Category Archives: their picture book life
I’m thrilled to present Ekua Holmes’s picture book life today! Ekua Holmes is an artist and illustrator and assistant director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She’s shown work at numerous galleries and museums and her work is in private collections.
Her website bio starts this way: “Ekua Holmes is a native of Roxbury, MA and a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who has devoted her practice to sustaining contemporary Black Art traditions in Boston, as an artist, curator of exhibitions, and as an active member of Boston’s art community.”
“My sense of home is very important to me; home nourishes the essence of my art. But what is the place without the people? I treasure knowing that some of the most significant people of the last century walked the same streets I have walked all my life, touching the lives of those in both the Roxbury community and throughout the country and the world.”
Ekua Holmes received the 2013 NAACP Image Award and the following year she created a Google doodle of Martin Luther King, Jr. (You can purchase a print of her MLK collage image here and there’s an assortment of breathtaking prints available on her website as well.)
The first picture book she illustrated, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement was published in 2015 and received many accolades, including a Caldecott Honor. (I featured it in this blog post at the time.) And since then she’s illustrated even more picture books.
And let’s talk about her picture book art! Holmes is known for mixed media collage. Collage that is vibrant. Bold. Beaming with rays of color and light, dripping with movement and energy like lava, patterned in peacock-feathered fans.
“…each book is its own universe and the restrictions of the page, accommodating text, and other things help me to stretch as an artist, and try new things on and off the page.”
—From Holmes’s interview with Marion Dane Bauer, author of The Stuff of Stars
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2015).
This is a remarkable book about a truly remarkable woman, a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, beacon of voting rights activism, told in poems and sunlit collage pieces.
“I primarily use collage techniques with acrylic paint. Collaging is basically glueing things onto a surface – photos, newspapers, lace- whatever helps to tell the story. My work is made of cut and torn paper and paint. I am also a proud and committed thrifter. I am always at the flea markets and thrift stores picking up things that speak to me. Just as I was about to work on the image of the doll Fannie Lou Hamer’s mother bought for her, I ran across these two old handmade dolls at a thrift store in Salem, MA. They seemed to be just the kind of dolls that Fannie Lou Hamer would have received from her Mother. They were so authentic! It was as if the universe had provided just what I needed.”
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2017).
This picture book contains 20 poems that celebrate poets throughout history—Naomi Shihab Nye, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Billy Collins, Rumi, and more—a compilation of words and verse and creativity, of history and wonder and heritage.
The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2018).
Ekua Holmes illustrated this poem about the beginning and unfolding of the universe as well as you and me with mesmerizing marbled paper collage—a book that stuns and shines and connects us all to everything.
“In addition to bringing an aspect of science to children at a young age, this story reminds us that we all come from the same place and are made from the same stuff, no matter how divided the world may seem.
The story begins with the empty void of the universe and comes down to the simple reality that love fuels everything.”
What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? by Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes (2018).
Another biography, this one of Barbara Jordan, who was a congresswoman from Texas who spoke out for justice and the rights of the marginalized with her commanding voice, sharp intellect, and wisdom.
Black is a Rainbow Color written by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2020).
This latest one is, so far, my favorite picture book of 2020 (and it may remain that way!). The narrator acknowledges that black is not a color found in rainbows, but sings the song of the color black and where it’s found in nature and then goes on to sing the song of Black history and people, Black artists, Black culture. “Black is a color. Black is a culture…Black is a rainbow, too.”
Ekua Holmes’s artwork here looks more two-dimensional with primary colors that pop on many pages, all the spreads full of patterns, lines, and shapes—look out for diamonds, a shape that, in some ways like a rainbow, shimmers, reflects, intersects, and connects.
Thanks to the generosity of Candlewick Press and Roaring Brook Press, we’re giving away four Ekua Holmes-illustrated picture books!! Enter below to win OUT OF WONDER, VOICE OF FREEDOM, THE STUFF OF STARS, and BLACK IS A RAINBOW COLOR! (U.S. only.)
You might be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life feature on illustrator Sean Qualls.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
“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
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.
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.)
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.
The Tea Party in the Woods (2015).
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.
The Storm (2016).
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 Way Home in the Night (2017).
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!
You might also be interested in ISOL’s picture book life.
In this”their picture book life” installment, I bring you the wonderful picture books of Duncan Tonatiuh, award-winning author/illustrator. In my mind, his books expand the boundaries of the form by using new, unexpected story techniques, something I absolutely love and admire. His books ask questions directly of readers and bring the past right into the present and into kids’ lives. They experiment and enlighten. And they always do so in Tonatiuh’s distinctive illustrative style, which is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”
He’s lived in both Mexico and the U.S. so many of his books explore Mexico’s history and influential figures, as well as Mexican culture in the states.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015). Perfect for learning about Day of the Dead, this book explores the life and art of Posada and how he developed his skeleton or skull calaveras drawings. It also expands boundaries of the picture book form with sections that outline specific artistic processes and funny calaveras poems interspersed within the story. Its many layers are supremely effective.
“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about
–social justice, history, art…”
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (2014). I’ve blogged about this title a couple of times before (here and here) because I think it’s so terrific and important, particularly because I live in California. It tells how the Mendez family fought for equal, integrated education in a case that preceded Brown vs. Board of Education by ten years.
“I think kids are extremely intelligent.
But I think that sometimes we don’t give them the credit they deserve.”
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This allegorical story follows a young rabbit who desperately misses his father and sets out to follow and find him by undertaking a treacherous journey. The author’s note in the back matter sheds light on the true experiences of undocumented immigrants who cross the border in search of a better life.
“As I spent more time away from Mexico,
I began to miss things that were around me when I was a kid.
I also became interested in issues that affect people of Mexican descent
on both sides of the border.”
(From The Horn Book.)
The Princess and the Warrior (2016). The combination of text and art really shine in this riveting story and I dare you not to tear up at the end.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin (2010). Tonatiuh’s first children’s book in which two cousins, one in the US and one in Mexico, exchange letters and learn about one another’s lives.
“I think it’s very important for children to see books where they see themselves.
When they see a book where they see their culture represented
and different things that they can identify with, I think they are much more motivated to read, to write and,
just in general,
to realize that their voices, their stories are important.”
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (2011). A biography of Diego Rivera followed by a fascinating exploration of how he might portray our world today and encouragement to readers to make their own murals, inspired by Rivera’s legacy. This is something Tonatiuh does brilliantly with non-fiction: invites the reader directly into the story to participate and imagine how it might affect their own lives.
DANZA! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (2017). I adore the illustrations of all kinds of dance and performances in this one! Ami, dancer and choreographer, is known for creating “ballets based on the folkloric danzas from the different regions of Mexico.” Her company still performs in Mexico City as they’ve been doing for fifty years.
I hope you’ll check out Duncan Tonatiuh’s books!
You might also be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life on Kyo Maclear.