Thao Lam is one of my favorite makers. Her picture books are inventive, original, resonant, and risk-taking in a way that pops in terms of both style and meaning.
A paper collage artist, the art Lam creates is textured, patterned, and fresh. For some books, it’s colorful and a bit wacky. For The Paper Boat, it’s muted, grounded, and striking, with familiar imagery on captivating backgrounds for dramatic compositions and combinations. Her stories are fresh and oftentimes deeply personal whether about a concept, creativity, or Thao herself in one of my all-time favorite picture books that was jaw-dropping when I first read it and remains a total inspiration for its content and for showing what this special form can become.
“The most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life was creating all the little monsters…I intentionally made The Line In The Sand a wordless picture book because misunderstandings are often due to a lack of communication. By not including text, readers are now left to their own interpretation of the situation; will they be right or wrong? Or do they just have a different perspective?”
“This one I wrote for me so I could cleanse my head of all the issues with my name that I had dealt with. I’ve been lucky that every time I write a book, it’s also something that somebody else has dealt with or taken an interest in.”
“I was two when my family fled Vietnam, so I have no recollection of our journey across the South China Sea. My mother often tells the story of her mom leaving a bowl of sugar water on the table to trap ants in the house. My mother, then a little girl, would sit there for hours and rescue them. On the night of our escape she got lost in the tall grass. Spotting a trail of ants in the moonlight, she followed them to the river where a boat awaited: the ants my mother rescued as a little girl saved her in return that night. These images of kindness and karma woven by my mother were the only facts I knew about the war and our escape. They helped shape me and guide me through life. This story with the ants and the sugar water became the cornerstone of The Paper Boat.”
The imaginative, magical companion for a new-to-towner: Wallpaper (2018).
“The inspirations for my stories come from taking a walk, on the subway, standing in line at the bank—anywhere where you’re forced to wait that’s when my imagination kind of runs wild. The way the story starts for me is that I get an image in my head and with that image I start asking questions. If I find myself asking a lot of questions about an image, I would start plotting it down. I call it a ‘brain dump.'”
This picture book is a total celebration—of family, of memory, of tradition, and of joy itself.
Its cover embodies the way the book invites engagement with the dear departed in a bright and buoyant way. The characters may be looking back at the particulars of those they’ve lost, but they are fully in the present of the party too—mingling with them as represented by delightful, dancing (not-at-all scary) skeletons!
You can always spot a book illustrated by Ana Aranda because of her signature vibrance, whimsy, washes of color, shapes, nature elements, fun creatures, and inventive details. Her art is infused with exuberance! And this time it’s exceedingly special because it’s her author-illustrator debut!
Our Day of the Dead Celebration truly captures the happiness of the holiday for children. Kids will pick out elements of Día de los Muertos to enjoy like marigolds, calaveras/sugar skulls, Papel picador, and ofrendas/altars as well as other celebratory touches: music, tamales, and almond cookies too! And they will surely be inspired to investigate and memorialize their own family and friend ancestry after reading how Sisters Paz and Mar learn about their relatives through their parents’ stories and how they choose different ways to honor them: through food or poems (also called calaveras) or accordion music.
But there are some things only Abuelita will know, and they wait for her arrival while preparing for their visitors—”the living and the dead”! Because in my mind, the real star here is Abuelita herself, keeper of family stories, who arrives at the fiesta in a glorious parade of monarch butterflies.
This is a book that honors a holiday and also a way of being and seeing death. Something not to shy away from, celebrating the lives of those we love by remembering them in meaningful, connective ways.
A perfect story for looking back, which can be bittersweet, but here is extremely sweet as well as full of warmth and creativity. A medium for capturing the spirit of those we love and modeling how to relive the best bits of “all the relatives we miss.”
¡Hola! My name is Ana Aranda and I am an author, illustrator and creator or colorful art for kids of all ages from Mexico City!
My book Our Day of the Dead Celebration is inspired in the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos which is one of my favorite times of year when we celebrate and honor our beloved loved ones. It is a day when we feel their spirits close and we share stories about them, we build altars with their favorite things and foods, and we create poems.
This book is very special to me because it is inspired by my family, friends and it contains a lot of hidden stories and memories, such as my grandfather’s accordion, my grandmother’s cookies, my grandfather’s travels, my grandmother’s favorite color, and more.
With this book I wanted to honor those that I miss and share a story where kids (especially Mexican kids) can see themselves in and see their culture celebrated.
What I’m most interested in the Day of the Dead is celebrating and remembering. Telling stories so that they are shared for generations and generations to come. I am interested in why it is important to remember and what can we do to do keep the memory of those dear to us very close.
This book was created with a lot of love, watercolor, ink, gouache and pink Himalayan salt on watercolor paper. The setting is based in the beautiful town of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán in Mexico where there is a lake, and in that lake lives the island of Janitzio. I took a research trip there and drew and took a bunch of pictures for the book. I also talked to many people who were preparing for the Day of the Dead.
Today I wanted to share with you all a craft where you can both write and color.
For this special day, we will color a skull, similar to the sugar skulls used to decorate altars.
In this skull’s skeleton you will have room to write down what is called a poem or calavera (which translates as skull). This calavera can be about a memory from a departed loved one, about a departed famous person, or someone still with us and their fictional and humorous encounter with death or “la Catrina.”
Step 2: In the skeleton’s body, write down the poem for someone.
It can be as long as you wish and can rhyme as well.
For example, here are two of the calaveras from the book:
Your favorite color was green
The best color ever seen.
You loved the spring
And birds that sing.
We miss you and your sneeze.
Did it really almost blow down some trees?
3: Enjoy and have fun!
Thank you so much, Ana, for sharing your story, photos, and this activity with us!! And big thanks to Penguin Young Readers for a review copy and images.
Ana Aranda is a children’s book creator, illustrator, and art instructor born in Mexico and living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in galleries and museums in the United States, France, Mexico, Italy, Norway, and Japan. In San Francisco, she painted murals in the Mission District, for the Consulate General of Mexico, and for the prestigious de Young Museum.
This picture book is a beautiful account of a place and the people who live there, inspired by the author-illustrator’s home in Veracruz, Mexico. It infuses Mirelle Ortega’s heart and art and story with the magic that’s uniquely home.
“I learned that magic isn’t good or bad, it just is. Sometimes it gives. Sometimes it takes. Sometimes it blossoms. Sometimes it wilts.”
I confess I haven’t read this one yet (out next month!), but I adore the entire series. This duo always has magical nature-themed adventures on the their bikes, but this one seems fitting for our post as it’s set in the glow of the moon at night! Every title with these two stars is an absolute dream.
Naya’s nighttime adventure-quest is filled with a wonderful cast of Caribbean folklore characters our fearless main character meets along the way in this luminously illustrated picture book with a spirit of spookiness and story.
Four seasonal stories with a little witch plus imaginary creatures and community galore. It’ll make you want to take a walk in the woods and search for sprites—or curl up with some tea and berries for a magical daydream.
A super sweet story about what it takes to learn to be a magician (or become a wizard-in-training at any craft) with help from a dual-role mentor the main character admires. Written by a former child magician and with a foreword by a famous one (David Copperfield!).
It’s back to school, and this time around I’ve got a new book to share!
That’s where author visits come in! One of my favorite things is spending time with children while helping them tap into their unique voices and imaginations, inspiring them to read, write, create, and make! You’ll find all the info about my offerings in one place right here.
If you’re part of a school or library community, I hope you’ll get in touch if you’d like to arrange one!
And whether or not I visit your students, I have something special to share with you for the school year ahead!
This treasure of a curriculum guide is meant to support teachers, librarians, and caregivers as you support the makers in your classrooms, libraries, and homes too. A resource that’s a myriad of making and TO MAKE resources all in one place, like an online community booklist for us all to create together and so much else for children to make: conversation, games, a change with their community, a plant press, an invitation, and at its heart and throughout, a maker’s journal where every child can reflect on, record, and reinvigorate their identity and process as maker through each creative endeavor.
So much gratitude to the two makers who poured their hearts and talents into this to make a gift for educators to use and witness little makers grow and bloom. And it is certainly a gift for me as well.
Wishing every educator everything they need for the year ahead, with much appreciation for making a difference!
For This Picture Book Life’s 9th anniversary, I’m giving away two bundles of new, some summery and some fall-feeling, picture books with this theme: people and places. Summer adventures, special relatives, trips, swimming, biographies, first days of school, belonging, identity, siblings, pizza, and more!
The giveaway for Bundle One will be right here! (Rafflecopter below.)
The one for Bundle Two will be on Instagram—here instead!
The First Bundle:
Climb on! Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, written by Baptiste Paul (2022).