Spreading ‘Jayhawk love’: Lifelong KU fan creates Baby Jay picture book
photo by: Chansi Long
Lawrence native and 2018 KU graduate Jacob Hood grew up immersed in all things Jayhawk.
His parents are both University of Kansas graduates, he attended KU basketball games as a child, and he even stood next to Big Jay on the Allen Fieldhouse basketball court as a young boy. Recently, his love for the university and its mascot led him to create a children’s book on the subject: “Baby Jay’s Jayhawk Journey.”
“It really takes a look at the KU community and what a Jayhawk is,” Hood says of the colorful volume published in October.
Hood wrote and illustrated the book, which follows Baby Jay as he tries to sort out his own identity by talking to Jayhawks on the KU campus. In search of meaning, Baby Jay stops at several KU landmarks such as Strong and Fraser halls, the Kansas Union, the Chi Omega fountain, the Campanile and Allen Fieldhouse.
During his college years, Hood was a film and media studies student and a cartoonist for KU’s student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan. One of his beloved duties at the UDK was illustrating the game-day poster inserts, which fans held up at KU basketball games, pretending to read them as the opposing team came onto the court, then ripping them up and throwing the confetti into the air.
Hood is currently an animator for Rock Chalk Video at Kansas Athletics. Chances are, when you see an animated Jayhawk at a KU game, it’s probably his.
The protagonist in Hood’s book, Baby Jay, is a diminutive edition of Big Jay, KU’s main mascot. Baby Jay was “hatched” during halftime at a football game in 1971, giving KU the unusual status of having two mascots.
Though Baby Jay is the star of his book, Hood also illustrated and included all of the iconic Jayhawks that illustrators have created through the years.
Illustrating the iconic bird is a lot harder than some might think. Bob Snodgrass, the CEO of Ascent Books, which published “Baby Jay’s Jayhawk Journey,” says Hood’s precision in illustration is what allowed him to gain licensing approval from KU.
“The folks at KU take that Jayhawk very seriously,” Snodgrass says. “They don’t let just anyone draw that Jayhawk; it has to be a certain way because that’s their brand. I was thrilled that they were thrilled with Jacob’s work and his presentation of the Jayhawk.”
There are seven different Jayhawks in the book, and each detail has to be exact, Snodgrass says.
“You’d think feathers on a bird would be an easy thing, but (KU) needs those feathers a certain way, they need that beak a certain way, because … that’s their identity,” Snodgrass says.
Local children’s writer Brian Hanni says he admires Hood’s writing and illustration skills.
“Writing a children’s book is a challenge in and of itself, but the fact that he also did all of the illustrations is very impressive,” Hanni says.
Lawrence resident Rayanne Dowell bought “Baby Jay’s Jayhawk Journey” for her great nieces and nephews and for her two children, both of whom graduated from KU.
“I think this is a great gift for kids of all ages,” Dowell says. “(This book is) such a great conversation starter with kids for parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles to share stories of their college days at KU. It’s such a great way to spread Jayhawk love.”
The narrative for “Baby Jay’s Jayhawk Journey” is written entirely in rhyme, which Hood found challenging.
“Sometimes I would have to write backwards,” he says. “I would ask, ‘What is the idea of this line, and how do I get there with a rhyming word?’ One thing that I really tried to do was not talk down to kids.”
Hood hopes his book has appeal across generations.
“It’s a children’s book, and I definitely wanted to appeal to kids, but anyone who has a tie to the university, anyone who calls themselves a Jayhawk could identify with this book,” he says.