Nella and Maude

From the day their little Amazon boxes landed with a thump at our doorstep, Kiki and Coco in Paris and Lulu & Pip have been Nella’s favorite books. Filled with gorgeous photographs of a girl and her doll and accompanying stories of their adventures together, both of these books have been well-read in our home–taking “first chair” in our bookshelf orchestra beside the bed and first pick for take-along books on trips. Our copies have withstood road trips and have entertained our kids from restaurants here in Naples to pre-bed rituals in Poppa’s Michigan cottage. Inspired by these books and Nella’s love for them, I’ve been wanting to do a personal writing/photography project and turn it into a book for Nella about her own adventures with a toy/doll. Christmas break finally gave us the time to do it, and it turned out to be one of my favorite projects yet. Lainey and I started with shooting around some story ideas, following the conflict/resolution pattern in Kiki and Coco and Lulu & Pip; planned what the story photos should look like; and then set out for several days around town, capturing our adventures and having so much fun in the process. Once we edited a slew of photos, we arranged them in photo editing software and began to add some meat to the bones of our story. It turned out to be a great writing exercise to share with Lainey and a meaningful gift for Nella. The entire family has been impatiently waiting for the final product, Nella & Maude, to hit our doorstop, and once we heard that thump? We ran.

The result? A happy girl.

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Several asked on Instagram if they can purchase this book. This entire project was a personal creative itch, an opportunity to make Nella really happy, and is inspired by another book and artist who already did this theme and did it well. So, I’d encourage you to buy Kiki & Coco or Lulu & Pip, read them with your kids and–especially if you’re a photographer–let them inspire you like it did us to create your own story with photographs of your kids.

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If you’re interested in doing a similar project, I’ll give you a few details and tips I discovered through making ours. There are several companies that can produce this sort of book. I chose Artifact Uprising for their quality, the size and orientation I wanted and the user-friendly book composition guide they offer. We made their 8.25 x 11 vertical hardback book (lemon yellow cover with a paper jacket), chose the 50-page option and cut it down to 40 pages total (based on several children’s books I researched, the amount of photos we wanted to use and the fact that this book option requires minimum of 40 pages). I did the layout and text myself for the cover, back and each page in my photo editing software so I could have full control of how it would look.

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I used a lot of vertical photos to fill one side of a spread, some horizontal to take up an entire spread as well as clusters of photos organized together on a page, leaving part of the page blank for text. When taking photos, I thought a lot about space and color. Leaving lots of negative space in a composition is great for text–dark space for white text, light space for black text.

Example: Putting Nella to the left in this composition and leaving lots of blue sky to the right created a nice space where lots of white text could be placed on the page.

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For one-photo full spreads like the one below….

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I had to cut the original photo in half and place each half on one 8.25 x 11 page. Again, that big span of blurred-out negative space on the left creates a great place against which text can stand out.

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As for writing the story and putting the layouts together, it helps if you have lots of photos to work with. If you’re taking pictures of a scene at the ice cream shop, think of ALL THE THINGS. Take close-ups of the ice cream, get wide angle views, use different perspectives, take pictures of the ice cream being scooped, your kid looking through the glass at the flavors, the scoop that fell on the floor. They make for great engaging photos for kids and help illustrate your story well.

Fun writing lessons for incorporating older kids in the process:


Lainey was great at adding adjectives and describing scenes. I had one sentence that started with “Nella dipped Maude into the water…” and Lainey pointed out, “you didn’t describe the water.”

“Okay, how should I describe it?” I asked.

“You could say salty water.”

“Very well, then. Salty water it is, dear editor.”


Switching Overused Words.

She was also great at suggesting other words besides “says.” Exclaims, adds, asks, whispers, announces. Now if only I can get her to edit my use of “beautiful” and “little” :o)

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My dad called while we were working on the book and insisted it include onomatopoeia because “kids love that stuff.” So we dug through the text and looked for a good place where it would fit. We ended up finding a place where Nella was walking in the water along the beach, and Lainey suggested her feet made a “slap, slap, slap” sound. Very well then, dear editor. Slap, slap, slap it is.


Story Lines and Directing Scenes.

When we were thinking of what we could do for conflict in the story, I suggested something at the beach because–well, that’s what we have for location shoots. Lainey decided Maude should drift out to sea and be rescued. “And I can be the lifeguard who saves her because we have that lifeguard boogie board!”

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I won’t bore you with the entire book, but I’ll give you some of my favorite shots in it:

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Lainey has a serious problem with these next pictures in the book because it’s supposed to be a night time scene, and we shot it during the day for light. “Nobody’s going to think that’s really night time,” she’s pointed out numerous times.

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And my favorite scene in the book…

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This was such a fun project for us, and the kids are already planning sequels–Nella & Maude in Michigan–and other combinations for each of them–Lainey and her blanket, Dash and his dinosaur.

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And while this won’t be a published option for children’s books for me, it did scratch an itch that’s turned into a massive creative rash…something in the children’s literature theme is calling.


Leave a Comment
  1. Thank you for sharing this project. I love that you teamed up with Lainey to create something Nella will always cherish. I can’t wait to see where this children’s lit experience takes you!

  2. This is one of the most lovely things I’ve ever seen. I read your blog on the regular and I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, but I couldn’t help it this time. You are a lovely mother, but you are also creative and engaging and winsome — and sometimes I think you must be some sort of fake, stage mother with 6 nannies who is trying to entice all of us childless women into motherhood with pictures of playground bliss.

    I know that’s not true.

    I just want to say that I really admire you, envy your children, and hope that you do end up writing a children’s book because I would snap that shit right up even though I don’t have any.

  3. Jennifer B. says:

    I love this project. It’s an adorable way to bring so many creative outlets together — photography, writing, design and even fashion! And of course, Nella is a great model.

    I’m sure this will be a treasured book in your home, and I can see the kids coming up with many other variations.

    When I was in grad school, we had to write and illustrate a children’s book for a literature class. The teacher sprung this assignment on us, so most of our books were thrown together quickly. This makes me want to go back and set up the photos like I would’ve done if I’d had more time back then.

    Thanks for the creative inspiration.

    P.S. From a lifelong editor: Tell Lainey she did great! All good writers need a good editor.

  4. Kelle,
    The book is so creative and sweet! I know you like the Julie Morstad books, they are great to add pictures to ( just like an album, with photo corners) because there is a lot of blank space. Last summer, I took pictures of my daughter doing all the things on each page (things most kids do but a little more cleaned up!). It came out so cute, what a treasure. We also took pictures and added them to her Aint Gonna Paint No More book, which my daughter really loved as it involved painting herself!

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    OMG PLEASE bore us with the entire book! There will be no boredom there!!! The whole time I was reading the post, I had to stop myself from going straight to the end to see if you posted the entire book, like you did for previous year books I believe. Please please please do so if you feel confortable doing so, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to read the full story and see all the wonderful pictures! You have a gift, thanks for sharing it!

  6. Love, love, love this! You are an amazing mom and your kids are the sweetest😊 (Like mine😉☺️)

    Birgitte, Norway🙋🏼🇳🇴

  7. Oh I love it! Makes me want to do it for my girls. maybe this summer…

  8. Heather H says:

    Love, love, love this beautiful little book!!!

  9. Oh this is beautiful and will I’m sure be treasured for a very long time :-)

  10. Wow, Kelle! Such an awesome gift. I didn’t want this post to end. Thanks for sharing and inspiring, as always. xo

  11. Ahhh, girl! My daughter and I love the Kiki and Coco and Lulu and Pip books SO much! I also wanted to do something like this with her before she grows out of her love of her dolls. You did wonderful with this! What a beautiful gift for Nella and of course an heirloom for you all. xo

  12. What a beautiful keepsake for Nella to remember from her childhood! I love the idea! I also love that you and Lainey worked on it together!! Beautiful job Kelle!

  13. So very awesome!i made books with my kids, but that was before we owned a digital camera, we illistrated tge books, with our own pictures. I love this one yiu made!

  14. Perfectly wonderful.

  15. What an amazing idea, I might have to try it for my girls. So lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  16. You are quite simply a blessing to the world of your children, your husband, your parents. I thank you for motivating me to stop and catch that sparkle in my children’s eyes as they are heading out the door to college, high school and middle school.
    Your book is a gift of unmeasurable heart. Thank you for not publishing it but keeping it a treasure for your family

  17. This is really precious. There is some thing about how special it is, that has me a bit verklempt.

  18. I love this! One of my kiddos is in a wheelchair and it’s depressing how few great books there are about kids in wheelchairs. I’m sensing a literary future for a protagonist in a pink wheelchair!

  19. Love this! My kids each get something to read for Christmas and their own story would be awesome!! Maybe something I will have to try to put together over the coming year.

  20. This is so glorious! What a wonderful, creative way to capture your kids.

  21. That is awesome!

  22. Beautiful, just simply beautiful. What a special treasure for your girls. I did something similar when my son was young. Taking pictures of him and making simple texts for him to learn to read from. We had one about all the different types of transport we’d been on and a family holiday. They were just laminated pages that we bound together but much loved and read over and over. Wish I had of thought to publish them properly.

  23. You are such an inspiration as a mother and a teacher…thank you for sharing! What a sweet keepsake for your children in the years to come!

  24. Donna Owens says:

    Priceless. Maude in her sunglasses made me giggle out loud! You’re such a great mom. I wish this stuff had been around when I had young children. Can’t wait for the next publication!

  25. This book is beautiful! Thank you for sharing it with us. Love your creativity and that you actually took the time to make it happen. Lainey’s input was fabulous. :)

  26. WOW! I love the outcome and what you did.. especially with Lainey helping out and making the project together!
    I can only imagine Nellas reaction when she saw the book!
    Will have it in mind for a future project, so personal and great!
    Thank you for sharing!

  27. Such a beautiful fun book! I cant wait to do it with my son but he is too small right now. And wish you would share all the pages with us, this blog has left me craving for more…

  28. I don’t comment often here even if I always read what you write.
    This is the sweetest, most beautiful thing I saw. I would definitely buy such a book. And I will surely try to do something like this when I will have children. I think it is a wonderful memory to have.

  29. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! What a beautiful job! What a great memory for nella for years to come!!!

  30. Michelle Minisci says:

    I LOVE this!! I love that you are keeping it private. I hope your creative spirit in Children’s literature turns into another great idea for March 21st!!

  31. Love this book! I think Paquel, Poop and Grocery Cart need their own story too!

  32. Hi,
    My name is Stephanie Rausser and I am the woman who did Lulu & Pip and Kiki & Coco in Paris with Nina Gruener, the writer. Nina just forwarded me your above post and I have to say, I love what you did with your children and I am so happy to have inspired your project! thank you for making my day and keep up the amazing work!!

    • Aw, Stephanie–thank you! We know your work well, even outside of Kiki & Coco and Lulu & Pip. Know that my family continues to enjoy those little treasures, and you’ve sparked something pretty special for a lot of moms!
      Thank you for your kind words! Now go make another book so we can enjoy it. ;o)

  33. Kimberly Dillingham says:

    PRICELESS – cherished childhood memories your family can treasure for a lifetime! I can’t even imagine the level of excitement Nella and Lainey had opening the package. I read your blog on a daily basis; although, I don’t believe I have commented before. I felt it was time for me to comment on your blog. You are such a beautiful wife, adoring mother, loving daughter, awesome photographer, inspirational blogger, and wonderful writer!! I truly admire how you have opened your ‘heart & life’ for all the world to see. You have inspired SO MANY individuals with your blog. I also noticed the comment from Stephanie Rausser!! Nina Gruener, writer of Lulu & Pip and Kiki & Coco in Paris had forwarded her your post. I do believe she gave you two thumbs up on your book!! My 2016 wish = your creative interest in children’s literature will spark and turn into Awesome, Beautiful, and Colorful fireworks for all of us to enjoy!!!

  34. free children’s books for moms http://www.newtoyviews.com @newtoyviews

  35. That is seriously so cute! What a great idea!

  36. Brilliant!

  37. I loved reading this post, but I especially loved reading all of these comments about how you’ve inspired women to create things out of love. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with this online community, but most of all, thank you for the inspiration.

  38. This is so amazing! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  39. Thank you for sharing, I have seen your Instgram photos of the book and was excited to see more detail. And I love that Lainey was involved, I have an 8 year old girl also and I think she would love to do something like this for her sisters!

    I am a long time blog reader and I asked for Bloom for Christmas this year – it was fabulous. you should be so proud of the story that you are sharing.

  40. This is literally the sweetest thing I can imagine! 2016 goals! Now, which stuffy to use for my little guy!!?

  41. The book is amazing and I am so impressed! Seriously, am I the only one who is wondering how the beautiful cloth animal survives the burying and dipping? I LOVE this book!!

  42. Thanks for the inspiration! I needed that shove!

  43. This makes me smile !!! What a wonderful idea for Nella ! Everything about this post is perfection.

  44. what a beautiful project, thank you for sharing

  45. I make photo books all the time. It never occurred to me to make one into a storybook. Thanks for the ideas!

  46. What an amazing project! My little girls would love a little doe. Can you please tell us where Maude (and her clothes) came from? Thank you for your inspiration!

  47. Oh, my gosh!! As a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom myself, I am in LOVE with this!! I can’t get enough! Love, love, love!!

  48. Thank you! Thank you for sharing Nella’s book. As much as I’d love to see every single page, I can understand wanting to keep some of the pictures private. I love the fact that you are planning some addition adventures for Nella & Maude.

    Many years ago I made a picture book for our granddaughter to document her FIRST CAMPING TRIP… it was almost as much fun for me to create her book as it was for her to read it. She was learning to read at the time, so it gave me an opportunity to use the words she was learning (as well as some “challenge words”). She’s 12 now & I actually saw the book stuck in between two Manga books on the bookshelf.

    My daughter & her husband will be having my second granddaughter this summer. I’m planning to create a book for her… but it will be somewhat different because I need to find someone to write the script in braille. Both my daughter and her husband are blind. If you know of any publishing companies who will also braille books could you drop me a note.

    Thanks sooo very much.

  49. I have recently been reading your blogs that you are posting. I love how you did this project with your daughter. Personally and special that this is.

  50. Elizabeth Highsmith says:

    This is SOOOOOOO great and Dash’s dino book! Can I ask what program you use to add text to your images? And once you’ve added the text do you re save as image files in order to upload? Thanks so much!

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