Sean J. Cuttino’s new picture book makes traditional fairytales more diverse and inclusive

In The Storybook Traveling Adventures of Little J. and the Wonder Key, Sean J. Cuttino revisits well-known fairytales and updates them for modern audiences with the help of diverse and relatable characters.

Animator, illustrator and storyteller Sean J. Cuttino has today launched the Kickstarter for his first picture book, The Storybook Traveling Adventures of Little J. and the Wonder Key. Available to back now, with an exclusive early bird special running until 2 May, it tells the story of a little boy embarking on adventures in the realm of fairytales and aiding beloved storybook characters.

Fresh from his recent appearance on the Creative Boom podcast, where he discusses the fast-paced world of animation and how to stay ahead in changing times, Sean gives us a taste of what to expect from his first picture book and his big plans for the series moving forwards.

Telling the story of Little J. and his loyal stuffed rabbit companion, Professor Chester, the book sees the pair magically transported into well-known tales with the help of a magic key bestowed by the grand fairy godmother. As well as being a genius and exciting story idea in and of itself, it’s also a canny storytelling device that adds a much-needed dash of diversity to some fairly homogenous classics.

“In this particular adventure, he assists Little Red Riding Hood in delivering herbs to her ailing grandmother and encounters challenges such as the cunning schemes of the big bad wolf,” Sean explains. Through courage and quick thinking, Little J. ensures a happy ending before returning to his bedroom to go to bed.”

The book represents something of a departure for Sean, who had previously focused on creating fan art and other projects. But with Little J. and the Wonder Key, he could tell his own story in his own style. In fact, his art underwent a transformation in the process.

“Previously, I worked in a digital graphic style with inking and colouring, whereas now, I’ve embraced digital painting,” he reveals. “The response to this change was tremendous — far greater than any reaction I received for my colouring book or other past projects. This overwhelmingly positive feedback solidified my belief that this project was the one I wanted to pour my heart and soul into, making it ‘The Thing’ for me.”

This new art style ties into Sean’s desire to update the canon of fairy tales for a modern audience. He does this by introducing fresh and diverse characters such as Little J into the worlds of stories such as Little Red Riding Hood. “By reimagining tales like Little Red Riding Hood through the eyes of Little J., the story becomes more relatable and inclusive, resonating with today’s readers,” he explains.

“Additionally, the book offers representation often lacking in traditional fairy tales by featuring a little black boy as the main character, contributing to a more diverse literary landscape.”

Making the book is not just an enlightening experience for readers; even Sean found himself on a journey of self-discovery while making it. “Through this project, I’ve learned the importance of embracing my true passions and not confining myself to any artistic box,” he says.

“Previously, I limited myself to certain styles and mediums, but this book allowed me to break free from those constraints. It made me realise that the world of creativity inside me is vast and boundless, far bigger than any world out there. This realisation encouraged me to share my unique voice and vision with the world, knowing it’s something special worth expressing.

“Through storytelling, I’ve discovered the power of imagination and the joy of connecting with
others through the stories we tell. It’s taught me to be unapologetically myself and to share the wonders of my imagination with others, enriching both my life and theirs in the process.”

Popping up in the world of Little Red Riding Hood is just the start of Sean’s plans for Little J. Audiobook versions of his adventure are already in the works, along with an animated read-along experience that allows readers to further immerse themselves in his enchanting world.

“Ultimately, I aspire for ‘Little J. and the Wonder Key’ to capture audiences’ attention beyond the bookshelf, with the hope of seeing it adapted into a movie or television series,” Sean adds. “As for his next adventures, I plan to develop ‘Little J. and the Wonder Key’ into a series, with each instalment delving into a different fairy tale or story, offering readers a diverse array of magical adventures.”

If you like the sound of Little J. and the Wonder Key, you can help it to become a reality. The project is now live on Kickstarter with a fundraising goal of $9,000. Sean realises he needs the help of many backers to bring this magical tale to life, but he’s lined up plenty of perks to reward those who donate, including an early bird deal running from the first to the second of May only.

“Backers can expect a range of exciting perks, including digital content like wallpapers and eBooks, exclusive bundles featuring the hardcover book, stickers, keychains, and plushies, as well as signed editions and deluxe tiers with custom artwork,” he concludes.

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