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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

How Milanka Reardon’s Artistic Vision Brought a Misunderstood Character to Life

For this month’s post, I’m highlighting Milanka Reardon’s creation of a cute hedgehog who is misunderstood. Harry Can Hear is a sweet picture book about a little hedgehog who is hearing impaired. This story was written by Fynisa Engler, published by Lawley Publishing and released in January.

Kidlit Creatives Members: Milanka is generously offering a signed copy of Harry Can Hear. For a chance to win this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

About the book: Everyone assumes Harry can’t listen like he’s supposed to, so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t respond during the hearing test at school. However, the test reveals it’s not that Harry isn’t listening, it’s that he has trouble hearing. Harry has missed out on so much, but there is hope. Once Harry is fitted with hearing aids, he discovers the joy of all he had been missing out on.

Manju: Hi, Milanka! Congratulations on your new picture book, Harry Can Hear. How did Fynisa Engler’s manuscript find its way to you?

Milanka: Thank you, Manju. I was sent the manuscript for Harry Can Hear by Lawley Publishing soon after the release of another book that I illustrated for them, Child of the Sea by Maxine Schur. At that time, I had been drawing a lot of animals for the weekly #animalalphabets drawing challenge on Twitter. The author of Harry Can Hear, Fynisa Engler, wanted the characters to be animals and she requested that I work with her on the book. Luckily the publishers thought I would be a good fit for this manuscript.

Manju: Why did you agree to illustrate Harry Can Hear?

Milanka: I loved the manuscript from the first time that I read it. I could see that Harry was just a misunderstood little child. It wasn't that he wasn't listening, he just couldn't hear. It's so important for children with disabilities to be represented in picture books and this book has a fun way of doing that. Fynisa wrote a very important story in a fun way and I was so happy to illustrate it.

Manju: Did your editor give you the artistic space to create Harry the hedgehog, his family and his world? Did the author include art notes?

Milanka: The editors at Lawley are so wonderful in that they gave me lots of artistic space to create the characters for Harry Can Hear. There were no art notes in the original manuscript sent to me. I met with the editors and the author after I had a few sketches of Harry as a hedgehog completed.

It's funny that you mention artistic space because I am so glad that I had my characters mostly figured out before talking to the author. The author, Fynisa Engler, originally thought that Harry should be an elephant, but when she saw the pictures of Harry as a hedgehog, she absolutely loved them! I thought that Harry the hedgehog sounded good too, and he was small and childlike.

This is such an important topic and by making him a little hedgehog, I could show that Harry was just a misunderstood little child. It’s so important for illustrators to have that artistic freedom to create what they see in their mind for the characters. Often times it is not what the author would have thought of but instead, it becomes something new that the illustrator adds to the story. And as in our case, it becomes a happy surprise and a wonderful collaboration.

Thanks very much, Milanka!

Milanka Reardon is a children’s book illustrator with over 10 years of experience illustrating picture books in watercolor, colored pencil, oil paint and digital media. She holds two certificates from the Rhode Island School of Design in Children’s Book Illustration and Natural Science Illustration. Milanka is a recipient of the R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award and has served as the co-illustrator coordinator for the New England SCBWI from 2015-2021. She has illustrated five picture books, Harry Can Hear by Fynisa Engler, (Lawley Publishing), 2023, Child of the Sea by Maxine Rose Schur (Lawley Publishing), 2022, An Old Man and His Penguin by Alayne Kay Christian (Blue Whale Press), 2020, Who Will, Will You? by Sarah Hoppe (Blue Whale Press), 2019, and Noodles and Albie’s Birthday Surprise by Eric Bennett, which won a Mom’s Choice Gold award in 2018. She lives in Massachusetts by a lake, where you can find her sketching swans, ducks and all kinds of wildlife for her next picture books.

You can see more of her artwork at, on instagram at milanka_reardon and on twitter at @MilankaReardon.

Prize offer: For your chance to win a signed copy of Harry Can Hear. - read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Sunday, March 12th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support.

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