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Interview with Jessica Boehman, Author and Illustrator of Café Au Lait: A Story of NF1 and My Special Spots

By October 19, 2023February 28th, 2024Awareness, NF1, Tools for Kids

Interview with Jessica Boehman, Author and Illustrator of Café Au Lait: A Story of NF1 and My Special Spots 

Meet Jessica Boehman, the author and illustrator of a new book from the Children’s Tumor Foundation called Café Au Lait: A Story of NF1 and My Special Spots, which is available now at the CTF store. Jessica describes her vision for the book and the artistic process that brought it to life. 

CTF: Can you tell us how you developed the story for this book? 

Jessica: I had a tough time figuring out how to approach this book, and sat on the story for a couple of months. Then, an unrelated series of conversations with my sweetheart about maps changed the way I looked at the problem of the story. I started thinking about how by looking at maps, one thinks about all of the various people all over the world. I loved to do that as a kid–imagine places I’d like to go and the people I’d meet. That led me to think about how we have our own “maps” inside of our body–bones, vessels, nerves, and even the way our organs connect. I wondered what it would be like to have cafè au lait spots that were visible on my skin. I know I’d look at them like a map–just as I have done with my own birthmarks. 

CTF: Had you heard of NF before you started working on the story? 

Jessica: I had, but I have never known someone that was born with it. 

CTF: The artwork is beautiful. How did you create it? Can you tell us about your process? 

Jessica: Because of the title, I knew I wanted to work in washes of coffee. I’d never done it before, so I brewed some strong Italian espresso and pretended it was watercolor. It reacted relatively similarly, and worked really well with cold-press watercolor paper. I needed a secondary color and wanted to keep it a warm, cozy color palette, so I used a warm pinkish red  watercolor to complement the soft browns of the coffee. The book is done in a sort of collage. I drew the book on my iPad using Procreate–in the same way I’d draw on paper– and then added the color by scanning in real paintings I made in coffee and watercolor and then using them where it was needed. Every brown tone or skin tone in the book is made with coffee. 

CTF: What drew you to this project? 

Jessica: I’ve suffered with my own neurological issues; ten years ago I suddenly fell ill with Guillain-Barrè Syndrome (GBS), which also affects the nerves, though in a different way than NF1, and I still suffer from the effects of it, having permanent nerve damage in my arms and legs (particularly my left hand–luckily I am right-handed). When I heard about this project, this felt like a good way to help little children who were trying to make sense of potentially life-changing information, and I liked the thought that such a book could have a real-world positive impact. I also felt I could relate in some small way to the project due to my own experience. 

CTF: Are any of the characters based on real people? 

Jessica: A few family members and friends are peppered through the book, as am I. Our hero, Enzo, is fictional. But the dog is my actual dog, Ludo, who has appeared in both of my book projects. He’s a wonderful, silly, singing 13-year-old rescue dog who deserves worldwide fame! 

CTF: Have you written any other books for children? 

Jessica: Yes, my first book, The Lions at Night (The RoadRunner Press, 2019) is a wordless book about the lions of the New York Public Library. It won the Independent Book Publishers’ (IPPY) 2020 Gold Medal for picture books. 

CTF: Are you working on anything new now? 

Jessica: Yes, I am building a few new picture book concepts that are looking for a home. 

CTF: Thank you so much for this wonderful work of art. We know it will touch the lives of many children and their families. 

Jessica: Thank you for the opportunity to make this book!

About Jessica Boehman

Jessica M. Boehman is a picture book author/illustrator and a Professor of Art History and Fine Arts living in New York City. She holds a master's degree from Penn State and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, both in art history. She was a Fulbright scholar in Rome from 2006 to 2007. This is her second book. VISIT JESSICA'S WEBSITE

About the Book

 In Café Au Lait: A Story of NF1 and My Special Spots, young Enzo goes on a journey to discover the meaning of his special spots. He uses the map on his skin to help him understand another map – the nerves inside his body. We learn along with Enzo that he lives with a condition called neurofibromatosis type 1, or NF1, that causes tumors to grow on nerves. Because NF1 is most often diagnosed in childhood, this book is meant to inspire conversation and understanding for children living with NF1 and their classmates, friends, and families. 

Copies of Cafe Au Lait: A Story of NF1 and My Special Spots are available now at