The Littlest Voyageur

Happy Book Birthday to The Littlest Voyageur, written by Margi Preus and published by Margaret Fergusons Books, Holiday House.

The Littlest Voyageur is a middle grade novel about a squirrel that joins a group of voyageurs on an expedition from Montreal to Grand Portage, Minnesota. Here’s a little bit about my process for illustrating this book.

Since the illustrations needed to be historically accurate to depict events from llate 18th Century Canadian history, the first step was research. I’m a Texas native, so I had quite a bit to learn. I read lots of articles and stories and collected pictures of period clothing, birchbark canoes, landscapes, voyageurs, squirrels, and more.

Some of the references I gathered for this book.

When books and the internet didn’t have the references I needed, I had to get creative and reach out to an expert.  Stephen Veit with the Grand Portage National Monument was a great resource and took pictures of a model of Grand Portage I couldn’t find anywhere else.  He also informed me the dock during the time period of the book would have been shorter than what is shown in the model. 

Photo of model for Grand Portage from Grand Portage National Monument
My drawing of Grand Portage. I changed the angle and shortened the dock.

Stephen also photographed items for the trading post scene, such as birchbark boxes, door hardware, and animal skins.

Some photo references used for the trading post.

My biggest challenge for this book was drawing eight different voyageurs and making each one look unique and recognizable in the book. My editor also wanted eight small portraits for the beginning of the book to help readers identify the characters in the story. I took pictures of different men I thought would fit a character to use as a reference. Each 1-inch portrait in the book was actually an 8 x 10 drawing. In fact all my drawings are much larger than what you see in the book.

One of the models for my portraits. Actual size drawings compared the the final illustration in the book.
Some of the drawings used in The Littlest Voyageur.

For a book like this, it helps to have lots of references and experts to check your drawings for accuracy. I felt it was my responsibility to give readers an experience that was not only entertaining, but true to history as well. 

Margi Preus is an amazing writer. This story is filled not only with historical detail, but plenty of heart, humor, and adventure. I am so grateful to Holiday House for giving me this opportunity to help bring The Littlest Voyageur to life.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed illustrating it!

Published by Cheryl Pilgrim

I am a writer/illustrator. My debut author/illustrator book is Big and Little: A Story of Opposites. (Holiday House, 2019) My Illustrated books are The Littlest Voyageur by Margi Preus (Holiday House, 2010) and Hound Dawg by Patricia Vermillion (TCU Press).

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