PROVO — When the picture book "Lola Dutch" (Bloomsbury, $17.99, ages 3-6) was sent out to publishers, it ignited a bidding war among four publishing houses. Ultimately, Utah couple and "Lola Dutch" creators, Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, sold the book to Bloomsbury, allowing it to be published internationally from the day it first hits bookstores this month.
Sarah Jane Wright has run her illustration business since 2008, where she sells prints, fabrics, wallpaper and more. She had already included the character of Lola Dutch in her designs, but she knew this little girl in a tutu and her animal friends had a story, if only she could figure out what it was.
At one point, Paris Ritz showed interest in using Lola Dutch in the rebranding of its hotel. Though ultimately they decided not to use the character, this only emphasized for Sarah Jane Wright that people liked this little girl and she needed to tell her story.
As she tried to write Lola Dutch's story, Sarah Jane Wright kept getting stuck. Finally, one day she asked her husband, Kenneth, to give it a try and he was able to write up the first draft of the story.
"It wasn't the final story that you read in the book," Kenneth Wright said. "But it was a step in the right direction and it was enough to break the block where she'd been stuck."
From that time on, the couple worked together, back and forth, modifying the illustration and story until they got it right. Using Sarah Jane Wright's illustration agent, they submitted the book to publishers, and they were pleased with how well it was received.
The Wrights first got to know each other while they were both majoring in musical theater at Brigham Young University and a teacher assigned them to help with a junior high musical production.
"In five minutes, we just hit it off so great and we were creating and working and solving problems, and it was so much fun that three years later we decided to get married," Kenneth Wright said.
Since then, they've worked in separate careers: Sarah Jane Wright in her illustration business, and Kenneth Wright as a junior high history teacher. Four kids later, they've finally reached the point where their children are all potty trained and sleeping through the night, and the older ones are independent enough to help around the house. So, now they have time to work together again, and it's reminded them of how they fell in love.
"We both met each other in that arena of storytelling and creating and performing and teaching, and so this is very much an extension of what we love about each other," Sarah Jane Wright said.
"It's just seamless," Kenneth Wright added about their process of working together. "We have a really good workflow where I can tell what she's thinking and she can tell what I'm thinking. We just love each other to pieces, so we can work through any difficulty. At the end of the day, our marriage is more important than a word choice in a story."
The Wrights said they decided early on in their marriage that family would always come first, so they're constantly making sure they're keeping their priorities straight in their busy lives. They're able to tag-team cooking, child care and household chores as they both balance family and work obligations.
They also try to take a quick trip together about once a year. Recently, that trip was to Paris, where they set and finished the second Lola Dutch book.
"It's not always as exotic as a Parisian trip," Kenneth Wright said.
Sometimes, they let the kids spend the night at their aunt's just so they can get things done.
"But you need that time to have deep work where you're not distracted by little things," he said. "We get more done in two days than we do in two months with constant interruptions, so we have to work that in."
It also helps them reconnect as a couple and re-center on what really matters in life.
Creativity and curiosity
As educators and parents, it's important to the Wrights to spread the message of perpetuating curiosity and creativity through the character of Lola Dutch.
"She is this spunky, vivacious, insatiably curious girl who really doesn't have a brake pedal," Kenneth Wright said. "That's what causes some of the conflict in the story is she doesn't know when to stop, but it's just charming and adorable as long as you don't have to clean up after her."
Through her illustration business, Sarah Jane Wright has gained more than 41,900 followers on Instagram. It's become a way for her to get people excited about the couple's new book because she knows many of her followers are also creative parents who will understand the underlying message of Lola Dutch.
"We feel grateful that the message that we're promoting in this picture book is one that our followers are avidly trying to support and do within their own homes and spheres of influence," she said.
The presales and excitement the Wrights have been able to build up has already led to a second reprint of the book, and to a second and third book coming out in the next few years. In today's busy, modern world, they're hoping Lola Dutch will encourage children to take time for creativity.
"We just feel that a child's ability to have open-ended, self-directed play is harder and harder to find," Sarah Jane Wright said. "Lola is the character who really embodies this idea of being inspired by something you read in a book and go learn about it; go create. … Curiosity is so easy to see in children, but itan easily get squelched in this modern, busy world. So, we hope Lola has a long life in supporting that message."
If you go …
What: Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright book signing
When: Saturday, Feb. 3, 2 p.m.
Where: Provo Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
When: Saturday, Feb. 10, 2 p.m.
Where: Heirloom Arts Company, 4801 N. University Ave #350, Provo
When: Saturday, Mar. 3, 11 a.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East