Jul 26

How I Cooked the Alphabet

by Hannah Holt »


In May, the idea for Spicy Alphabet popped into my head. From the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t try to sell it. Alphabet books are a saturated market, and several picture books about spices already exist. But I have my own website, so YIPPEE! I can indulge pet projects as much as my limited free time allows.

You can read Spicy Alphabet here. (You’ll need Flash.) Here’s the inside scoop on my most delicious project ever.

I knew I wanted to make an alphabet book about spices; however, I had to nail down the exact concept: one spice per letter, each letter would be made out of the spice (fresh herbs if possible), each page needed a food item made from the spice, the text would describe the flavor.

Then I created the thumbnails. Now this was a bit backwards. Text usually comes before thumbnails. However, since I was working with fresh herbs, I wanted to write after tasting. You can see my thumbnails are minimalistic at best. Really, I just needed to decide which spices would get a double spread.

Next I collected the spices. Best treasure hunt ever. If you can imagine my toddlers playing with cans of squid while I poked my nose around the vegetable section of a tiny Vietnamese market, you’ll get a taste for the experience.

Take photos: Once I had the herbs, I arranged them into alphabetic letters. I took 190 photos as part of this project. The white background was mostly copy paper. For wet items, I used a plastic plate.

Cook: Each herb needed a food item. I prepared 14 of the dishes featured in this book. The rest are photos of candies, herb variations, or preprepared items. My children elected themselves heads of taste-testing.

(My oldest tasting the lime zest muffin batter… The muffins didn’t make the final cut.)

Take more pictures: Once the dish finished cooking I needed photos of the final product.

Edit the photos and add them to the template: Each spread is a collage of four or more photos. I used a white background as my standard for combining the pictures into one image.

Here’s my basic double-spread template. Pink is one page, blue the other. The black areas are guidelines for formatting uniformity:

Here’s a sample of two unedited photos copied and pasted together:

I used Gimp to edit my photos. It’s open source (free) software and fairly user friendly. Even writers who feel a little clumsy with visual effects can benefit from it. Here are a few of the main Gimp tools I used for this project.

First –> Under the Color menu pick “Curves.” Pull the curve upwards to brighten the photo.

Second –> Under the Color menu pick “Brightness-Contrast.” Increase the contrast to sharpen the image.

Lastly–> Increasing contrast can oversaturate the photo (especially in the oranges and yellows). So under the Color menu pick “Hue-Saturation.” Decrease the saturation by a few numbers, and you’ll have a clear and bright photo.

Am I forgetting something? Oh yes, then I wrote the book. I’d sit at my computer, an herb in hand. I’d smell it, bite it, and look it over. I’d let the flavor tickle the roof of my mouth and drift into the back of my throat. Then I’d try to capture the unique flavor in three kid-friendly adjectives or less. I wasn’t always successful.

After I put all the pages together, I had a few of my nearest and dearests review the book and check for typos. I usually have a critique group for this kind of thing, but at the moment I’m in between groups. Darn cross-country move. A huge thank you to all my first readers! Of course I needed to make revisions, and we went back and forth until everything felt right.

Lastly my husband imported all the jpeg images into the flash program he designed (from scratch!), and I uploaded the final file to my digital library. If you like the flash book, there are a few similar products out there. I haven’t tried any of them. However, if you would like your own digital library, you don’t need a degree in computer programming to accomplish it.

Each book in my library took me a couple hundred hours to compile (not including writing time). I don’t sleep well when I’m enthralled with a project.

I could go on about things like: why I’m not selling Spicy Alphabet on a digital platform, or how this fits into my long range plan. However, this post is already waxing long. If you have other questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section.

Thank you readers! You make my day. Please take a moment to visit my Facebook page. I post exclusive crafts, additional videos, and secret recipes. If you aren’t following my Facebook page, you’re missing more than half the Lightbulb fun.

See you around!

  1. Ramona

    This is great Hannah. thanks for explaining the whole process. Such a great book!

  2. Allie Simpson

    Hannah, this is fantastic and inspiring. Thank you for sharing and showing us a peek behind the curtain.

  3. Tina Cho

    INCREDIBLE! Again, I’m amazed at your work!

  4. Stacy S. Jensen

    That’s great. Unique spices and fun story. Thanks for sharing the process too.

  5. Carter Higgins

    Hannah, huge congrats for tackling such a massive (and tasty!) project! This was a fascinating look into your creative process!

  6. Lori Mozdzierz

    Such a creative literary chef!

  7. Jennifer Young

    This is wonderful that you shared this, Hannah. Thanks for the inside look!

  8. Kathy

    Wow! That is very helpful. Thank you for sharing Hannah :)

  9. Tara Oliver

    My goodness, what a process!! You did a great job, Hannah!

  10. Erik -This Kid Reviews Books

    Cool book! :)

  11. Pam Heiny

    Loved it!! Not just for kids, I will refer to it often when trying out new spices. :)

  12. Jarm Del Boccio

    I’d love to see this published in a hardbound copy…it’s fabulous! What a creative way to expose kids to spices and cooking, Hannah! Thanks for sharing….

  13. Dana Carey

    Loved the book and I enjoyed reading how you put it together. It’s great that your kids get involved. Fun stuff, Hannah!

  14. Melissa

    Thank you for sharing your process. It’s a stunning book :)

  15. Kirsten

    Hannah, this is absolutely amazing! And it’s making me hungry.

  16. Susanna Leonard Hill

    This is so cool, Hannah! Thank you for showing us how you did it. I am so impressed! It was worth all the hard work – the finished product is beautiful!

  17. Rena J. Traxel

    Cool! The book is neat. I’m off to check out the flip book link.

  18. Julie Hedlund

    Thank you for sharing your process! So fascinating. And I LOVED the book!