Thursday, December 15, 2011


There are book and then there are beautiful books. Here is one of those beauties. And the title says so right up front. Please welcome Mary Lee Corlett and Belle to the Write Game.

Belle: The Amazing, Astonishingly Magical Journey of an Artfully Painted Lady
Written by Mary Lee Corlett
Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff

Also available on
(Just in case this trailer link below fails)
•    I have to say that is one beautiful cover and one fabulous book trailer. Now can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have lived in the Washington DC area for over 20 years, but I was born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.  My mother and three sisters still live there.  I earned my M.A. in art history from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and my first museum job was at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where I was a teaching assistant for the Saturday children’s classes offered by their education department.  (I taught 4 and 5 year-olds in an activity class called “Mini-Masters!”) Later, I worked in the registrar’s office.  After I earned my M.A, my husband and I moved to Washington so that I could pursue curatorial and research work.   I joined the staff of the National Gallery of Art in 1989.  We’ve lived in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, for about 13 years, and we have a 15 year old daughter.

    •    This is your first children’s book?

Yes! And it is such a thrill to see it in print!  I have been interested in writing for children for a couple of decades and I have a file drawer full of manuscripts (and rejection letters )  to prove it.  I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in 2004 and in 2007 I submitted Belle for a manuscript review at my regional conference.  The author who reviewed the book was so enthusiastic; she kept me from getting discouraged in my hunt to find the right publisher. The Editor-in-Chief at the National Gallery also loved the book when I showed it to her, but sadly, we don’t have a children’s book publishing program at the National Gallery.  Ultimately, though, it was she who put me in touch with Bunker Hill Publishing. 

    •    What or who inspired you to write Belle?

The short answer is – my daughter!  I used to bring her down to the National Gallery for the wonderful family programs offered by our education department, but I also wanted her to enjoy a simple walk through the galleries with me.  I searched for a book based on the Gallery’s collection with the thought it would help spark her interest in doing that, but I quickly discovered the kind of book I had in mind didn’t exist! I wanted a fun-to-read, fictional story that featured a variety of paintings from the National Gallery’s great collection and focused on the magic of the museum and the ‘art experience.’ So when I couldn’t find that book, I decided I’d better write it!

    •    You obviously are someone who loves art.  Can you tell us how you chose your paintings for Belle?

I have been fortunate to research and write about some pretty terrific artists while on the staff of the National Gallery – Roy Lichtenstein and Romare Bearden, for example – my field is American art.  I love writing about art and artists and of course, I love just looking at art. Yet ironically, when you work in a museum, you often don’t carve out the time to just wander through the galleries. So writing Belle was the perfect excuse to do that!

It was on one of those walks through the galleries at the end of the day, with the idea of this book on my mind, that the butterflies in Jan Davidsz de Heem’s canvas [Vase of Flowers]   just popped out at me!  I think the yellow Brimstone caught my eye first.  He was so delicately alighted, there on the edge of that tulip.  He just looked to me as if he might flutter away at any moment.  But Belle (the Red Admiral) was up there quietly hovering in the corner.  It occurred to me that she’d been hovering there for over 300 years, a quiet observer, and I thought – SHE must have some stories to tell!  Once I discovered those butterflies, I never looked back!  The story began to take shape and soon it had a life of its own.

I wanted to present their journey more or less chronologically through art history.  That’s why there are no works from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance in the book.  Works from these periods are certainly represented in the Gallery’s collection, but Belle and Brimstone were painted in the seventeenth century, and I felt it was important to have their journey take them steadily forward through time, rather than jumping back and forth through the centuries.  And, of course, I needed a villain! I thought there was something comical about having the butterflies’ avian nemesis come from such a tiny little painting [Circle of Jan van Kessel, Concert of Birds]

The worst part of the selection process was discarding favorites! I wanted to select works that would be particularly fun to look at and to imagine blending into. And of course, the colors had to be right.  Brimstone chooses the Vermeer with an ivory-colored ribbon [A Lady Writing], while Belle looks to the one with the red hat [Girl with the Red Hat].

    •    Is there something else you are currently working on?
I would love to make Belle into a series, so I am currently working on a manuscript that takes her on a journey to another museum.  Art travels all the time for touring exhibitions – the perfect set up for another adventure! 
I am also working on a manuscript that features the art of the National Gallery’s wonderful outdoor sculpture garden.  This book would have completely different characters, and I am envisioning it for a younger audience (ages 4 to 8 years). 

Well, you've captured my attention Mary Lee. I love the concept and I'm certain your younger readers are going to be captivated by Belle and her adventures in the art world. Congratulations.


  1. Thank you so much for having me Lee. I always love reading your beautiful blog,so it's a real honor to be here! Mary Lee

  2. I've ordered Belle and look forward to enjoying it over the holiday. Great to have you here at the Write Game. Here's to more lovely books from you in the future.

  3. I enjoyed your interview on Bay Sunday! Mary Lee's book trailer is lovely, and I also enjoyed her interview! Thanks for visiting and following me, and I look forward to getting to know you! Julie

  4. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
    I love that a walk through an art museum with her child sparked the idea!

  5. Aw this really does look just lovely :) I loved the trailer!

  6. It was nice to see an Ohioan featured! :) Great interview!

  7. Great interview, and I love the idea of using paintings in the story. Very original.

  8. The book sounds charming and will fill a niche. I love the concept and telling it through the butterflies! And that trailer is delightful. Good luck with Belle and your books to come, Mary.

    Nice interview, Lee!

  9. What a beautiful book, loved the trailer and the interview.

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  11. Thank you all for your very kind words! Belle was such a labor of love for me, and I was so lucky to have Phyllis Saroff provide such wonderful illustrations to bring the story to life! Great paintings combined with beautiful illustrations - how could it go wrong! :-) Thank you all again!

  12. A very gorgeous cover. Congrats to Belle on this release.

  13. Beautiful! And the story behind it is wonderful - I wonder what that butterfly has seen as well :)

  14. Thanks for introducing me to Mary and her book, Belle. I love butterfly books.

  15. What a beautiful book and a wonderful trailer! I think the cover and title of this book are perfect and the trailer is just a treat. I love how it spotlights artwork and a museum. One of my good friends is an elementary art teacher and I am going to share this with her right now! Thanks for sharing!


  16. I thought the same thing, Jemi - about being a "(butter)fly on the wall" for 300 years! From the 17th c. artist's studio to a 21st c. museum - now THAT's a journey! And thank you so much, Jess, for sharing the book with your art teacher friend! I have been getting great responses from teachers - we already have a "Belle tour" scheduled for a 3rd grade class coming to the National Gallery in January! Can't wait!

  17. Loved the trailer and the interview. Awesome book! Thank you for sharing!


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