Search Results for: thao lam
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 latest: The Line in the Sand (2022)
“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?”
—Thao Lam from this interview on Owlkids.
The memoir: THAO (2021).
“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.”
—Thao Lam from this interview with the CBC.
Another true story inventively, movingly told: The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story (2020).
“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.”
—Thao Lam from this interview with Open Book.
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.'”
—Thao Lam from this in-studio video with Owlkids.
The goofy one with a fresh perspective for us all: My Cat Looks Like My Dad (2019).
The first one: Skunk on a String (2016).
In honor of this post and Thao Lam’s picture book life, Owlkids is giving away all five of her picture books to one lucky reader! Enter in the rafflecopter below!
Big thanks to Owlkids Books for images and books for our giveway winner! (North America only.)
You might want to check out my WALLPAPER + Paper Creature Craft post if you’re in the mood to make something fun!
The first thing you’ll notice about this picture book is that wallpaper from the title. Beautiful, Layered. Nostalgic. Full of wonder. It’s at the heart of this mostly wordless story and contains a whole world that imagination makes possible. A world in which a shy girl gains just the courage she needs through her own creativity and resourcefulness.
We’re introduced to a character who’s just moved to a new house and is unpacking her room. Outside her window, there’s a treehouse with other kids in it. They wave. They’re friendly. But waving back is not so easy when you feel out of place or out of sorts. Shy or scared or sad.
Crouching—hidden—below the window, the character peels back some wallpaper, releasing a flock of lemon-yellow birds! (And they just so happen to match her shirt.)
She peels back more wallpaper and follows the birds into a whole world of wallpaper, including a creature who is super scary, but who, it turns out, is actually not scary all. The creature is merely unfamiliar. The creature wants to be friends.
The character and creature frolic in fields and play with clouds, all provided by this magical wallpaper. And when she’s back in her room, alone again, the wallpaper isn’t just one pattern anymore. It’s been peeled to reveal all the layers she’s experienced,.
Those layers help her remember that she doesn’t have to be so scared, or that she can be scared and still experience new things. They help her remember that unfamiliar might not be ominous after all. And that by peeling back a layer or two, everyone wants to be seen, welcomed and, accepted. Just like her.
And that leads to hello, and to more possibility.
This is an original, artful, hopeful picture book that invites the reader to dive into paper creations and possibility and what it means to reach out to someone unfamiliar and turn them into a friend.
Big thanks to Owlkids Books for images and a review copy!
Such beautiful papers and such a spirited creature can only mean one thing. Paper craft! I wanted to make that creature and I wanted to make sure the creature could move. Really, you could make all kinds of paper stuff from this book! I chose the creature and yellow birds and used brads so they could change position.
What you’ll need:
Sturdy white paper (I used watercolor paper)
Pastels or crayons or markers (I used pastels for the creature, marker for the birds)
I started by tracing the creature on a thin sheet of computer paper. Then, with my watercolor paper behind that, I pressed firmly with pencil to leave an indentation I could then trace on the actual paper I wanted to use. Or you can draw the creature free hand! I did the body, arms, and legs as separate pieces, then cut them out. Be sure to leave the pencil lines and make some white space outside the pencil lines to mimic Thao Lam’s style.
Next, I colored in the creature! And after that, I attached the limbs with metal brads. You can poke holes by either pressing the scissor ends into the paper or folding a bit and making a tiny cut. It’s that simple! Now you have a creature you can move about!
And it’s the same process for the birds if you choose to make those, and there are many shapes that would be fun to draw, cut out, and color from the book. The sky’s the limit!
And check out this gif of the creature moving around!
I give you 16 creativity-packed picture books that inspire me. I’ve chosen them specifically from my own life as a writer because they have spoken to me, either years ago or else become recent favorites. I hope you’ll add one of your favorite picture books on the topic in the comments!
Here’s to creativity and the picture books that inspire more of it!
Show the World! written by Angela Dalton illustrated by Daria Peoples (2022).
Picked because it’s super packed with self-expression of all different kinds and centers Black children shining as they show the world what they love and do.
Off-Limits by Helen Yoon (2021).
Picked because this new favorite playfully shows us that following our curiosity, breaking the rules, and getting messy are part of any artistic process. Plus, Mayel Creates made a wonderful office supply garland craft to match it!
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (2016).
Picked because this Basquiat picture book biography is incredible and captures not only his story, but how his story exemplifies that art is infused in place and culture. “Art is the street games of little children, in our style and the words that we speak. It is how the messy patchwork of the city creates new meaning for ordinary things.”
Lines by Suzy Lee (2017).
Picked because this is one of my favorite books about creativity, and I’ve never posted it on my blog! Wordless and meta too, it’s filled with joy, surprise, and creative camaraderie.
Studio by Emily Arrow and The Little Friends of Printmaking (2019).
Picked because it’s an ode to being you and finding your singular expression and space to cultivate it before sharing that with the world. It’s exuberant, and I’ll also disclose: dedicated to me by Emily Arrow! It’s a special book and that detail makes it incredibly special on my personal bookshelf as well.
WallPaper by Thao Lam (2019).
Picked because I love all of Thao Lam‘s work, and this wordless because contains a whole world that imagination makes possible. A world in which a shy girl gains just the courage she needs through her own creativity and resourcefulness. Plus, I made a corresponding fun paper creature craft for it a couple of years back!
Little People, Big Dreams: Louise Bourgeois written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara illustrated by Helena Pérez García (2020).
Picked because Louise Bourgeois is one of my very favorite non-living artists and this is a handy little compendium of her inspiring life. A fond memory of mine is seeing her giant spider sculpture, “Maman,” in Tokyo a few years go. The meaning of it, for me, is very different than for her, but I found it powerful and haunting and moving. “By using art to confront her fears, little Louise became one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and the grandmother of modern art.”
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois words by Amy Novensky pictures by Isabelle Arsenault (2016).
Picked because: more Louise Bourgeois and because it’s exquisite in depicting a life woven together with the threads of her childhood, her mother, their family tapestry business, Parisian fabrics, memory, and stitching itself.
Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu (2008).
Picked because I’ve admired this wordless story and its art for a long time, and actually got to see Tao Nyeu‘s art show exhibit of this book back in the day. It’s about children who plant seeds that grow into something wildly magical—an embodiment of creativity.
Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2021).
Picked because this team is truly brilliant and this story truly speaks to kids, especially those who are dyslexic (and because my partner downloaded the font the text was printed in because he’s dyslexic and an artist like Aaron Slater too). “…beauty and kindness and loving and art lend courage to all with a welcoming heart.”
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken (2017).
Picked because this gorgeously illustrated book tells a poetic story of mistakes leading to magic, as they often do in the creative process.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (2014).
Picked because it captures getting frustrated and getting fed up on a project, part of creativity too. And how often a walk (or any break) is just the thing to see things anew.
Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall illustrated by Benji Davies (2016).
Picked because the phrase “little bit of nothing” for what every story starts with is fantastic. And this book about storytelling is fantastic and fantastical and too.
Julia, Child words by Kyo Maclear pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
Picked because this one (written by a favorite author, Kyo Maclear), is creative in its very concept: a fictional tale of a kitchen-loving child who bears some resemblance to Julia Child. It’s ingredients: friendship, slow-down, sweetness, wonder, and imagination. Oh and Coco Cakeland made chocolate almond cupcakes to celebrate it with me a few years back!
Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare (2019).
Picked because this one is tons of fun with crayons and creativity as a conduit to friendship–on the MOON!
What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada illustrated by Mae Besom (2014).
Picked because it’s a magical yet relatable allegory for having and nurturing an idea: curious and strange and wonderful.
I’ve thought so much about connection during Covid as we all have. Despite distance, many of my relationships have gotten closer and more connected. On the other hand, a couple have receded. But overall, I’ve found sustaining ways to connect with people, with myself, and with my creativity during this long season. To that end, while most of us are still unable to connect in the ways we used to out of compassion and care for each other, I’ve rounded up 15 picture books that all touch on connection in some way, whether obvious or not. Connection of all kinds. Because really what we’ve learned is how very connected we are.
I hope some of these will encourage fresh ways to frame connection with kids in your life and to feel more connected to self, others, understanding, and the world through story.
Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh and Evi Shelvia (2020). This mustard and periwinkle picture book features a girl waiting for a rice ration in Vietnam during COVID and the imaginative acts of kindness she shows to others, a model of connection and creativity in the most stretching, leanest times.
Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker & April Harrison (2020). Nana goes to school with Zura for Grandparents’ Day in this exquisitely illustrated picture book. In class, she shares a quilt from her home country of Ghana to explain the traditional facial markings she has, inviting everyone to engage with the meaningful symbols that grace it.
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (2020). Inspired by the creator’s own parents’ experience fleeing Vietnam when Thao Lam was a child, this tells parallel stories: two journeys, two boats, and opens and closes with a coming together of both.
Neighbors by Kasya Denisevich (2020), at its heart is about empathy, a kind of connection we can engage in from anywhere as well as through reading and also, like the narrator, through imagination and curiosity.
Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen (2020). In this one, neighbors actually gather, everyone contributing something for the hot pot they’ll share together!
All Because you Matter written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier (2020). This stunner is an ode to a child. A Black child. Connected to their ancestors. Connected to the love of their parents. Connected to how they ARE matter, the stuff of the universe. That they matter, tremendously so.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020). A stunning, uplifting book that follows the journey of poi being made from farming to a community lū’au.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, art by Hatem Aly (2019). A little sister bubbles with excitement and pride on the first day of school, which is also her older sister’s first day of hijab. The special bond of siblings and traditions and family buoys when faced with hurtful reactions.
My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World words by Rebecca Bond, pictures by Salley Mavor (2020). The coziest exploration of how some kids sleep in different countries with art stitched from fabric!
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (2019) is a portrait of a late afternoon spent by the main character riding through her hometown of Corona, CA on the back of her Papi’s motorcycle. “No matter how far I go from this place or how much it changes, this city will always be with me.”
What If… written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato (2018) embodies the spirit of invention. The text and art work together to take us on a vivid, surprising journey of imagination and persistence, the two most important components of any creative process.
At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (2019). A story with weaving at its center that embodies connection. A family is linked to a female pilot serving far away, a tribute to the high proportion of Native American and Alaska Native Nation women who are service members.
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (2020) is a book for anyone yearning to hang onto 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. (Find a craft post for In a Jar here.)
Delivery by Aaron Meshon (2017) is a mostly wordless story full of fun and surprise as a box of love (and cookies) travels around the world in unexpected ways to its destination.
Hello, Rain! by Kyo Maclear + Chris Turnham (2021). Filled with classic and muted but jubilant illustrations and musical text, a kid and their dog go exploring in the rain to experience its sounds and sensations and observe how the world and creatures respond.