by Jonathan Vatner
“I’ve always wanted to make people feel something—and maybe change someone’s life for the better,” says Chase Bluestone, Illustration ’19, a freelance illustrator and comic artist. With a recent book project for the publishing startup Ladderworks, he has done just that.
Ladderworks collaborates with nonprofits to produce children’s books with social impact. For this book, Tickle Trouble, Ladderworks partnered with The First Wave, a group of Wharton Business School students who built a supply chain to bring hundreds of thousands of masks to dozens of hospitals in the U.S. at the start of the pandemic, when PPE was scarce. The founders wanted young children (kindergarten through third grade) to understand the need for wearing masks without delving into the painful reality of COVID-19.
To that end, the coronavirus isn’t mentioned in the story. Instead, a mischievous flower is tickling the little garden plants called goos, and turning them blue. Gumbrellas, produced by a faraway tree, can shield the frightened goos against the flower. The book’s hero embarks on a journey to collect lots of gumbrellas and bring them to the garden. Switch out the flower for the virus and the gumbrellas for masks, and you’ve got The First Wave’s story.
To illustrate Tickle Trouble, Bluestone thought back to what made him happy as a kid and sketched out round, bouncy shapes in primary colors with simple, expressive faces.
“We wanted something bright and friendly, especially because it’s such a dismal topic,” Bluestone says. “We really needed to sugarcoat it.”
Bluestone learned to consider the composition of the whole book when creating individual spreads in Adjunct Assistant Professor Eric Velasquez’s book illustration class at FIT. Bluestone changed up the camera angles, zoomed in for emotional impact, and peppered in spot illustrations for variation.
The Ladderworks team was thrilled with Bluestone’s work. “What I love about Chase’s illustrations is the wholesome warmth that the characters exude, which inspires the reader’s affection,” says Soudamini Shankar, managing editor.
Tickle Trouble is available for purchase on Ladderworks’ website. Bluestone is grateful to have worked on such a fun project during a year of isolation and uncertainty. “I consider myself very lucky,” he says. “Not everyone gets a book straight out of college like this, and on top of that, it’s for a good cause.”