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Sean Qualls’s picture book life!

Today, I’m happy to dive into Sean Quall‘s picture book life! I’ve been following his career and have been a big admirer of his artwork for a long time so this is a neat chance to showcase some of his projects for kid readers and viewers.

When I think of Qualls’s work, I think of smooth yet textured layers. I think of pastels and pencil lines. I think of muted pinks and purples and blues that still pop. I think of shapes—circles and winking stars—on abstract backgrounds. Vibrant. Impacting and engaging. Dreamy. Beautiful.

 

 

Sean Qualls has illustrated 20 books for children (and I might even be missing a couple)!

He’s a painter and you can see a sampling of that work here.

He sometimes collaborates with his partner, Selina Alko. (See all of her books.) I wonder if (and hope!) they’ll keep making art for picture books together. When they make work together, Alko brings more collage into the mix.

He’s illustrated projects by Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, and Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle.

He’s been given the Coretta Scott King Honor for Before John Was a Jazz Giant. That book, and others, have won many awards.

Many of his projects have been biographies.

One of his latest collaborations with Selina Alko, Why Am I Me? written by Paige Britt, is a new favorite book of mine.

 

“When I work, I draw inspiration from an array of influences such as movies, childhood memories, aging and decaying surfaces, folk art, black memorabilia, golden books and more.”

—Sean Qualls, from his Brooklyn Library exhibition

 

 

Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2008).

 

Phillis’s Big Test by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2008).

 

“After getting my kids off to school, I spend some time (usually in cafes) journaling/self reflecting. I also use that time to figure out what projects to spend my time on that day/week. Green tea is my drink of choice.”

—Sean Qualls, from this interview

 

Skit-Skat Raggedy Cat by Roxan Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2010).

 

I studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for about a year and a half and then dropped out. Later, I took a few continuing education classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) but much of my training has been trial and error.

—Sean Qualls, from The Brown Bookshelf interview

 

Lullaby for a Black Mother by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2013).

 

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thomspon & Sean Qualls (2015).

 

“In the late 90’s I discovered outsider and folk artists and was inspired to go for feeling in my work rather than an academic approach.”

—Sean Qualls, from this interview with M is for Movement

 

Grandad Mandela by Zindzi Mandela, Zazi Mandela, and Ziwelene Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2018).

 

The Case for Loving, written by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (2015).

 

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, and Selina Alko (2017).

Two Friends by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (2016).

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham & Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko (2018).

KidLitTV has a wonderful video featuring both Qualls and Alko. It’s a very special studio visit that shows the pair painting together while they speak about collaboration, expressing yourself, facing your fears, and more.

 

“Each time I sit down and make a piece of art…that fear comes up, that fear of not being liked or not knowing that people will accept me or the art or what I’m trying to say. But I think it’s important to keep on creating even though you may be afraid because in the end you’re only you, you’re yourself…that’s all we have is who we are and that’s all we can really share with the world…”

—Sean Qualls on Kidlit TV

 

 

 

 

You might also be interested in my last “Their Picture Book Life” installment featuring Julie Flett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

picture book gems a bookseller recommends—translations edition

Hannah is a children’s bookseller who once stopped by to give us 5 elements of a successful storytime, evidenced by 5 picture books. Now she’s back as part of my picture book gems a bookseller/librarian recommends series! And this is a treat because she’s chosen international picture book translations.

Over to Hannah!

 

I have always loved learning languages. As a kid, I studied Spanish in school, and as an international affairs major in college, I studied Arabic, Hindi, and Farsi. Each language has a particular nuance, reflecting unique cultures and histories–when translated, the best stories do not lose any of that uniqueness. I’m drawn to translated children’s books in particular because I believe they offer a window to the world to kids that an atlas or a nonfiction book cannot–reading a translated book gives a child a bridge across the globe, connecting the reader to a different way of thinking and imagining. The following are six of my current translated favorites from around the world.

 

 

Seven Pablos by Jorge Luján, translated from the Spanish by Mara Lethem, illustrated by Chiara Carrer.

“There are many Pablos in the world, yet they are all one. Inside each of them is a heart that beats to the same rhythm as the ocean’s waves and the rotations of the planet.”

I wish that line from Seven Pablos could be written everywhere and understood by those at the highest levels of power. This is a book that meditates on the universal human experiences of children around the world, touching on issues like migration, poverty, and bullying. It is a necessary book for the time we live in–one of those Pablos could very well be one of the 12,800 detained children at the United States border.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters.

I’m a huge fan of weird, cozy, imagined worlds–the Moomin series is my absolute favorite–so this one appealed to me right off the bat. Its giant trim size is difficult to shelve, but it’s so necessary for spying all the minute details of the Twims’ world. These cute, squirrel-like beings live in trees with rooms that have specific purposes: a room to be born in, a room to read in, a room to swim in. With notes on their history, their mythology, and their daily lives, Ponti builds an immersive experience akin to reading a fantasy novel–making this book a delight to pore over and get lost within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, translated into Arabic by Falah Raheem, art by Nizar Ali Badr.

There have been many picture book explorations of the Syrian refugee experience, but this one is my absolute favorite. A true collaboration between author and artist, this bilingual story is a resonant, lyrical tale of one family’s life before and during the war and their hard journey out of Syria and into a hopeful future. Though Badr’s images are composed only from sea-smoothed stone, they are full of life and poignancy.

 

 

 

 

 

Chirri & Chirra by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko.

Never have I wanted to hug a book so much. This is a delicious and delightful ride of a book–one of those you want to step right inside and live within, featuring two adorable girls who ride their bikes through a magical world where friendly animals serve them jam sandwiches and clover blossom tea and other delicious treats. Though this book was published in 2016, its comforting, cheery atmosphere gives it the feel of a bygone classic.

 

 

 

 

Feather by Cao Wenxuan, translated from the Chinese by Chloe Garcia-Roberts, illustrated by Roger Mello.

Feather is a unique, beautiful take on the “Are You My Mother” story structure as a lost feather floats along, trying to find the bird it belongs to. Paired with Mello’s spare yet rich and dynamic illustrations, this hopeful story of searching for belonging soars above the rest. I highly recommend this one for fans of birds, folktales, and accessibly philosophical kids’ books.

 

 

 

 

 

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, translated from the French by Jill Davis

Nature can awaken even the most stodgy of imaginations. In On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, Alemagna’s bespectacled, bored child (gender is never addressed, which I LOVE) finds theirs jump-started after they drop their video game in a pond and begin to notice the wonder of the woods around them. Alemagna’s prose and illustrations sing with delicious metaphor, and her magical, mystical forest is rich in texture and detail. I dare you to read this book and not want to immediately go traipsing through the woods, finding your own magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hannah lives in Athens, GA, where she works as the manager of children’s books at Avid Bookshop. She often daydreams about living a calm and peaceful life in Moominvalley or traipsing the Maine coast with Miss Rumphius. A librarian at heart (and in training), Hannah loves the look on a kid’s face when they find a book they truly love.

 

5 years of this picture book life + giveaway!

5 years! So many picture book posts!

To celebrate, I’d like to give away 5 sets of picture books on different themes.

Each one has its own Rafflecopter—enter one or two or all five! (North America only.)

 

Set #1: SUMMERTIME!

Saffron Ice Cream; The Manic Panic; Surf’s Up (board book); The Lost Picnic.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Set #2: BIOGRAPHY!

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black HistoryPreaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis; Miguel y su valiente caballero: El joven Cervantes sueña a don Quijote; Little Guides to Great Lives: Amelia Earhart; Dangerous Jane; A Boy and a Jaguar.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Set #3: BEING YOURSELF!

Julián Is a Mermaid; Alma and How She Got Her Name; Always Anjali.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Set #4: SCIENCE!

How to Code a Sandcastle; The Brilliant Deep; Bonkers About Beetles; Follow the Moon Home; Over and Under the Pond.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Set #5: READING, STORY, LANGUAGE, AND IMAGINATION

How to Read a Story; Nimesh the Adventurer; Read the Book, Lemmings; The Word Collector; A Child of Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

julie flett’s picture book life + giveaway!

I’m so delighted to feature Julie Flett here! She is a Cree-Metis artist, illustrator, and author from Canada, creating some of the most beautiful children’s books ever.

 

Her art is so distinctive—the play of smooth solids and patterns, of muted tones and vibrant accents of color, all with ever present clean lines, bold shapes, and collage. Her projects explore and celebrate Native people and include themes of history, family bonds, culture, and nature. You know when you’re holding one of her books in your hands—her illustrations communicate so much feeling and connection to others and the world around us. Each one truly tells a story.

 

 

Wild Berries (2013).

Julie Flett wrote and illustrated this one in which  a boy and his grandmother pick blueberries in the woods. This book is filled with small, still, contemplative moments and details as well as bilingual vocabulary from the Cree language. Plus, there’s a recipe for wild blueberry jam at the back.

 

 

 

Little You, written by Richard Van Camp (2013).

A lullaby to a little one, bursting with love and joy.

 

I’m interested in the everyday experience, in the intimacy of my subject matter. For Little You, I thought a lot about my son as a baby and toddler. The page with the hole in the mother’s sock reads, “Let’s all dance, let’s all sing,” and the image for this page came to me right away. I often played music for my son when he was a baby and we would dance around the kitchen or living room together.

—Julie Flett at 49th Shelf

 

My Heart Fills With Happiness, written by Monique Gray Smith (2016).

This book fills my heart with happiness and is a wonderful exploration of the connective and special while simple things in life, incorporating elements of Native culture. Beautiful.

 

 

As an adult, I attended art school at Concordia University, where my major was studio art. The work I was producing at that time was installation based, painting, sound, and some film work. After graduating, I worked as an advocate and outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. During that period, my sister, who worked for First Nations publisher Theytus Books, asked me if I’d like to illustrate a book. They were looking for an illustrator for a children’s story and asked me to submit draft drawings. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have much of a chance to really think about not having experience as an illustrator. I discovered a love for this.

—Julie Flett, in Booklist

 

 

We Sang You Home, written by Richard Van  Camp (2016).

I want to quote Debbie Reese of “American Indians in Children’s Literature”,  a terrific blog and resource, on this wonderful book:

Just look at the joy and the smile of the child on the cover! That kid is loved, and that’s what I want for Native kids! To feel loved by words, by story, by books. We Sang You Home is a board book that, with very few words on each page, tells a child about how they were wanted, and how they came to be, and how they were, as the title says, sang home where they’d be kissed, and loved, and… where they, too, would sing.”

Her full review here.

 

My mom was a textile artist. She had a weaving shop when we were growing up, in the 1970s, and later a consignment-clothing store with a focus on vintage clothing from the ’20s and ’30s. I was around textiles a lot as a child. My sister and I used to spin wool for the weaving shop, and I developed a love for patterns, dyes, and materials. I think I approach the collage work similarly to composing a haiku. My collage imagery is often pared down, emphasizing simplicity, intensity, and direct expression. I’m also inspired by painters, filmmakers, and children’s bookmakers from earlier periods. I especially like Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle, artist Sonia Delaunay, Inuit print-maker Pitseolak Ashoona, and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, to name a few.

—Julie Flett, in Booklist

 

 

When We Were Alone, written by David A. Robertson (2016).

Without mentioning them outright, this book takes on the topic of Canadian residential schools in which Indigenous children were sent away to government facilities in order to assimilate into Canadian/European/English or French-speaking culture. “In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.” The conditions were terrible, and the children were isolated from their families, cultures, and languages for most or all of the year.

In this story, a child asks her grandmother a series of questions about her daily life and practices—her bright clothes, her long braid, her Cree words that “sounded just like a poem.” The answers illuminate the injustice of her grandmother’s past as well as the way she then and now strives to reclaim her heritage, pride, and self, courageously and poignantly. It’s an eye-opening, sad, and important book that’s perfectly crafted in a way for young readers to engage with.

Here’s an article that includes quotes from Julie Flett about the process of creating When We Were Alone.

 

We All Count (2014).

Admittedly, I haven’t been able to get a copy of this one to read myself, but wanted to include it because it’s another book Julie Flett has written as well. A counting book that’s gorgeously illustrated and helps kids not only count, but learn the Cree language. Win, win, win.

 

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Good news! Thanks to the generosity of Orca Books and Highwater Press, I’m giving away a pack of four of Julie Flett’s books to one lucky winner! One person will win all four books pictured (My Heart Fills With Happiness; Little You; We Sang You Home; When we Were Alone. Enter through the Rafflecopter below.)

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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picture book gems a librarian recommends: alia from read it real good

I’m thrilled to have Alia from Read it Real Good here to share picture book gems she recommends as a librarian, former bookseller, and blogger! You can learn more about her here and check out her list of resources on diverse children’s literature from her blog as well. Get ready to go to the bookstore or have your library card ready because she’s sharing some of her favorite recent and backlist picture books with us!

 

Over to Alia!

 

 

 Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne/Jess X. Snow

 

This illustrated poem begins with “This book is for you.” And yes it is. It is unabashedly black, young and full of truth and positive affirmations for young black women. Perfect for ages 7 – tween, Black Girl Magic is raw and honest. Snow’s illustrations beautifully accompany Browne’s powerful poetry. Yes, black girls, you are magic. You are strong and let NO ONE tell you any different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim

 

It’s hard to believe that this is Julie Kim’s debut picture book. Well, it’s more of a picture book/graphic novel hybrid. Korean-American kids Joon and his Noona (big sister) visit their grandmother’s house to find that she’s gone, the house is a mess and huge cat-prints are everywhere! >_< Kim takes readers on a journey to a land of trickster rabbits, hungry goblins and angry tigers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan – Furqan’s First Flat Top by Robert Liu-Trujillo & translated by Cinthya Muñoz

Ten year old Furqan takes a trip to the barbershop for his first cut. He wants to try a new flat top for his thick, curly hair, but he’s a little scared of change. His dad lovingly reassures him that his hair is gonna come out fresh, no matter what. We get a peek into Furqan’s daily life. This bilingual story features loving parents and a supportive community. Liu-Trujillo’s watercolor & ink illustrations portray so much joy and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones  by Susan Hughes/Ashley Barron

 

I love picture books that use non-traditional mediums like paper, cloth, string, etc. Barron’s illustrations for Up! are gorgeous and unique. They invite you to stare at them for long moments. We learn a bit about how different people around the world carry & transport their little ones. I love the inclusiveness of the illustrations and the bouncy rhythm of the text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Around Us  by Xelena González/Adriana M. Garcia

 

It’s special whenever our elders share knowledge with us; it’s something not to be taken for granted. All Around Us is about a little girl and the lessons she learns from her grandfather. They have such a beautiful relationship! He teaches her about circles, continuity and how people are a part of the earth. The illustrations are so beautifully TRIPPY. I appreciate how this book celebrates family, indigeneity and tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Brothers by Yves Nadon/Jean Claverie

 

Black brotherly love. Strength. Growing up. This quiet picture book explores the relationship between two brothers and how love, support and encouragement are so important. Climbing up and jumping off the top of a cliff into a lake sure is scary but…you’ll never know how much fun it is until you try. I love the soft illustrations in this book and the scenes of transformation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backlist Favorites:

 

Where Do We Go When We Disappear?  by Isabel Minhós Martins/Madalena Matoso

 

This is a reflective and thought-provoking picture book about death, loss, or the simple act of someone/something being gone. When I was a bookseller, it was hard to find good books to give to parents to help their kids grieve. This is a great one because it helps begin a discussion about CHANGE. Matoso’s illustrations are bold and colorful and Martins is such a thoughtful writer.

 

 

 

 

 

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson/Sydney Smith

 

A young girl and her father take a walk through their neighborhood. Though he’s on his phone for most of the journey, he is present. He is there. She’s on a mission to find flowers and share them as gifts. Smith’s use of color is exquisite in this wordless picture book. We see color when we need to. We watch it bloom. We watch their love as they walk together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Nine Eight  by Molly Bang

 

Wow, what a throwback this one is. I remember it from my childhood. Can I tell you how special it is to see a little black girl sitting with her daddy, eyes sleepy, getting ready for bed? With its soft, warm illustrations, this book reminds me of the love I shared with my father. Ten, Nine, Eight is a counting book that also celebrates Black Family. It’s also available as a board book! How perfect. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alia Jones is a Sr. Library Services Assistant with The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She is also a former indie children’s bookseller and English teacher in South Korea. She blogs about diverse books & children’s literature at www.readitrealgood.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @readitrealgood. Alia believes that we are truly in a Picture Book Renaissance; there is so much talent out there.

 

 

 

 

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