Behind the Scenes with Travel with Bella

by Lillie Forteau /
Lillie Forteau's picture
Jan 19, 2012 / 0 comments

Recently we received two really great picture books that show life in Asia. Written by Stacey Zolt Hara, the series is called Travel with Bella. We read the first two books, Bella's Chinese New Year and Bella's Vietnam Adventure. I like the character Bella (she's SO cute!), and I really like that you get to learn about different cultures. Bella lives in Singapore, and explores the culture within each book.


Travel with Bella



We asked the author, Stacey Zolt Hara, to share the background of writing her books. It is fascinating to see how authors create their books, and learn more about these stories. Here's what she had to say...



WE: How did you come up with the character of Bella?

SZH: Bella is inspired by my own daughter, Rose, who has enchanted me across nearly every continent. Rose is equally drawn to the people she meets while traveling as they are to her. Like most children, she is completely curious about and open to the world around her and takes it in without judgment. In this way, children are ideal travelers. If we could all see through kids’ eyes, the world would be a happier place.

I had a very clear picture in my head of what Bella should look like – wild curly hair, inquisitive eyes, sweet but sassy smile. I worked with a few illustrators before I found Steve Pileggi, the amazing artist behind Travel with Bella. Steve brought Bella and family to life.



WE: How did you come up with the personalities and the scenes?

SZH: My favorite and most insightful travel memories always come from the parts between the list of must-see sights. These small interactions with local people or my kids’ reactions to the culture are usually the bits that resonate with me most. These are the scenes that make up the Travel with Bella stories. A great example is the cyclo ride in Bella’s Vietnam Adventure. We took a ride like this with my parents while in Ho Chi Minh in 2008. We were five people in four cyclos racing through the streets, motorcycles and cars whizzing by us, people waving, stopping to touch the Real Bella – it was amazing.

The non-family characters are usually a hybrid of real people. For example, in Bella’s Chinese New Year, Mrs. Tan is a blend of a woman who owned a food stall near our old apartment in Singapore who befriended Rose and the cook at Rose’s preschool, who goes by “Auntie Tan.”


Bella's Chinese New Year



WE: How did you create your stories?

SZH: When we travel, I’m often sitting in the back seat jotting down thoughts or taking down bits of conversations in a small notebook. It usually takes several months, or even years, after taking a trip for it to settle with me creatively. Then I think about story lines and ask myself questions – what challenges might Bella face on this trip? What adventures are there for her to share? What lessons did she learn?

Then I write the story. Once it’s in my head it doesn’t take long to get a first draft – usually just a few days. I then spend a few months editing before I bring in the illustrator, Steve Pileggi. I send Steve a copy of the manuscript with suggested page breaks, and I provide him with a photo research file. It’s incredibly important to me that the location and its people are accurately depicted in the books, and Steve is incredibly gifted at doing this.

Steve and I collaborate on the art, which generally takes about three months. I find my role art directing the pages equally as important and interesting as the writing of the story itself. In a series like this, the pictures are so crucial, and we work hard to get it right.


Bella's Vietnam Adventure



WE: What can people find on your website?

SZH: In addition to information about the Travel with Bella mission and an online store for purchasing the books, the website has a “Bella and Friends” interactive map where young adventurers can post pictures of them exploring the world. The purpose is to show kids that the world travel isn’t just for cartoon characters – there are real kids out there exploring new places and cultures every day!

Also on the website are curriculum guides for both books to help parents and teachers deepen the learning experience when reading Travel with Bella books.



WE: Thank you, Stacey, for sharing the world of Bella with us!


Readers, check back this week for our reviews of these wonderful books.


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And click below to order your OWN copies of the Travel with Bella books!