April 6, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, by Brian Russo

Hello readers! Today's edition of Birth Stories for Books is double the fun because it's from the perspective of an author/illustrator and it's about how a picture book sequel came to be. 

My guest is Brian Russo, author/illustrator of YOGA BUNNY (HarperCollins, 2016) and the sequel, A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, (HarperCollins, February 2022.)

So let's hop right to it. 

by Brian Russo

The Story of How Yoga Bunny 2: A Friend For Yoga Bunny Came to Be
by Brian Russo

I was working a graphic design job where I had a lot of down time. It had been several years since the original Yoga Bunny had been released. And I wasn’t sure if the publisher wanted a sequel. But, I loved the characters from that book, and I had time, so I thought up a new story and drew it. It was a parody of the movie ‘Step Up’, where Yoga Bunny and his friends’ turf is overtaken by a group of big bears, and they must have a ‘yoga-off’ to see who gets the spot.

I sent it to my friends over at HarperCollins and waited. 

Eventually they got back to me and said that while they didn’t want to do the story I had written, they were interested in doing another Yoga Bunny book, which was great! Lisa Sharkey, a Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development at HarperCollins, pitched the story that would eventually become the new book, where Yoga Bunny meets a new friend struggling with anxiety. I suggested that the friend be a bear, because I liked the size difference between the bears and Bunny in my ‘Step-Up’ parody, and Lisa agreed (you can also read a version of this story from Lisa’s perspective over at my blog.) 

I put together another Dummy, and after a few more weeks of nervous waiting, HarperCollins came back with a formal offer to do another book. 

I was a dream come true at the time, because my incredible wife was pregnant, and about to give birth. We weren’t sure if I was going to be a stay at home dad or if we needed to send the baby to daycare after her maternity leave was over. We agreed that if I sold another book, I could quit my job and stay home with the baby. And so I did! 

This is going to sound petty, but… There are few pleasures greater than listening to your boss yell at you, knowing that in two weeks you’ll never see him again.  

Anyways, this was in the fall of 2019.

By the time we were starting production in the winter of 2020, the world was shutting down from COVID.

The first Yoga Bunny was done on watercolor paper that I brought into the HarperCollins office in NYC. But since I was now living in Utah, and we weren’t yet sure if mailing paper was going to be safe during the pandemic, Jeanne Hogle (my fantastic art director who was also on the first Yoga Bunny) and I made the decision to do all of the illustrations 100 percent digitally. 

So I bought an iPad! This was the first big purchase I made with my money from the advance, and it was pretty exciting! I never thought I’d be an iPad person, but man, I love this thing. And I’ve named him. His name is Theo. 

Anyways, I downloaded Procreate onto Theo, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to recreate the watercolor look of the first book with digital brushes. Jeanne and her assistant Chrisila Maida were really helpful during this process, and eventually I got it! The trick was layering, and then writing down the specifics of every layer so that I could recreate the process from page to page. 

Image from A Friend for Yoga Bunny, by Brian Russo

On the text side of things, I had a new editor on the sequel, Luana Horry, who was a total delight and rockstar. She suggested that the Bear character be female, which was really smart. She also helped a great deal in finding the right words when Bunny wants her to try yoga with him. We wanted Yoga Bunny to be a more proactive character here than he was in the last book, but we didn't want him to be pushy, or come off like a guru.

I’m really happy with what was eventually printed. 

Then, once we got going, it was just a lot of nights working on the illustrations after my son went to bed. One of the shows I enjoyed having on while illustrating was Earth to Ned on Disney Plus. It’s a talk show produced by the Jim Henson company, with very impressive alien puppets doing the interviews. And because of the format, there wasn’t a plot to follow, so it wasn’t too distracting. Highly recommended to all the Muppet fans out there.  

Really, my only complaint about the process of making a book like A Friend for Yoga Bunny is that I wish I could do it all the time. I love working with a small creative team, and I think the people I worked with are amongst the best in the world at what they do. And they’re very cool. I never minded getting notes or criticism, because everyone was so consistently level headed and professional about everything. 

Now that it’s over, I really miss it. There’s something so great about being part of a group and working towards a big creative goal. I’ll admit that I’m a little lonely without it.  

But, my wonderful agent, Sera Rivers, has sent a manuscript for Yoga Bunny 3 over to HarperCollins. And in a couple months, if this one sells enough, I may just get to do it again. 

Bunny ears crossed!   

Everything in children’s book publishing just takes a very long time. 

The funny thing about starting this book just as my son was born is how much I felt the time passage between when we finished, to when the book was released. As I was finishing up the art, my son was just starting to crawl. Now, as the book is being released, he’s running around, saying full sentences, and making sound arguments as to why it’s okay for him to eat dog food. 

Things have changed for my wife too. When I finished the art she was working as a teaching coach at a public elementary school. And now she’s been promoted to assistant principal, practically running the place! She also helped me design a Yoga Bunny educational poster, available as a free download on my website for all the teachers out there. Hearing from her what life has been like for teachers during the pandemic, they deserve a lot more than a free poster!

So yeah, that’s about all I have to say about the making of A Friend for Yoga Bunny. I’m so thrilled with how this book came out, and all the positive reviews it’s been getting. I hope you and your kids will be thrilled by it too, and also relaxed by the illustrations of Bunny and Bear doing yoga together :)


Thanks for sharing so many behind-the-scenes, details for A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY, Brian. What an inspiration! (And readers, if you haven't yet followed the link that leads to the backstory for Brian's first book, YOGA BUNNY, it's a must-read, too!)

And as a reminder to all, the best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. I hope you'll consider heading on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and getting yourself a copy of one of Brian's beautiful books. Can't add another book to your own collection? Ask your local library (and/or your local yoga studio!) to include A FRIEND FOR YOGA BUNNY in their offerings and/or share this post with a friend.


Image Source: Brian Russo
Brian Russo has been drawing since he can remember. He grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, then moved to New York, where he earned a degree from NYU. Afterwards, he discovered something he loves just as much as drawing: doing yoga. He earned a teaching certificate from Yoga to the People in 2010, during which time he developed the Yoga Bunny illustrations. He now lives in Lehi, Utah (the setting of the film Footloose) with his beautiful wife, Emily, adorable son, Quill, and loyal dog, Spike. His favorite film is Spirited Away, and the celebrity he'd most like to meet is 'Weird Al' Yankovic. 


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

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