Giant hornets! Evil robots! Radioactive ducks! Such is just a sampling of the imagery I got to work with for a recent book cover assignment. Radium Baby is a YA adventure novel written by St John Karp. As I learned more about his book, I could not wait to paint something bathed in glowing green. Giant hornets alone were enough to entice me… but add in an autogyro and King Tut and my head just about exploded.
The novel takes place in 1927 Oklahoma, when Radium baths were all the rage. The protagonist is 13-year-old Sam Ticky. His foster father tells him that his birth parents are the Pepperpots, a deceased mad scientist couple. The Pepperpots are hailed as the most famous scientists, even more so than their friends the Curies. The Pepperpots discovered their love of Radium when they stuffed it into a roast duck and served it for dinner.
Young Sam is not the only person who believes he is the long lost child of the Pepperpots. A radio producer announces that there is going to be a competition to find the famed “Radium Baby.” Sam and his two rivals travel the world and compete in three challenges. The first is in China, where they must find the honey of the Asian giant hornet. The second challenge brings them to Egypt to steal the jewel from King Tut’s tomb. The third challenge is to survive the Pepperpot’s own perilous haunted mansion in Boston.
The globe-trotting competition is fraught with all manner of scheming, cheating and backstabbing. Sam has antagonists at every turn, including a bloodthirsty bishop and a Texan robot manufacturer. To find out how the competition turns out and who claims the title of Radium Baby, you must read the book, of course!
This painting was the most fun ever! And how much I love YA books…! It was important to me to capture the excitement and eccentric radium-laced adventures. I liked painting a scene of flying away from danger, a theme I often find in my dreams. I’m also happy with the solution of using the radioactivity symbol, to marry the Radium theme with a threefold contest.
Last weekend, I got to celebrate the book at its launch party in San Francisco. It was a 1920s themed gathering, with silent films playing in the background and monocle party favors. All that was missing was a dip in a Radium bath.