVEAWAY of Kat and Juju by Kataneh Vahdani is Ryan Garney! Congratulations!

Mining for Hugsby’s Heart by Dow Phumirukheadshot EW new sq-1

Hugsby is my picture book that will be released in November of this year. It is a debut for me: although I’ve illustrated several books and have written one, this is my first book as both author and illustrator. I’m so excited!

Here is a description of the book:

When Shelly adopts her pet monster Hugsby, she loves everything about him. It doesn’t matter that he can’t do fancy tricks, or whistle, or blow bubbles. He gives the best hugs ever. But when Pet Monster Show-and-Tell Day arrives, Shelly worries. What can Hugsby do? All the other pet monsters can juggle or do flips or even Hula-hoop! Finally, it’s time to show everyone her beloved Hugsby . . . and Shelly realizes that what she loves about Hugsby is more important than fancy tricks. Hugsby gives the best hugs ever!

This story revolves around the love between a pet monster and his owner. You could argue that the book is all heart! The challenge in “mining for heart” in this case meant how could I best show this love so readers could understand the special bond between the two of them.

Getting started

I felt like this was the easy part! I knew I wanted to write a sweet story about a girl and her pet monster. And…done! But as we authors well know, this first draft, entitled My Monster, would require a lot more work.

My Monster original sketches

Revising – don’t go it alone

How did I improve my story? Well, I most definitely did not do this alone! I received input on this project from more than a dozen people over the course of four years – my critique group, editors, and my agent. Soon after I wrote the initial manuscript, I happened to win a “critique pack” from KidLit411, where all seven members of the Penguin Posse critique group gave me feedback on my story (shoutout to KidLit411 for being such a great resource for and supporter of children’s book creators!). This was an eye-opening experience. I heard recurring themes of advice about needing more at stake, more connection with the characters, more ways to develop their relationship. Being part of a good critique group might be the single most important factor in growing as an author and/or illustrator.

Adding meaningful details

One very helpful suggestion was to give the monster a name. What a great way to instantly bring more depth to my monster character!  Chubbsy was my initial choice, but ultimately Hugsby made more sense for this hugging monster. I added scenes of Shelly choosing and adopting Hugsby from the shelter. I added more spot illustrations to show his devotion to Shelly. He “baked” cookies for her and wrote little love notes while waiting for her to come home from school. When she is sad, so is he. All of these specific details were clear evidence of their loving relationship. Many authors will write up all sorts of traits for their characters to round them out. Write out full name, age, birthday, birthplace, best friend, favorite food/activity/show, etc. Make your character feel real by creating basic identifying information, background, and personality traits.

Developing character with my audience in mind

Hugsby was initially less expressive. In physical appearance, he had a scaly, green texture like a bearded dragon. And he had ear pits! I thought it’d be clever to have him smile “from ear pit to ear pit,” but the reference was a little too obscure for our target audience – very young children who might not be familiar with lizard anatomy. I started sketching a full sheet of variations of a Hugsby character.

Character design samples

With input from industry professionals, Hugsby soon became much more aesthetically pleasing! Though of course I still am a fan of bearded dragons, I modeled the new Hugsby after an axolotl (super cute pink salamanders who look like they are smiling all the time). His updated look with cleaner lines and brighter color should appeal more to young children. His cute ear flaps bounce when he is happy. He is soft and huggable. In personality, he is a more empathetic monster, with a wider range of emotions through the book. He clearly cares for Shelly! A book for young children needs young children appeal.

Pre and post character revision

Finding out what was missing

I needed more “oomph” to my story. Originally, Hugsby blew heart bubbles for everyone attending Monster Show-and-Tell. This was his great talent and the book’s finale. But what insecure Shelly needed more than a fancy trick was reassurance that Show-and-Tell would be okay: in the form of hugs from her beloved pet. So our ending was changed to incorporate the importance of his care and concern for Shelly. Don’t worry: the heart bubbles still make an appearance!

Making room for fun

Kids love to laugh. Most adults do, too, for that matter! Include fun situations and details that your readers can identify with, so they’ll laugh along. You’ll have to visit my favorite spread (the back set of end papers) to see a collection of fun and funny spot illustrations that are examples of Shelly and Hugsby’s day-to-day adventures together – eating drippy ice cream cones, riding bikes, playing hide-and-seek, watching a scary movie, and more. These cumulative experiences form the special relationship between pet and owner. In what ways can you include familiar and fun aspects of a child’s life in your work? This makes for an instant connection with readers!

I found the heart of Hugsby’s story. Then after four years and with many helping hands, I’ve polished and sculpted this heart into a book I am so proud of!Picture6
Preorder Hugsby HERE




PSA: In a time of social distancing, hugging your family and pets can bring much comfort.


You can visit Dow’s website HERE.


Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win the book of your choice from Dow’s collection!



26 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Mining for Hugsby’s Heart” by Dow Phumiruk

  1. This was a great thank you for sharing. It helps to know it takes a lot of people and time to create a good a book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved seeing the different stages of Hugsby and his story. I actually thought all the different iterations of Hugsby (Chubbsy) were pretty cute, but I do love those earflaps. I think this is how I make books too… starting with the character and their personality and then adding more stakes and more escalation to the narrative through revisions. Can’t wait for your author-illustrator debut, Dow! It looks amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one reason why I can’t even think about seeing family and friends right now, other than through Zoom. Hugging is so second nature, LOL.

    I loved reading about Hugsby’ s transformation. So many more things to think about when you’re both the author and illustrator! Congrats on making an adorable book!

    Liked by 2 people

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