The protagonist of Jennifer P. Goldfinger’s Daisy the Daydreamer (Neal Porter/Holiday House, March 12) has her head in the clouds—literally.

In Goldfinger’s latest picture book, the young girl is depicted with a cloud obscuring her face as she walks her dog, brushes her hair, and plays on the school’s playground swingset. Daisy tries to swat the clouds away as Mrs. Dill, her teacher, lectures the class on octopuses. She decides she wants to be line leader on an upcoming aquarium field trip, an honor given to the best listener.

Alas, Daisy can’t keep her mind from wandering, and she loses the coveted position. But after Mrs. Dill sees Daisy’s drawings, she gives her an even better honor: the official class artist for their aquarium visit.

Goldfinger really relates to Daisy. “I learned that I had ADHD a couple of years ago,” she says via Zoom from her studio in Portland, Maine. “I very much knew what it felt like to be Daisy, to feel like, I want to hear what you’re saying, but I spaced out somewhere. One thing I like about Daisy is that she’s her own self-advocate. She’s like, Wait a minute, maybe I didn’t listen the way everybody else did, but here’s a lot of information that I got.

Goldfinger’s own experiences as a young student were marked with difficulty, not only because of her ADHD but because she and her family moved frequently. She was born in Pennsylvania and spent six years living on a farm with more than 100 animals. In those six years, she went to three different schools.

“It was really, really tough,” she recalls. “It was traumatizing. I remember every time going to a new school and just being so upset and so freaked out. Teachers didn’t get to know me, so I didn’t have somebody who [saw] me well enough to know what my abilities were.”

Goldfinger still remembers the times that she, like Daisy, got encouraging words from a teacher.

“Hearing those words is a boost to one’s confidence, especially kids who are like me, who lose confidence because they’re just not getting it, and they do feel like they’re not as smart. But I think that the kids can see that there are so many different ways to learn, and we all have our special skills and our superpowers.”

Goldfinger’s school experiences weren’t all bad. Her parents eventually sent her and her sister to Kent State University’s laboratory school in Ohio, where she thrived.

“It was a really amazing school,” she says. “There were only 11 kids in our class, and some of the teachers were professors at the university. I was writing music, I was playing the piano. It was a really, really great place to make me feel confident in the arts. At one point I had written something, and I was really into it, and my teacher said, ‘Have you ever thought of being a writer?’ And I was like, No, but I like that you’re thinking that way.

Goldfinger would indeed become a writer, but first came a career in illustration, which started while she was dating children’s book author and illustrator Michael Emberley, son of Caldecott Medal–winning artist Ed Emberley.

“Michael was illustrating a book written by Robert L. May called Rudolph’s Second Christmas,” she says. “He broke his wrist mountain biking in the middle of working on it, but the publisher wanted to keep going. Michael had done a bunch of the sketches, and they were asking illustrators to see if they could imitate his style. He was away for a weekend, and I was like, I’m going to do this myself.

The publisher ended up asking her to finish the book, and the experience proved positive. She found herself deeply absorbed by the work of illustration. “Time would go by, and I had no idea how long,” she says. “I’d forget to eat. I was just having so much fun with it.”

Goldfinger had found a calling. After sending numerous postcards and art samples to publishers, she eventually scored a meeting, which led to several books. Goldfinger illustrated I Need Glasses, written by Charlie Thomas, and The King’s Chorus, written by Linda Hayward. She also wrote and illustrated the books A Fish Named Spot, My Dog Lyle, and Hello, My Name Is Tiger.

She knew what kind of look she wanted for the illustrations in Daisy the Daydreamer, which she crafted using colored paper and a brayer before scanning them onto her iPad and using the Procreate app—what she calls a “digital collage.”

“The challenge I made myself for doing this book was that I didn’t want to have any lines outside of the figures,” she says. “I wanted it to just be blocks of color. I know I felt like, Should I be putting backgrounds here or more color? It’s such a complicated and simple book at the same time. It’s complicated in that there are two things going on, so you’re given the opportunity to see inside of her brain in a sense, with the clouds. And I was wondering, if I did all this background stuff, would [the reader] be like, Where do my eyes go?

Her illustration employs different techniques than what she uses in her second career as a fine artist, crafting trompe l’oeil murals and other works, frequently using antique images that she manipulates with wax, oil sticks, and various tools. She writes in her artist’s statement, “I use my art to try to embrace and purge the inner conflicts that still present themselves. And in sharing this with the world I’m connecting to those adults and children who are familiar with that emotion and therefore I hope resonate with my work.”

Her art has appeared in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Portland’s Greenhut Gallery, and was showcased in the 2015 book Encaustic Art in the 21st Century. And she’s not slowing down: She has two shows coming up this year, which she’s in the midst of preparing pieces for.

Goldfinger isn’t leaving the book world behind, though, with many different types of manuscripts in the works. “And I’m actually working on a novel about my time living on the farm. I think that’s a little of my ADHD again,” she says with a laugh. “But I get a lot done because I get very excited about all of it.”

It’s an excitement that Daisy shares, too. On the last page of Daisy the Daydreamer, the little girl is seen beaming as she displays her artwork for her impressed classmates.

“It would have been really helpful to me if I’d had a book like this when I was younger,” Goldfinger says. “ADHD can be frustrating, and it can make your brain go to all different places, but when you dive in, it’s just amazing how many people who are incredibly successful have it. It’s just that they have to get there in other ways.”

Michael Schaub is a contributing writer.