Released at the beginning of August, Samford art professor Stephen Watson illustrated the children’s book “Powerful Kindness: The Story of Judges and Ruth” in collaboration with author Emily Pressley and the children’s bible company Kaleidoscope.
“Powerful Kindness” is a part of a new children’s chapter book series for children ages 6 to 10.
“It’s aimed at readers who maybe have outgrown the Jesus storybook bible, that aren’t quite ready, prepared or interested to read the bible just on its own,” Watson said.
“Powerful Kindness” is the third addition to the series, which features the work of two different authors and two illustrators. Kaleidoscope aims to create 60 books in the next 10 years with a large cast of creators.
“I like that it’s not just singular in voice. It’s not just the same style of illustration for every book. It’s not the same author’s voice every time,” Watson said. “It’s going to be a big tent operation with all kinds of people involved. It keeps it exciting and fresh.”
Watson shared that he was surprised by how accurate the book stayed to the text.
“I was just sort of speculating what they would include and what they wouldn’t include,” Watson said. “Some of the toughest parts of Judges are in there. I think it’s a great goal: to quit cherry-picking the stories that are easy to tell, the stories that are easy to illustrate, the ones that are just told all the time.”
Because “Powerful Kindness” features a lot of biblical scenes that aren’t commonly depicted, Watson had to get creative when it came to finding reference images, often using himself and his family as models.
“It seems like a lot of the book is just me, over and over. I’m the fat king getting stabbed. I’m the coward running from battle,” Watson said. “I got some other people to help here and there, but with COVID and all that, it’s rather restricted. I got as many people as I could involved. I got my next door neighbors to help out. My wife is in the book. My kids posed for things. You use what you have.”
Certain illustrations were harder to find references for than others, which led Watson to use items around his house.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reference for the trees bowing down to a thorn bush. And there’s a good reason because it was really stinkin’ hard to represent,” Watson said.
Watson turned to random items he had sitting around his house, which resulted in an unusual solution: pool noodles.
“For the trees bowing down I used foam pool noodles in various positions to get the shape and lighting that I needed,” Watson said. “A lot of the illustrations were a testament to working creatively even in the confines of COVID-19 where all I had is what’s in my house like pool noodles, and my own face, and trees from my yard.”
The other guiding force that helped Watson in his illustration was his own children.
“I bounced the pictures off of them quite often,” Watson shared. “My son would just be at the early end of the spectrum of who the book is intended for, so he may need about another year before he could start to get into it, but it is prepared for him in some ways.”
“Powerful Kindness: The Story of Judges and Ruth” can be purchased on Amazon or the kaleidoscope website, https://readkaleidoscope.com/store.