Behind the Book: Freak of Nature or Diversity Icon?

When Rachel Merriam, the illustrator for my beginning readers Silly Ruby and Funny Ruby, was trying to create “Ruby,” she first painted a sheep with a white face and white legs.

“Looks good,” I said.

But the art director wasn’t sure, so asked Rachel to paint a sheep with a black face and black legs.

“Looks good,” I said.

But then the art director didn’t like the expression on the black sheep—Rachel struggled to give it the same expression as the white sheep, but wasn’t able to satisfy the art director.

The art director and my editor came up with a solution. It was my editor’s job to deliver the news. “We’d like Rachel to use the white face and the black legs.”

“Wow,” was my answer. “That’s not genetically possible. Black-faced sheep have black legs. White-faced sheep have white legs. A white-faced sheep wouldn’t have black legs.”


“Yes, but very few people reading these books will know that.”

So the books came out. Did well. And at the next sheep producers’ meeting I brought copies to show everyone.

Everyone oohed and aahed until they got a good look at the covers. Silence settled over the table. I’m not sure who actually spoke next, but I’m going to say it was Gail, because she’s not the type of person to keep quiet.

“That is one freaky sheep.”


Someone else cleared his throat. “You realize that this could never—-”

“Yeah, I know.”

Once they realized that I did actually know better, everyone relaxed. I’m proud of the books and love the illustrations. I even like that Ruby’s unique—no other sheep looks just like she does.


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