Behind the Book: A Closer Look at “Good Night, Firefly” with Author/Illustrator Gabriel Alborozo

nina 1st draft

Bright author/illustrator Gabriel Alborozo celebrated the release of Good Night, Firefly, his stunning fourth title, earlier this month. Published with Henry Holt and Co., Good Night, Firefly tells the story of Nina, a little girl who is scared of the dark. After the power goes out one night, she is left without a nightlight and remedies the problem by catching a firefly to keep in a jar in her room. Nina quickly learns the firefly prefers to live free and faces the issue of returning her new friend to the wild. A can’t-miss bedtime story for all young readers, Gabe’s skilled use of a limited color palate accentuates the beautiful contrast between the firefly’s glowing orb and the deep, black nighttime.

We had the pleasure of talking to Gabe about his creative process and the early stages of writing and illustrating Good Night, Firefly, as well as his next major projects. Read on to learn more about what went into the making of this great title.


On What Inspired the Story

Gabriel Alborozo: Good Night, Firefly was an idea that had been floating around for some time. As was the desire to create a book that was minimal in colour and backgrounds. I was intrigued by the idea of developing a story that was very simple visually, but also quite rich.

The themes in the story, which I guess are predominantly fear and a sense of loneliness – but also perhaps some kind of redemption – are ones I tend to gravitate towards, and so the idea of Nina and her tiny firefly was a natural branch of that thinking.


On the Evolution of Firefly

Gabriel Alborozo: The draft text was written relatively quickly to outline the story and the key moments. I then began to develop the overall look and the individual characters. At this early stage I had wished for it to be essentially a series of vignettes, all very loosely done.

Firefly drafts

One key difference in these ideas was that you would actually see the firefly in some detail.  As the rewrite process continued and I received editorial polish from my star editor and art director at Henry Holt, it became clear that the story could cope with a different approach to the images — one that would allow for more punch.

It took some time to rethink how I would tackle these images, as I do have a tendency to hook onto a certain ‘look’ and then feel it’s the only way. It was only when I did a small drawing, which was an Edward Gorey tribute (it was his birthday, God rest him!) that everything fell into place.


A tribute to Edward Gorey

The book was ultimately reversed out, meaning what I had held onto as vignettes with white space became black space. The end result provided massively more impact with the lighting and the fireflies.

1st black draft

From that point on it was relatively smooth sailing. It quickly became one of those books that drew itself.

On the Creative Process

Gabriel Alborozo: It was such a pleasure to work with the team at Henry Holt; it was that seemingly rare occasion when everyone is basically on the same wavelength. The method of working was very much in my comfort zone, and the book just flowed out of my pen.

To create the artwork, I would draw Nina and her immediate surroundings in pen and ink, including a rough ‘glow’ of crosshatching. These drawings were scanned and then the solid blacks of the page were added digitally. Initially I had wanted to create the whole thing with pen and ink with no digital input at all, but scheduling on both sides of the Atlantic just would’t allow me to indulge that idea. The last touches were some finer crosshatching and the small accents of colour on Nina and her firefly.

From draft text to finished art took about seven weeks and involved a lot of nights and seven-day workweeks, but I hope the results were worth the increased rate of hair loss!


Gabe’s studio space

What’s Up Next for Gabe?

Gabriel Alborozo: I’m currently working on a new book about a young mouse who lives alone in a dark and wild wood. He’s trying to reach out to his only friend, the Moon. Following a journey through the trees, he meets his friend at last. The moon, though, is not what our hero anticipated.

mouse and moon

Hopefully out in 2016, it’s still in the process of being drawn up. Visually it will have predominantly black and white elements, but the approach is very different and it will have a much different feel than Firefly.

Also due for release shortly are books I’ve illustrated for Walker and also Candlewick.


Two Tims, publishing with Candlewick


This is the Kiss, publishing with Walker

I’m currently developing new stories of my own and developing new ways of working – predominantly in traditional media – which is exciting me a great deal. The range of what I can do by hand rather than digitally is greater for me personally, and the prospect of what I might produce is what gets me up in the mornings.

Exciting times ahead for me and my pen!