Already heralded as a “hilarious” picture book that is “rife with bold plot twists and cheeky dialogue” by Kirkus Reviews, Once Upon a Zzzz playfully blurs the line between the author and illustrator roles. Author Maddie Frost graciously wrote a post for our blog that gives readers insight into the creative process of playing both parts for Once Upon a Zzzz.


When I dreamt of what my first author-illustrated book would be, I never thought, “I know, I’ll make a book about the author falling asleep and the illustrator taking over the story! BRILLIANT!”

This idea came from an inner struggle I was having while trying to think of something to write about. It’s true, what they say (whoever “they” are): sometimes the struggle can be the story. I also didn’t know what my voice or style was as both a writer and illustrator. At the time, they felt like two separate things. I had a “writer brain” and an “artist brain.” They had never worked together before, and so, of course, there was a bit of friction in the studio. Writer Brain was overthinking things while Artist Brain just wanted to have fun (classic Artist Brain).

Here is how the dialogue went while trying to come up with my first story:

WRITER BRAIN: Right, I know a lot about dogs because I have a dog so we are going to do a story about a dog.


WRITER BRAIN: What’s the problem?

ARTIST BRAIN: I love dogs too, but I was hoping it would be about something a little quirkier. Like penguins or llamas or—

WRITER BRAIN: Yeeeeaaaaah. Hmmm. No. I’m not so sure about that. I don’t have a story idea for a penguin or a llama and even if I did it wouldn’t be that good. OK, so moving on to the dog story…

Then, one morning while Writer Brain wasn’t fully awake yet, Artist Brain got a very sneaky idea…And she called it Once Upon a Zzzz.

My heart took over and I listened to what I was experiencing. That is how I got the idea.

Over a little bit of time, both brains have learned to work together. On other books I have worked on, I let the art influence the writing and the writing influence the art. What once felt like two different things now feels like one (most of the time, anyway).

This is how the dialogue sounds now:

ARTIST BRAIN: I love drawing bugs.

WRITER BRAIN: Great. I’ll think of a story about a bug.

ARTIST BRAIN: Great! I’ll do some fun doodles to help.

WRITER BRAIN: Great! Also, maybe do a little research on bugs to make sure you—

ARTIST BRAIN: Hey. Just relax. Let’s see where it goes, OK? 🙂


I’ve learned that collaboration is always the best way to work. Whether it’s two brains or three or six (I mean people now). Being able to make something good (or not so good) into something great with the help of others is a very special thing.


For more books by Maddie Frost, visit her online at She invites you to say hello on twitter @_maddiefrost.