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Arts & Culture

Local Illustrator Brings The Sweet And The Macabre To A New Children's Book

Interior pages of the picture book "She Wanted to be Haunted," by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani.
Susie Ghahremani
Interior pages of the picture book "She Wanted to be Haunted," by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani.

San Diego artist and author Susie Ghahremani has a new picture book, "She Wanted To Be Haunted," which packs sinister treats for all ages.

Susie Ghahremani, a local author, illustrator and founder of BoyGirlParty, recently illustrated a new children's book, by author Marcus Ewert. "She Wanted to be Haunted," published this month by Bloomsbury, chronicles the life of a perfectly sweet pink house in the forest. One problem: the house is not okay with being perfect, or sweet.

Artist, author and children's book illustrator Susie Ghahremani is pictured in an undated photo.
Michael Esten
Artist, author and children's book illustrator Susie Ghahremani is pictured in an undated photo.

The book is a rhyming book, which Ghahremani said is not entirely common in contemporary children's publishing, and it has a dark side, further challenging what families and readers might expect. The story is laugh-out-loud funny and more than a little macabre.

"The underlying weirdness being something all ages could appreciate, just the humor of it, of things going badly in a number of ways," said Ghahremani. She said that the book didn't seem to be written for a narrow range of ages, and she was able to take more artistic liberties.

"I don't know that I would necessarily have included things like blood and skulls and stuff like that in illustrations if I knew it was definitely reaching a very young audience," Ghahremani said. "I definitely felt like I could hide a few sinister details in the story."

Illustrator Susie Ghahremani began the process of working on her new book, "She Wanted to be Haunted" by making character sketches and making storyboard-style thumbnails of each page.
Susie Ghahremani
Illustrator Susie Ghahremani began the process of working on her new book, "She Wanted to be Haunted" by making character sketches and making storyboard-style thumbnails of each page.

For "She Wanted to be Haunted," Ghahremani began the process with a lot of reading, and a lot of character sketches. She started with the three main characters: the cute house, Clarissa, and her parents, both far more sinister than their pink child.

Buuuuut …

Clarissa had a doorbell,

And a WELCOME mat!

Wind chimes tingle-jingled!

(You can't get less cool than that)

And unlike both her parents,

Clarissa wasn't host

To anybody scary—

Not even one wan ghost!
Ghahremani knew right away she was dealing with a misfit in Clarissa. "There's this underlying feeling that she has through the book that she isn't reflecting who she really is," Ghahremani said.

Before her first illustration, Ghahremani pulled the last page of a watercolor block — the final, black page that is meant to be a throwaway sheet, and worked with that as a base. Even when the images are bright and cheerful, the black could poke through. Ultimately, the entire book was painted on black paper.

Lucky shoppers in the 2019 San Diego Book Crawl may have caught Ghahremani doing live illustration demos of some of the full page spreads of "She Wanted To Be Haunted."

The cover of "She Wanted to be Haunted," illustrated by Susie Ghahremani, is pictured among flowers styled by Natalie Gill of Native Poppy.
Stacy Keck
The cover of "She Wanted to be Haunted," illustrated by Susie Ghahremani, is pictured among flowers styled by Natalie Gill of Native Poppy.

The book takes a few surprising and absurd twists as Clarissa sets out to make herself dreary, and Ghahremani's illustrations take these characters and their fantastical world to new heights.

It's a testament to her skill and influences — she was raised on Beatrix Potter and animal-centric stories ("books where rodents are somehow running things," she mused) and cites Edward Gorey as her favorite illustrator.

Known for her whimsical buttons, stationery and more with animals and scenes from nature, Ghahremani's style is charming and grounded in the natural world. Like Clarissa, a pink house in the woods who longs for a grim transformation, Ghahremani's work champions big change, being a bit strange and figuring it all out with nature.