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.)
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.)
This picture book has illustrations that are pure magic while the story is about the magic of the natural world, of friendship, and of memories—those we treasure and those we share.
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“Llewellyn was a collector. He collected things in jars.”
So simply starts In a Jar. We take in Llewellyn collecting all kinds of things from the world around them and cherishing them, remembering the moments they contained, and still do.
Then Llewellyn and Evelyn meet. They collect things—together. But they’re not things really, they’re snippets, souvenirs, strands of their experiences. And that’s where the magic comes in. Sunsets, the sound of the ocean, snowball fights, seasons. These are the things they collect in jars. It feels like they’re not owning these elements, but honoring them.
Their jars are the language of their friendship, the stuff of it. The bits they’ll keep in the vessels of their minds.
And when Evelyn needs to move away, there is pain, but there is also the joy of sharing new experiences, had separately, and letting friendship hold those too.
Deborah Macero‘s artwork shimmers with color and light, sketched lines and watercolor swishes. She has a special knack for skies, as evidenced in another picture book of hers, Ursa’s Light, and its celestial scenes.
A book for anyone yearning to hang on to moments, to savor and cherish them, and for anyone who loves someone who is separated by the distance of miles, but connected by memories—even new ones still traded and shared.
Don’t you want to collect your own memories in a jar now? Rebecca Zarazan Dunn from Sturdy for Common Things is the ideal person to make a craft for this book because she is someone with a special way of capturing moments, memories, and seasons in her own life. She’s a former librarian, a maker, a reader, and from what I’ve observed, has a deep connection with nature and people.
Over to Rebecca!
In a Jar is a tenderhearted tribute to friendship and the power of shared experience.
What I found moving about Llewellyn and Evelyn’s story is how the two friends collected their shared experiences. They savored sights and sounds and adventures, bottling them up like prized trophies. I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to capture long shadows on a summer’s eve or a snowy day with a friend.
Recently, two young siblings had an eventful Saturday. From early on it felt special, so as the day unfolded they collected bits and pieces of their day into a mason jar. For moments they didn’t have objects for they wrote a note or drew a picture. Once all the memories were captured in the jar, they made it a label and placed the jar on a shelf– A not-too-high shelf so they can unscrew the jar and recall the day all over again any time they pleased.
Just like friendship or adventures of any sort, you don’t need much to have them. It’s the same with making a Memory Jar.
Here’s what you’ll need:
*A jar. Any old jar. We reused a mason jar. I also found a few more jars at our local thrift store.
*Paper, scissors, tape, and a writing utensil for labeling the jar.
*And most importantly, memories! Little objects or tokens or drawings or words that will remind you of the moment.
A memory jar is a time capsule of an hour, a day, an event, or an entire season. It can be a play date with a friend, a holiday, a new life experience, or a Saturday spent with family. You can make one alone, but like Llewellyn learns in the story, the best memories are made with someone dear to you.
Memory is a funny thing. We store so much information in our brains and beautifully small details often get pushed into a dark corner. Creating a memory jar has the potential of time-travel, resurrecting a once shadowed memory to the light. Time spent with those we love is ephemeral, and capturing these fleeting moments in a jar preserves the love and joy felt, especially if the person we shared it with isn’t always near.
I’m taking a minute to let readers of This Picture Book Life know that I have a new endeavor, a companion to this blog and all the stuff I’m putting out into the world. Introducing: This Writer’s Life.
I’d like to tell you about it, and then I’ll go back to regular programming here with a picture book craft post tomorrow!
I’m super excited about this project because it combines two things I’m passionate about: writing and teaching writing to kids!
This Writer’s Life is an educational video series for 8 to 12-year-olds and their classrooms—a resource library if you will—that peeks into the writing process. That means tools, writing activities, guidance, and encouragement for young writers to help develop their unique voices and imaginations.
My goal is to show kids what writing looks like, from the inside, with honesty and tips and cheering-on in order to inspire them in their own writer’s lives. And my dream is for educators to find it of use in their classrooms. I’ve got eleven episodes up so far and lots more planned. They cover “show don’t tell,” first lines, what I learned about writing from watching Project Runway, how to get ideas, revising with punchy verbs, crafting a character, and lots more. Many of them have free, printable corresponding PDFs in the show notes as well!
And my favorite part is that each episode features someone I know and admire with advice from their own creative life! I want kid viewers to see a diverse scope of creatives from a wide variety of fields represented to inspire them.
Since you follow this blog, you might want to start with Episode 8: “Picture Book Inspiration.” I talk up loads of picture books that are either about creativity in some way or else about a famous artist or writer. They’re a big help to me as a writer when I’m looking for motivation to keep dreaming and making stuff and I hope they will be to kids—or anyone of any age!
Would you like the best way to stay up to date with This Writer’s Life?
By subscribing to my author newsletter, you’ll get each new episode delivered to your inbox as well as a free, printable PDF if there is one that goes with that topic.
You can also subscribe to the YouTube Channel or like This Writer’s Life facebook page as I’ll post each video there as well if you prefer it. Subscriptions to the channel and video likes really help me out to show I’ve got an audience tuning in.
Thanks for reading! Please follow along and reach out if you’d like to collaborate in some way.
Picture books touch on so many topics, including elements surrounding food—feasting it, traditional kinds of it, and the connections shared over it. Here’s a roundup of 18 food-centric picture books to savor! Bonus, some of these include recipes in the back matter too!
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (December 10, 2019).
Ti Gran teaches Belle to make Freedom Soup for the new year in a book that celebrates the history of the Haitian Revolution, family, and the joy and connectivity of traditions. Includes a recipe at the back and the most wonderful, gestural illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara.
An inventive, gorgeously illustrated mother-daughter moon myth inspired by Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncake midnight snacks!
Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
A fictional imagining inspired by Julia Child on keeping the joie de vivre of childhood in cooking and eating no matter how old you are. And the one and only Coco Cake Land made chocolate almond cupcakes from this picture book in our collaborative blog post a few years ago too!
Omu’s stew smells so good, it attracts all kinds of visitors from her neighborhood, who she shares it with. When she has none left, those same people show up to return the favor. You can check out my post and craft to go with this lovely picture book here.
Rashin visits the beach in Brooklyn and compares and contrasts it to the beach she used to visit in Iran, the home she misses. Luckily, she meets a new friend and a new ice cream flavor in her new home, both ways to sweeten it.
This picture book has two key ingredients that make it a fit for a food list: manners and donuts! Plus, you can check out the donut recipe my dear friend at Thirsty for Tea made to pair with Mr. Panda’s story a couple of years ago.
Your turn! Any favorite food-centric picture books to share?
This picture book has math on its mind. And so does its main character who tells the story.
Though it takes her a minute to figure out that just like her family and classmates, she has a passion too! It’s not science or painting or playing the tuba. It’s math! And not only numbers, but all kinds of shapes, patterns, and concepts, which appear throughout the nuanced neutral watercolor illustrations.
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This story inspires in two ways. One, it tells us that everyone has a passion, it’s just a matter of finding the one unique to you. And two, that math is in so many more places than your textbook. It’s all around us. It’ll be hard for a reader to look at the world in the same way after a tour from this math-loving child. It just might turn math into the magic of the everyday.
“Math is all around us. It’s often hidden, and I love finding it.”
Each spread is a veritable seek and find of math-related elements, even before it becomes the focus of the narrative. On the first page, the main character plays checkers (math!). Outside the window, bare tree branches adorn the landscape in delicate designs (math!).
And so it continues, with little bits to notice on this math expedition through the natural and human-made world, the pale, sandy and gray palette making shapes rather than color shine. You’ll also find a math glossary at the back titled “My math,” in honor of the notebook the character carries with her on certain spreads.
Count on Me is an inventive book that pays tribute a subject no one is ambivalent about and that shapes our surroundings in myriad ways. To math!
I knew there was a super cool math activity to go with this book, and I knew just the person to dream it up and show us how to do it. Cue Margaret, inspirational librarian and amazing crafter at Homemade City.
She’s sharing math quest cards with us today, perfect for that quote about math being hidden around us and the main character searching for it. This art project and math-in-nature search promises delight and discovery to anyone who makes and partakes of this project. Happy scavenger-hunting!
And, in exciting news, I must also mention that Margaret is the author of a picture book coming out from Charlesbridge in 2021, illustrated by Adam Gustavson: Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight. Cannot wait!
Over to Margaret!
The curly-haired heroine of Count on Me by Miguel Tanco has a special love for math. While her dad has a passion for painting, her mom science, and her brother music (he plays a tuba twice his size), the smallest member of the family sees shapes and patterns everywhere. She skips stones to see concentric circles form and tracks the trajectory of a paper airplane. She finds math everywhere.
Tanco’s sweet story is followed by a book-within-a-book: the heroine’s math notebook that illustrates math concepts like fractals, polygons, curves, solid figures, trajectories and sets (in terms clear enough that even I can understand).
Inspired by the small heroine’s passion for math, I painted a deck of cards with basic concepts from the book to spark my own scavenger math hunt. If we take the time to notice, what patterns, polygons, circles, and curves can we discover in the world around us?
What you’ll need:
Art cards or index cards (I picked up these little Legion Paper samplers at my local craft store)
Pen, marker, and/or paint
I copied the math concepts illustrated in Count on Meand in an attempt to emulate Tanco’s delightful, watery illustrations, I used watercolor paint to tint them. However, young artists can skip the paint and get the job done easily enough with markers and crayons.
I drew and labeled the cards with a range of basic polygons, solid forms like cones and cylinders, patterns of concentric circles and curves, and other concepts to create a deck of 25 cards. Then my son and I went hunting through the house and around our neighborhood. This is some of what we found:
We discovered so many surprises: dandelion fluff fractals, milk carton polygons, the curved trajectory of a Frisbee in flight. What will you find?
Thank you, Margaret, for this creative math scavenger hunt activity!
Margaret Muirhead is the author of Mabel One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) as well as Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight, a nonfiction picture book slated for Fall 2021 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as a children’s librarian. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.
You might also like Margaret’s amazing pop-up paper craft for Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério. Check it out!