A Rover's Story by Jasmine Warga

Hello, Jasmine Warga! Hello, Matt Rockefeller! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! I’m grateful you’re both here to discuss A Rover’s Story, a book I love with my entire heart. Oh, Resilience! Oh, Fly! Oh, Journey! Oh, Guardian! Oh, Sophie and Raina and Xander! I love them all! Beeps and Boops! Zappedty zip!

Matt, I read the manuscript before I saw your gorgeous cover. Your cover illustration is almost exactly what I saw in my head! Magic! Please take us on a tour of A Rover’s Story’s cover. 

Matt Rockefeller: Wow, that's incredible!! I’m so happy to hear that the cover art is connecting so clearly with the content of the book itself. I also had a very clear image of what the cover would like after first reading the manuscript. I wanted it to capture the adventurous and wondrous feeling of exploring a new world. I’m used to creating new worlds for fantasy and sci-fi stories, but this one had the interesting challenge of it being a real world that we continue to get better and better glimpses of as the technology advances. So I did a lot of reference gathering of photos of Mars’ surface that have been taken by the various rover missions. (Ha! It’s like Res helped me make the cover!) The most challenging part, of course, was drawing the rover itself. I worked from at least 10 different reference photos to get it looking as accurate as I could in the position I wanted- I’m sure NASA scientists will see this drawing and notice all the flaws and inaccuracies! Hopefully they’ll appreciate that I tried my best… Lastly, I had a very clear vision for the color palette from the get go- I wanted to stray a bit from the photos and create something that feels like Mars, or the way you’d imagine it’d be if you got to go there yourself.

Illustration Credit: Matt Rockefeller | Design Credit: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

Jasmine, imagine a bookseller at Anderson’s Bookshop, our local bookshop, asks you to booktalk A Rover’s Story to fourth-grade teachers. What do you share?

Jasmine Warga: Aw, I love Anderson’s so very much! Here’s what I would say:

Hello wonderful fourth-grade teachers! Meet Resilience (Res!), a slightly anxious Mars Rover, determined to live up to his name. A Rover’s Story is a book about resilience (both the noun and the rover!), space exploration, and courage. It’s a book narrated by a robot yet it grapples with very human questions like what does it mean to love and what does it mean to truly be a friend. It’s a book that I hope will make readers smile, feel, and wonder.

Matt, what materials did you use to create the art for A Rover’s Story?

Matt Rockefeller: For this cover, and most of my middle grade covers, I use a combination of traditional and digital techniques. I begin by creating graphite drawings on several sheets of paper using both mechanical pencil for linework and graphite powder for soft shading. Sometimes I’ll mix the powder with water as well to get rich darks and a more painterly effect! (the stars, for instance, were created by splattering this mixture across a blank piece of paper) Once the drawings are finished, I scan them and then clean them up, compile them, and add color in Photoshop using custom digital brushes.

Jasmine, I love all the references to music throughout the story, especially this line: “I will listen to the memory of that song on Mars.” I usually listen to music when I’m writing. Do you?

Jasmine Warga: Funny enough, my brilliant editor (Hi, Alessandra!) actually made a note on that same line on an early draft of the manuscript that said something akin to that my books always have music in them <3. And I think that’s true because music is such a big part of my creative process—I listen to music while I daydream and brainstorm my stories, but I actually don’t listen to music that often when I actively write because I find it distracts me. Though for this book, I did listen to a lot of ambient noise while writing.

Matt, please finish the following sentence starters:

A Rover’s Story is one of the most exciting and refreshing stories I’ve gotten to work with yet. It’s format and structure tell the story in a way I haven’t seen before, and those work perfectly with its one of a kind, charming characters– especially for something so rooted in real world science!

Art and storytelling coming together as they have with A Rover’s Story reminds me of why I wanted to become an illustrator in the first place. There is a certain magic that happens when I receive a unique and brilliant manuscript like this one, and I start dreaming of what sort of visuals could be used to bolster and enhance the experience of reading the story.

Jasmine, please finish the following sentence starters:

Sophie is someone whose story is entwined with Resilience’s. She is proud a daughter and hafeedaty (the Arabic word for granddaughter). Early on in the story, she might tell you that she loves the color aquamarine, playing soccer, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Later on…well, all I will say for now is that she is on a journey of her own, but her love for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies does not change.

Mars is all the wows in the universe. Zappedty zip!

Zappedty zip! :) Thank you, Jasmine and Matt! 

Jasmine Warga is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Other Words for Home, a Newbery Honor Book and Walter Honor Book for Younger Readers, and THe Shape of Thunder. Her teen books, Here We Are Now and My Heart and Other Black Holes, have been translated into over twenty-five languages. She lives in the Chicago area with her family.

Matt Rockefeller is an illustrator and comic artist from Tucson, Arizona. Currently living in Portland, Oregon. His work includes book covers, animation, and picture books such as Train, Rocket, and Pop!

Look for A Rover's Story on October 4, 2022.


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