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Ellen Nelson Illustrates Book for Mott Pediatric Patients


Ellen Nelson (BFA 13) began working on Wings of Courage,” a book for children with life threatening diseases, right after graduation. Professor Jim Cogswell, well-known for his graphic scientific installations on campus buildings, recommended Ellen to UM Neurosurgery after guiding her through her Integrative Project.

The book was able to come to life thanks to a big donation from an organization called Leah’s Happy Hearts to the UM Department of Neurosurgery. LHH, founded by a family who lost their 5‑year-old daughter to a brain tumor several years ago, works to raise money for research and to provide support for families of children with brain tumors.

The author of the book, an elementary school teacher who had lost a student to a brain tumor, also played a big role in selecting an illustrator. The process started out with quite a bit of research, visits to Mott, and rifling through Mott’s online library of photos. After the text of the book was fully written, Leah put together a mock-up of the book to present to the team, to get approval of all of her illustration ideas at once. At that time, Leah also volunteered to take on the typesetting and become the creative director of the book as well. 

Over the next year or so, with lots of back-and-forth critique as well as numerous little decisions, the book took shape. Each two-page spread has one page of text with a small watercolor illustration, one full page of watercolor illustration, and a border between the pages done in oil paint. As no one on the team (aside from the author) had any experience with a project like this before, it was a wonderful opportunity for Leah to try out a lot of creative ideas and figure out the best ways to execute them.