When Riverside resident Janan Cain’s first book, “The Way I Feel,” was published in 2000, she was sure most of the copies would end up sitting in her publisher’s warehouse somewhere, unused and unwanted.
“I thought ‘Oh my God, they’re going to get stuck with all those books, and they’re only going to sell them to people in my family,'” she said.
Instead, they flew off the shelves, as did the many reprintings ever since.
Today there are 1.3 million copies of “The Way I Feel” in print. In April it was featured as the Target Corporation’s “Pick o’ The Month” book for toddlers, and Cain said she’s also in talks with her publisher to translate the book into Spanish.
“It’s amazing, and it’s humbling,” she said. “It started out to be this small project, and it’s grown into something so much larger than I ever anticipated or could have imagined.”
Cain has been an illustrator and graphic designer since 1983, when she started in package design and later moved to illustrations for medical and mechanical publications. She said she got the idea for “The Way I Feel” after she couldn’t find a book about emotions for her young daughters. She began drawing her own pictures that represented different feelings, and soon realized she was making the book she had been looking for.
“I wanted to be able to teach [my daughters] how to verbalize their emotions, and I couldn’t find any books that were suitable,” she said. “The book sort of started out as just something that I would use to teach my children, but, as I spent more and more time on it, I realized it would be worthwhile to try to get it published.”
After three years of working on the book, Cain’s final result was a collection of drawings and verse that represent a wide range of emotions, from sad and frustrated to happy and thankful. She said she based many of the illustrations on her daughters, Emily, 13, and Isabella, 11. She used them as models for certain poses, but also took inspiration from them for some scenes. For example, the cover of the book shows a girl hanging upside down and making a fish face-a pose Cain said Emily often struck at the local park.
Cain said she sent the book off to publishers not expecting much, but Parenting Press quickly accepted it.
“I was prepared for 500 rejections,” she said. “So I just sort of went into it as this is going to be a long, time-consuming, and probably frustrating process, and it wasn’t so bad. … It was lucky number 13 that picked it up.”
Since then, Cain has toured schools, bookstores and libraries, talking to kids not only about emotions, but also about drawing techniques and the process of making a book. As the book has become more popular, she said she’s been amazed by some of the stories her fans have told her.
“There was one boy in particular whose father e-mailed to say that their autistic child could not sit still for any length of time, and they had difficulty bonding with him,” she said. “With this book, he will sit in a chair and let them hold him and read it to him. It’s stories like that that are so inspiring and really make it worthwhile.”
The book has also received numerous awards since being published. In addition to the most recent recognition from Target, “The Way I Feel” has won many design awards, as well as a 2005 Teacher’s Choice Award.
For her next project, Cain is currently looking for a publisher for a second book she’s already completed. It tells the story of a bee lost in a garden, and is meant to educate kids on what to do if they are lost or separated from their parents.
Like “The Way I Feel,” Cain said she designed the book to prompt communication between parents and children.
“It opens the door to conversation, and hopefully then parents will take the opportunity and run with it,” she said.
Cain is also in talks with Parenting Press on a third book, although she said the details on that project haven’t been worked out yet. No matter what, though, she said she is far from done with her career as a children’s author.
“I really never set out to be a children’s book illustrator,” she said. “But I think there are still a few subject matters that should be addressed and would be helpful to children, and I would like to tackle those.”