About 10 years ago, JonArno Lawson was at a beach in Virginia watching his kids build sandcastles right next to the waves.
“I kept trying to get them to come back because I thought it was a terrible idea,” he says. He wanted them to build their sandcastles closer to the dunes. But they found it more exciting to build right where the waves hit, seeing their sandcastles get destroyed, and then re-building them with whatever debris washed up from the ocean.
“It seemed so symbolic, somehow, of… how life works more than just building your perfect sandcastle,” says Lawson.
When he decided to turn that sunny day into a children’s book, the idea came to just use pictures. “It seemed like it would work beautifully without words,” he says. “Like the whole thing would just be visual.”
A Day For Sandcastles is illustrated by Qin Leng. It’s the second wordless picture book for Lawson and Leng since 2021’s Over The Shop.
For the new book, Lawson gave Leng a short manuscript — basically a one-page movie script — of what he was picturing. “It’s a real collaboration that way because how it then appears is completely Qin,” says Lawson.
Leng illustration’s stay pretty true to real life. A trio of siblings — who Lawson says even look like his kids, though he didn’t share photos with Leng — spend the day building sandcastles and watching them get destroyed by a flying hat, an errant toddler and the surf.
“To me, it’s a celebration of childhood and the simple joys of life,” says Leng. “This is the sort of thing I like to capture. I like to draw people. I like to draw them in the day-to-day mundane moments, but moments that all of us can relate to.”
Leng spent part of her childhood in France, and says she is inspired by European comic books. For A Day For Sandcastles, she used a fountain pen with the smallest nib she could find to make very detailed, very refined illustrations with a very light watercolor wash. She also added in a lot of personal touches.