ALBANY -- Whenever Mason Sibley signs a book, he makes sure to add a T-Rex.
It doesn’t take long for the 16-year-old to draw the cartoonish sketch. With two books already to his credit — including the first before he was old enough to get a driver’s license — he’s drawn the green dinosaur too many times to count.
“I’ve gotten a lot of practice with that dinosaur,” he joked.
Sibley got even more practice this week, when he joined author Kat Pigott for a book reading and signing of “I See You, Green Dinosaur” at the Albany-Springfield Library on Wednesday, April 24.
The book is a sequel to Pigott and Sibley’s first book together, “Green Dinosaur Pancakes,” a book Pigott said she wrote in 2007 but sat on for years while she searched for “the right” illustrator.
She found that in Sibley, who provided all the hand-drawn illustrations for the book — at 12 years old.
“It was quite an achievement for him to have illustrated a children’s book at 12 years old,” Pigott said. “And then for him to have it again at 16 is remarkable. It’s unheard of.”
Pigott said she first met Sibley shortly after coming across a news article detailing his artwork when he was still attending Springfield Elementary. After meeting at the Subway in Springfield, Pigott paid Sibley to produce drawings for the dinosaur-themed children’s book she hoped to get published.
After sending off the manuscript and illustrations to Pelican Publishing Company, Pigott heard back within 28 days. Apparently, the publishers liked what they saw — from both her and the young artist.
“They gave Mason a contract as well,” Pigott said. “So we both have contracts with Pelican, and there was no pushback [even though he was 12].”
They’ve been a tag-team duo ever since, sharing their story of Kole and his friendly T-Rex at schools, libraries and other venues — a rare partnership in the world of children’s books.
“I thought long and hard about who I wanted to illustrate the book because I wanted to have someone that I could trust,” Pigott said. “I’ve seen authors before have an illustrator assigned to them and when the book comes out, their vision is not there. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to know my illustrator and handpick him. I think I made an excellent choice.”
The first book, “Green Dinosaur Pancakes,” follows Kole during a visit to his grandmother’s house, where she makes dinosaur pancakes that magically come to life (Pigott told children she was inspired to write the book because of the green dinosaur pancakes her father made for her as a child).
In the book, the story is almost entirely set in the grandmother’s kitchen, which presented an early challenge to Sibley, now a junior at Springfield High.
“If the fridge was bigger in one drawing than the other, I had to fix that,” he said. “I had to make sure everything was consistent, so I had to do the sketches over and over and over again. It was constant sending back and forth between me and the publisher. There were so many corrections in the first book.”
What about the second book?
“No corrections,” he said.
In the second book, released Feb. 1, an older Kole ventures outside of the kitchen, giving Sibley a chance to expand his illustrations. In “I See You, Green Dinosaur,” Kole is all over the place — at school, at the dentist’s office, at church, and on the school bus.
And everywhere he goes, Kole is followed by his friendly T-Rex, who ends up saving the boy from the school bully — a theme Pigott felt was important to get across.
“This [second book] is a story about bullying,” Pigott said. “I wrote it because Louisiana is No. 1 in the nation in bullying, so I wanted to reach children at the elementary school age.”
Pigott and Sibley have reached many elementary students since their collaboration. Pigott said the biggest advantage she and Sibley have going for them is their ability “to market these books together.”
“Most times, authors and illustrators never work together and don’t go on book tours together,” Pigott said. “But because we live in the same town and because we’ve seen ourselves as a duo, we’ve had more success.”
The tandem has made 22 visits in the last eight weeks, including one in Beaumont, Texas, in front of 800 energetic elementary students. During the visit, Sibley also showed off another artistic talent of his — pancake art, in which he used a squeezer and a griddle to make dinosaur-themed pancakes.
“And they’re edible,” he said with a laugh.
Sibley didn’t make pancakes during Wednesday’s visit to the library, but he did show off his speed-drawing in front of children and their parents. He made two sketches: one of the dinosaur, and the other of Minnie Mouse, both without a hiccup while using a black marker.
After that, Sibley showed off some of the portrait drawings he does in his spare time, including ones of Stan Lee, Spider-Man, Rosie the Riveter, John Wayne, and Indiana Jones.
Following the book reading and demonstrations, while Pigott and Sibley were signing books, one young girl asked the illustrator how he got so good at drawing.
Sibley had a simple, one-word answer.
“Practice,” he said as he quickly drew a T-Rex below his signature.