That’s right—today I’m sharing Akiko Miyakoshi’s picture book life! She’s had three picture books published as author-illustrator in English so far, and I’m looking forward to more! Her work is absolutely infused with imagination and her charcoal and pencil drawings allow her to alternate beautifully between spare and substantial, depending on the tone of the moment she’s portraying.
Miyakoshi’s work is infused with stillness, curiosity, connection, comfort, hope, imagination, and a little bit of magic. Her books, for me, quietly captivate and make the world slow down.
This one feels like a fairy tale without the scary bits. A girl in a red cap, a pie, a grandmother, a bear. When her father forgets the pie he’s bringing to Kikko’s grandmother, Kikko sets off to find him. She thinks she’s following his footsteps, but instead she’s led to an unfamiliar house in the woods. But no scary bits here, remember? The figure in the coat and hat Kikko followed was actually a bear, the house the setting for a wonderful tea party with other forest animals and pie.
Instead of the woods being a place to fear, this story portrays it as a place of wonderful surprises and generous, welcoming spirits.
“You’re never alone in the woods,” Kikko answered, smiling.
While the woods were once empty, full of white space and leafless tress, the animals fill it in a sort of parade. Her use of color is so effective too, little spots of brightness and then that sweet, colorful pie. The illustrations convey the feeling that though the world may seem lonely, it’s full of wonder and community and magic. And the details make it feel truly real.
This book has surprise and joy and fond feelings shared by all kinds of creatures. And, it’s a story that affirms a child’s imagination, something I’m always a fan of and something Akiko Miyakoshi does exceptionally well.
A boy planning a beach day with his family worries the coming storm will cancel his trip. There is fear in this story, fear of weather and fear of having joyful plans disrupted. The black and white drawings add to the ominous feelings of worry. After wishing for a ship to conquer the storm, that night he dreams of one, and he is at the helm. Here too, a child’s imagination is a powerful, palpable thing and the next day, the storm is gone.
“I wish I had a ship with big propellers that would spin stronger winds to drive the storm away.”
Finally, the lift and break and joy of brilliantly light blue skies that match the remaining puddles from the rain, a child’s wish fulfilled telling readers that despite the darkness of worry, there is hope. Despite fear, there is courage.
The bunny in this book is walking home with their mother, looking at the windows they pass. Once again, this story captures imagination and wonder so effectively as bunny imagines what each neighbor might be doing inside their home. Bunny pictures these domestic scenes, each rendered simply, yet with so much resonance. We glimpse each character through Bunny’s wonderings, each evening they’re having in that tender, liminal time of night before going to bed.
“But every night, we all go home to bed.”
The yellow glow in this picture book about night is one special thing about it. It’s dark, it’s night, but it’s always comforting, illuminated. Perhaps there is a comfort in imagining others around us even when we can’t see them. If we can envision the experience of others, then we know we are all the same under the same moon in the same dark and glow of evening.
Enter to win one copy of all three of Akiko Miyakoshi’s picture books from Kids Can Press!
Simply comment below!
(Giveaway ends Tuesday, March 20 at midnight PST; North America only.)
Big thanks to Kids Can Press for interior images and the generous giveaway!
I love how this picture book begins the way it ends, with “Vini!” (Come!)—the field itself beckoning. Indeed, The Field calls out to both its characters and its readers: come, be part of play and life and friends and home.
Chronicling one day spent joyfully playing futbol despite obstacles, it’s full of dynamic action and camaraderie. Both the text with English and Saint Lucian Creole words, as well as beautifully vibrant, varied illustrations, make this fantastic story truly move. It’s a standout.
And I’m so lucky to be able to share an interview with the author, Baptiste Paul, and illustrator, Jacqueline Alcántara with you today so you can hear more about them and their process! They both answered the same set of questions, so in a true treat, we get to hear both their perspectives.
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This Picture Book Life: What is your own experience with futbol/soccer and how did it inform THE FIELD?
Baptiste Paul: As a child, I played futbol/soccer a lot. I always played barefoot — not by choice but by circumstance. Soccer was my escape from my reality — the poverty I faced as a child. It was my safe space. It was a place where my friends and I learned to navigate and solve problems. Sometimes, we got into a few scuffles but always found a way to solve our differences before the game ended. It was the place where I was the happiest — the place where the hardships magically disappeared and where Creole came to life. I am a believer in you write what you know and writing about futbol while speaking my native language was a natural fit.
Jacqueline Alcántara: While I didn’t play a lot of soccer growing up, I did play some pick-up games with friends throughout high school and in my backyard, with my dad when I was younger. But I love the universality of the game and it’s one of the only sports I can tolerate watching on TV! (go Barça!) One of my favorite memories from visiting family in Honduras is a nighttime soccer game in the mountains with a few cousins and some little kids from the neighborhood. We played in cowboy boots with a beat up old ball, on a field, just like the one in this book and under a huge night sky with stars so big it felt like you could pull one down. I definitely reached back into that memory to remember what that place and time felt like, and just the humor and excitement that goes along with any impromptu game.
TPBL: This story is so full of joyful action. How did you go about creating that kind of action? Baptiste, how did you develop and craft the story to be so active and Jacqueline, how did you accomplish that dynamic movement through the illustrations?
Baptiste Paul: The game I played as a child was jam packed with fun. We made the most out of every game — even on rainy days — we were unstoppable. We played for hours. The use of Creole words, adds that joyfulness and makes the story complete. When we played, these were the words we yelled out and being authentic to the story meant I had to use creole words. The Creole words in the text might look simple but they are alive and they have emotions.
Jacqueline Alcántara: Well, I absolutely love illustrating action / movement sequences. I did a lot of figure sketching to start – gathering imagery from movies, photos, youtube videos, etc., of people playing soccer around the world, then deciding which movements worked for each character. I tried exaggerating some of those movements to create an even more dynamic composition. I think it feels joyful as well because the nature of a pick-up game is so different than something organized – there’s more unity and camaraderie amongst the players and I tried to portray that through everyone working together, helping each other, and celebrating each other’s victories regardless of the team they were on.
TPBL: What was it like seeing the artwork or text for the first time?
Baptiste Paul: I was very emotional. My world, the one I envisioned and the one I wanted to share with the world was now a reality. As I flipped through each page, I kept stopping to wipe the tears and to revisit my childhood. I saw myself chasing the animals off the field and that brought back special memories.
Jacqueline Alcántara: As I read through the manuscript the first time, I had a strong vision of the whole story – character setting, colors, everything! I instantly loved the language Baptiste used and after a few more readings, I realized there was a real beauty in the specific words and phrases he chose that allowed me a very clear direction of his vision, but it also left a lot open to my interpretation – which made it such a fun and gratifying process.
TPBL: Please tell us about your process from concept to finished product. Where did you start? How did the project come to be? How were you paired and did you collaborate at all?
Baptiste Paul: I always start with a memory or an idea. The Field as a children’s book came on a day that I was playing outside in the rain with my kids. Realizing the importance of a moment or an idea and applying universal themes is powerful. I realized that the moments I spent playing in the rain (and mud) brought back happy memories. My process involves, a pencil, memo book, asking lots of questions like who, what, why where, when and how and pacing back and forth talking to myself.
Pairing was completely coincidental and yes we collaborated only once during the entire process. In fact, I included only one illustrator’s note in the text.
Jacqueline Alcántara: Once I got the green light, I started by writing out some really rough ideas for the narrative of the illustration and sketching quick compositions. I knew I wanted the illustrations to embrace that super fulfilling feeling you get after having the best-day-ever playing with friends. So, I decided I wanted the illustrations to go from one character playing alone, to seeking out friends, to ending with that feeling of friendship, love and exhaustion! And I knew I wanted the cast of characters to be somewhat diverse in age and appearance – after all that’s the fun of pick-up!
I then worked on sketching out ideas for characters; pulling ideas from stories my dad told me about people he grew up playing soccer with in Honduras, and incorporating random personal memories of people or outfits or attitudes that popped up while sketching. It wasn’t until I spoke with my mentor, Carolyn Dee Flores, that I starting really thinking about the storm and the field as key characters themselves! It felt so obvious after she mentioned it to me – after all “The Field” is the title of the book and therefore the main character right?!
After sketches, I played a lot with color, even though I had really clear ideas of the colors I wanted to use, I experimented with which medium (usually I use a combination of marker, gouache and photoshop) would be best suited for the different elements. I experimented a lot while creating the final illustrations to get the feel of the setting, the lighting, and the relationships as they all looked in my imagination. I think I got close!
TPBL: How would you sum up the spirit or theme of the book?
Baptiste Paul:It’s a celebration of friendship and play.
Jacqueline Alcántara: The book reminds me to never let anything get in the way of having fun, always being open to making new friends, and to jump over, slide under or dive straight into any obstacles!
Big thanks to both Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara for speaking with me, and to Nicole Banholzer for images!
Because my middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees, features a main character who’s a knitter and yarn bomber, I always notice picture books with knitting and yarn (and have great admiration for knitters and crocheters in real life!). So, since I’ve got yarn on the brain, I thought it would be fun to round up a bunch of great picture books featuring yarn and knitting—perfectly cozy reads for winter and good fits for crafters of all kinds.
Plus, because knitting a gift for someone is often a sign of love and friendship, many of these are perfect for Valentine’s Day too. As you’ll see, knitting is often synonymous in story with showing kindness and the connections characters make.
I adore all the humans in this book, and the way the community comes together over this neighborhood cat. And I adore Mrs. Murray, who knits, and who shares a kinship with Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius that is meant to be.
This wonderful book’s beating heart is Nana and a bus ride she takes with her grandson. Nana demonstrates generosity to CJ, as well as the ability to see beauty. Also, she spends part of the bus ride with needles and yarn.
A girl who wants to do a kindness for the kindest person (and knitter) she knows. A super sweet story, plus pom poms!
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (2012)
A knitter-yarn bomber is at the center of this fairy-tale-esque book with a surprise ending. If you like the idea of covering anything and everything with colorful yarn and a bit of magic, you’ll like this book.
A set of four stories about sea creature friends, one of whom—Squid—is a knitter. Complete with socks, mittens, tea, and cake, this one delights! Author-illustrator Tao Nyeu even came up with a knitting pattern to go along with the book!
A family must flee their home country and the new place they live feels bleak and uniform—people wear sweaters in only one of three solid colors. A resourceful mother unravels the sweaters in order to make new sweaters, patterned ones that express joy and individuality, and she starts a kind of revolution come spring. This is “…based on the story of a Portuguese family that fled the dictatorship in the late 1960s and lived in exile in Algeria, Romania, and finally Czechoslovakia.”
“The Diamond & The Boy is a two-tale picture book—a side-by-side telling of the story of natural diamond creation and the life of inventor Tracy Hall [who invented a machine to create human-made diamonds for manufacturing]. This book shows how journeys can triumph over beginnings and how one person can rock the world.”
Yes, this is the biography of the person who invented lab-created diamonds, the kind first used for industrial cutting uses. It’s simultaneously the biography of a natural diamond and its formation.
Told inventively and lyrically, each page is split into two sides, one about the boy, and one about the diamond. Their sections parallel in that they both start with the same word or phrase, and they continue to mirror one another thematically in how both the graphite and the boy experience “heat,” “pressure,” “waiting,” and other concepts in different ways as their journeys progress, together. You’ll just have to read it to see how stunning and smart it is!
There’s also back matter with not only more about Tracy Hall‘s life, but about the history of lab-made diamonds as well as natural diamonds including, briefly, the colonization and conflict surrounding them, which is important to be informed of in any discussion of those precious rocks.
And Hannah’s going to tell us a little more about it!
But first, here’s the cover! I love the bold, graphic illustration and the emanating quality of those shining lines. Plus, the pencils in the boy’s pocket—an essential for an inventor!
This Picture Book Life: What is your particular connection to the subject matter of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
Hannah Holt: The boy in this story, Tracy Hall, is my grandfather. I first heard his story as a small child in my mother’s arms. Whenever I visited Grandpa Hall’s home, I loved looking at the models of diamond presses. This story has been beating in my heart for as long as I can remember.
TPBL: Please tell us about your reaction to seeing the cover for the first time, and the illustrations throughout. What’s a detail that surprised or delighted you to see?
HH: When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.
Seeing this story illustrated was an amazing experience. Jay’s work is stunning. In addition to the beauty of the work, I was delighted to see he had illustrated some of Tracy’s childhood inventions and made them scientifically accurate. An attentive visual reader could possibly recreate them as DIY projects!
TPBL: What was the process of deciding to tell the story by way of parallels—the diamond’s journey and the boy’s side by side?
HH: A couple of years ago, I received a particularly lengthy rejection letter. It went above and beyond listing the deficiencies of my work and launched right into my obvious personal flaws as well.
A few days later, I stood in the children’s section at Powell’s Books when the words of this rejection letter started ringing in my head. I thought, “What am I doing? I’m a nobody. What could I possibly add to all this?”
At that moment, it felt like all the air was being sucked out of the room, and I had to sit in one of the children’s chairs. After I finally caught my breath, I left the store and decided to leave writing, too.
For the next month, I didn’t write a thing. Instead, I did a lot of soul searching. In the end, I came to the following conclusions:
1.) I liked writing and missed it.
2.) I couldn’t control whether or not anyone else liked my writing.
3.) I could improve my craft.
4.) I could become smarter about how and where I submitted my work.
This story, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, was one of the first stories I revised after my writing break. Previously, I had tried writing the story about Tracy’s cleverness or rocks that sparkle, but those ideas no longer seemed important.
Instead, I saw the need for…resilience.
Graphite needed to become resilient…
Tracy had to become resilient…
And I needed to get over myself, too, if I wanted to write this story well. So I threw out all my old drafts and started from scratch. Writing a story in parallel about change and resilience seemed natural because it was the journey I was on myself.
I set a goal that year to get 100 rejections. I didn’t make that goal. However, that’s only because I signed with my fabulous agent first, and we had the good fortune to start selling books shortly thereafter. Embracing rejection led me to so much more success than resisting it. This story—this experience—fundamentally changed how I view challenges.
TPBL: I’ve read the manuscript and those side-by-side spreads are like beautiful poetry. Will you describe the process of pairing non-fiction subject matter with poetic text and how that developed?
HH: I’ve always liked poetry and playing with words, but Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming had the biggest influence on this revision. Her lyrical narrative, purposeful line breaks, and masterful storytelling inspired me to push my own writing further.
Initially I wrote one stanza of rock, and then one stanza of Tracy. Rock, Tracy, Rock, Tracy… I didn’t map it out ahead of time. They lined up naturally. Of course, I had to do many revisions—tightening the language, refining the storyline, and making sure I had enough page breaks—but my first side-by-side draft flowed easily.
TPBL: What’s something fascinating you learned while researching this book?
HH: Oh, so many fun little things! I learned new scientific tidbits, like you need as much pressure to make diamonds as a hippo balancing on the head of a pin.
But for me the most fun was getting to know my grandfather better. For example, I learned he was once smitten with a girl named Catherine. Catherine is not my grandmother’s name.It was also interesting to read about the poverty he experienced in his matter-of-fact terms. Like, he joined the ROTC so he would have something free to wear. Two meals a day was enough to survive. Underwear was mostly optional clothing.
Reading about his life in his own words, before he became “Tracy Hall the famous scientist” was one of my favorite experiences. I would encourage children and teens to keep a journal. Someday the present will be the past, and personal histories are a way to keep time ever-fresh.
Big thanks to Hannah, for sharing about her writing process and the book with us, and to Balzer & Bray for the cover image!
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (2017) is, like its cover, delightful. It’s exuberant! Kirkus calls it: “An all-out celebration of black hair…” Indeed, this picture book celebrates African American girls, and their hair, portraying princesses doing all kinds of tasks, from solving math problems to baking to dancing. It’s a joy to behold.
“All princesses wear crowns, but underneath their crowns, not all princesses have the same hair.”
Author-illustrator Sharee Miller was kind of enough to answer some questions about her debut picture book. Check out our interview below!
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PRINCESS HAIR is a delight, starting with the playful, colorful cover and all the way through. Thank you so much for speaking with This Picture Book Life about it!
This Picture Book Life: Will you tell us the story of how Princess Hair came to be? What sparked the idea and how did you develop it?
Sharee Miller: I created Princess Hair because growing up I had barely seen any princesses that looked like me and I had never seen any that had hair like mine. I knew how it felt to not be represented, and I wanted to create Princess Hair for my younger self and other girls who deserved to see themselves in the books they read.
I felt no one else could represent black hair in all its diversity as I saw it. Our hair isn’t just an afro; it’s braids and dreadlocks and blowouts. I wanted to show a variety of princesses with different hair textures and different skin tones so I could represent as many black girls as possible. We are often portrayed in one way and we all have to identify with this generic black girl, but we are all so unique and I wanted to celebrate those differences.
I initially self published Princess Hair and sold it through Amazon as well as at festivals and events. Eventually, I was able to get my book in the hands of publishers at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers thanks to my agent, Monica Odom. With their help, I have been able to make Princess Hair into a fully realized book available to children all around the world!
TPBL: What were some of your favorite books as a child?
Sharee Miller: I spent most of my free time growing up in my school library. I loved reading picture books and comic books and acting out the stories. My favorite was Cinderella. I have read and seen so many variations on her story, but I always come back to it. Though others tried to hold her back, she was able to overcome her struggles with positivity and of course a little bit of magic. Sure it is a little dated that her goal was to go to a ball to meet a prince, but I am sure today Cinderella would be aiming higher with the help of her fairy godmother.
TPBL: My favorite spread is “And princesses with FROHAWKS rock!” I think it embodies the exuberance of the book. Will you tell us about creating that page, both the text and accompanying illustration? How did you decide that while portraying princesses with different kinds of hair on each page, you would also portray different activities, especially those not historically associated with the princess role?
Sharee Miller: I wanted girls to be able to see themselves in the book so I made sure to show the princesses doing relatable and fun things. I thought back to activities I liked to do like jumping on the bed and baking and of course drawing. I wanted to think outside of the rigid boundaries we have for princesses. When you think about it they are just girls in crowns and what girl doesn’t want to rock?
TPBL: You’ve created a wonderful affirmation of one’s hair and one’s self throughout the story. What’s been the most gratifying part of the journey for you? Is there one interaction with kid readers or their parents in particular that sticks out to you as you’ve shared it in bookstore or school settings?
Sharee Miller: I get so much joy seeing little girls point out which princess they are in my books. When I see them connect with it like I hoped, it makes me proud. But the most gratifying experiences are when I speak to women who are my age or older who either bought my book for a child or for themselves. They echo my feelings of there not being books like this when we were growing up and how my book would have meant a lot to them as children. I wrote this book for childhood me who didn’t see the beauty in her hair, and I am glad the next generation can have it to help instill them with self-confidence and pride.
TPBL: What are you working on next?
Sharee Miller: I just completed the art for my second book Don’t Touch My Hair!, which is coming out next November. I am now brainstorming new ideas for my third!
Thanks so much for speaking with me, Sharee! And big thanks to Little, Brown for images, and for the review copy!
Sharee Miller has a BFA in communication design from Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn, where she enjoys spending time with her two cats, illustrating fun stories, and playing with her princess hair. Sharee invites you to visit her website www.shareemiller.com and her Instagram @coilyandcute.