It’s that time of year when goblins, ghosts, and ghouls are preparing to creep out and harangue us for candy, so it seems appropriate that October is the anniversary of one of the most popular books I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with.
In fact, this is the ten year anniversary of the birth of The Chocolatier’s Apprentice, written by Victoria Miles and illustrated by me.
It seems like yesterday . . .
In 2007, I was hired by Echo Storytelling Agency (then Echo Memoirs) to illustrate a children’s book to help commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Purdy’s Chocolateir. The company wanted to do something different, something special, and so decided to produce a cute picture book that would celebrate their company and also raise funds for the Raise-a-Reader literacy project.
It was something that I was eager to do. I remember meeting with the team: the folks at Echo, the marketing person for Purdy’s, and the writer, Victoria Miles, sometime in late spring/early summer. The book was yet to be written, but at that point there was a lot of brainstorming.
One of the fun aspects of this project was getting to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Purdy’s chocolate factory in Vancouver. The factory is open for public tours at different times of the year, but Victoria and I were given the chance to get an extra-secret look.
This tour was really important for Victoria and I to understand the process (and science) of making chocolate. From an illustrator’s point of view, it was essential for me to gather as many photographs as possible. Even though Victoria and I didn’t know exactly what the story would be about, we knew it would involve a chocolate factory, and that I would have to illustrate many different types of equipment.
Here’s some of my original photos from my tour . . .
Of course, as soon as you say the words “children’s book” and “chocolate factory,” people think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Victoria’s challenge was to craft a book that was charming and compelling, while at the same time NOT deriavative.
She eventually came up with the lovely story of a character who dreamed of being a chocolatier. The story follows his progress from todler all the way to master chocolatier. My challenge was that I had to draw this character at all these different ages!
There was also the challenge of working many different stakeholders. Not only did I need to work with Victoria and the team at Echo, I also needed to make sure we had corporate approval from Purdy’s. They were great to work with—honestly—but, of course, it was one more voice to chime in on my early concept sketches.
I really had a lot of input when it came to our main character, Eli. Some of the team wanted him to be intellectual, others a sort of muscular super-hero kind of fellow, and others thought he should be more bookish. We eventually narrowed down the final design of Eli and the other characters, and I was off illustrating.
Final challenge? I had only SEVEN weeks to complete the many different spreads. Given the time factor, I’m pretty happy how everything turned out. The book became a national bestseller, selling out its print run of 20,000.
Here are some my favorite spreads from the book . . .
Unfortunately, the book served it’s purpose—which means there was no reprint, and it is no longer available. I wish it still was; I still run into teenagers who remember that book from their childhood!
Oh! Fun fact; I currently live in a two-minute walk from the site of Purdy’s original factory. You can still find “Choklit Park” on West 7th Avenue in Vancouver.