Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +
This is a special post. A cover reveal! In fact, I get the great honor of sharing the cover of my and illustrator Mags DeRoma‘s picture book, To Make, with her cover art! This picture book will be out in summer 2022 from Harper/Katherine Tegen Books. But let’s get to today’s main event:
Here is the cover of To Make, made by Mags DeRoma!
It is truly every children’s book writer’s dream to behold a cover like this, one they truly love, that feels right, that makes them dance when they see it. That all happened when I saw this stunner. Most importantly, it captures the spirit of To Make.
Because at its heart, our picture book is a manual to inspire kids to make. It celebrates the process and perseverance of creativity and encourages every reader to “keep making.”
And the book’s cover feels to me like those three kids joyfully embarking in that direction. It feels like an invitation, full of possibility.
Lucky for us, Mags DeRoma, artist behind it, is going to answer some questions about the cover and her process of making the art for To Make. She’ll also share about her craft and convictions when creating picture books for kids.
This Picture Book Life: I relate the child on the far right of the cover to you as an artist, with a bundle of art supplies. Will you tell us about your materials for making?
Mags DeRoma: Ha! Yes, I can often be seen with an armful of art supplies and a trail behind me! I simply love to make things, things of all kinds, wherever I find myself, whether it is in my studio, in the kitchen, at the beach, camping, even laying in bed helping my kiddos fall asleep (there, I use words to paint pictures). I am delighted by art supplies both classic and found (old books make for fun collage elements, for instance), so I could make lists for days!
“For this book, I used Blackwing pencils (my fave), graphite, charcoal, soft pastels, newsprint, flea-market found paper, acrylic paint and gouache, sandpaper, and lots and lots of glue.”
TPBL: How did you approach the illustrations for To Make—what was your vision for bringing this story to life?
MagsDeRoma: When I first read the manuscript that you wrote, Danielle, I was so touched by the gentleness, care, and patience of the making process as expressed (among many other things!). I wanted to echo that feeling in the art. It only seemed right to make the “story arc” of the pictures actually “illustrate” the process of making the art of the book.
“At the beginning of the book, the images are rendered in graphite and pencil, and as the pages turn, more materials, colors, and layers are added. There is a sense of building and layering and becoming over the course of the book. Which is what happens when you make.”
The story that must be told here is of a conversation we had over dinner one night, just before you sent me the manuscript. We first connected (gushed) over our mutual reverence for Gyo Fujikawa and her picture books. I have a tattered copy of Come Follow Me from my own childhood that I frequently open for inspiration (and a warm hug).
Gyo is a mentor and a guide, even though I never knew her, and I have so much admiration for the art, and the woman—a bold, talented, and fearless, and huge-hearted woman artist. She could see kids. You can see that in her work. She showed kids from every walk of life, and in the most charming and heartfelt way. So anyone could pick up her books and see themselves in them. And she made everything with an element of magic and whimsy. Pure gold.
“So, the art in To Make is very much inspired by, and an ode to my love of Gyo Fujikawa.”
TPBL: What’s a favorite detail or two about the cover, something meaningful to you? What’s a word or couple of words you’d use to describe it?
MagsDeRoma: I make everything with curious, observant little minds in mind. So I love to put in little details—like random hearts—or even “waves” to my kids in the art. I will tell you one…there is a little graphic on the hat of the third kiddo that is a little “wave” to my son.
“A few words to describe [the cover]—impetus or the birth of an idea, a commencement,
a joyful celebration, an awakening.”
TPBL: “Gather, make, wait” is the main refrain of the text. How do those instructions reflect your own process for To Make or in general as an artist?
MagsDeRoma: I think that refrain was the hook that perfectly harmonized with my feelings on making, and yes, in particular, this book. I grow through art-making, and this book was very much a growth moment for me. I lived by this mantra of ‘gather, make wait’ for several months, gathering ideas and scraps and making sketches and marks and mistakes, and then the funny thing with art, for me, is that you do have to let it steep for a bit. There were several pieces I completely changed or redid after letting them rest a little tucked away on a shelf. And also some that got better with age. 🙂
TPBL: What do you hope to convey to children through the voice of the work you create?
MagsDeRoma:I believe that picture book art is a conversation between the reader and the illustrator. So I hope that kids feel the warm hug that I try to put into all of my art, first. Then, that they receive the permission to make a mess or be gloriously creative, and to be totally present and lost in a project.
I hope they see themselves reflected in the art, whatever that means to them.
“I hope they can feel a glimmer of understanding, the way I did when I first read it. The ‘someone just GETS me’ feeling. Or, they forget everything altogether and just start making things, wonderful things.”
And I hope they feel that their creative pursuits matter, greatly.
TPBL: Please share your path to becoming an illustrator. What are your reflections or even advice as you look back at it from where you are now on the journey?
MagsDeRoma: The path of every creative I know (of allll kinds) has one thing in common—they are all completely unique and different. I have always made art and things and I wrote and illustrated loads of stories growing up. I went to school for sculpture and photography, and then got a job at a photo studio at an ad agency in Chicago. That path led to an unexpected career as a Creative Director in advertising. I left that path several years later when I created Silly Street, a board game for preschoolers. In the process of designing the game, I ended up illustrating a million little animals. I had a 5-year-old at the time, and so this animal-drawing skill came in very handy (I can also now draw all of the Avengers, Pokemon, and dinosaurs, or whatever the whim of the day happened to be…but I digress).
The creation of Silly Street led to a more dedicated and intentional art practice, which lead to a portfolio, then an SCBWI portfolio showcase, which led to an agent (Hannah Mann, Writer’s House), and finally a book deal (Awake, Roaring Brook Press, out Oct 19!).
That is the most hyper-simplified encapsulation of this journey! There were a lot of late nights, coffees, scrambles, piles of discarded attempts, missteps, a hilarious snafu with a portfolio presentation involving 17 hotel sewing kits, and other happy accidents along the way. I wrote my first picture book manuscript/thumbnails on the pages of the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss when I was in a hotel on a work trip, longing for a more art-driven path (and without paper to draw on!).
The secret for me was consistency and diligence. I just had to make something, every day. I found the #100days community to be super supportive, and a great accountability buddy. I also have a small critique group of picture book makers that has been an invaluable source of support and fun over the years.
Last, I have found it helpful to do my best to employ a student mindset. Everyone is a teacher, especially the little ones entrusting their childhoods to those making picture books! I plan to keep learning and growing forever, in service of them.
Thank you, Mags for this window into your making process, and for the most wondrous and meaningful cover for To Make!
We both are also full of thanks for:
Mabel Hsu, our incredible and truly dream editor at Katherine Tegen Books; Hannah Mann, who boldly and affectionately agented this book for us both; Amy Ryan, ace art director at Harper; Molly Fehr, gifted designer at Harper. This team has worked diligently on and cared deeply for this book from the jump. Thank you.
All photos courtesy Mags DeRoma.
Picture books can be slow and still, loving lullabies for nighttime routines. But they can also be containers of boisterous merry-making. Spirited, energetic, gleeful affairs! These ten picture books are like that. To me, they feel like parties. And I hope they make the little readers in your life want to dance, parade, bike, include others, celebrate themselves and everyone, and generally throw confetti.
Boogie Boogie, Y’all by C.G. Esperanza (2021). Community and art are a party.
This picture book gave me the idea for this party picture books roundup post! It’s truly special and pulses with art, energy, and celebration! A stunning tribute to graffiti and murals in Brooklyn that turns into a magical block party all because one child notices the “art on the wall” and everywhere.
Whole Whale words by Karen Yin & art by Nelleke Verhoeff (2021). A party is for everyone!
Will an entire blue whale fit? That’s the main question of this book-menagerie. Gathering and acceptance ensue in the answer “when everybody makes some space.”
Bisa’s Carnaval by Joana Pastro, illustrated by Carolina Coroa (coming December 2021). Carnaval and music and costumes and, of course, Bisa, is a party!
Clara’s great-grandmother is the secret ingredient to her Carnaval preparations, especially her fabulous fantasia (costume) for parade day. But it turns out, Bisa is also the secret ingredient for the parade itself. This picture book is a sweet joy! “Confete showers enchant and serpentine spirals bedazzle. We mingle with beauty queens, super heroes, fairies, harlequins, and people from all over the world. Different accents, cultures, beliefs.”
Bodies Are cool by Tyler Feder (2021). Loving ours and the variance of bodies is a party!
Yes, this book celebrates all kinds of bodies!! Because they’re cool! And that feels like a joyful party too.
Bicycle Bash by Alison Farrell (2020). Biking together is a party!
This picture book is a delightful seek and find of animals on wheels in fun and fact-filled museum rooms of discovery and details and, of course, momentum!
Family Reunion by Chad & Dad Richardson and Ashleigh Corrin (2021). A family reunion is a party!
While the main character is initially reluctant to join the shindig, in they end, they’re totally won over. How could they not be? This family get-together is tops with a cook-off, dance-off, cousins, family history, and loving PopPop there too.
Pride Puppy! by Robin Stevenson and Julie McLaughlin (2021). Community, acceptance and pride are a party!
Vibrant art and an alphabet-story to accompany puppy’s first pride parade are sure to make any reader smile in this celebratory picture book.
How Do You Dance? by Thyra Heder (2019). Dancing is always a party!
A brilliant, bobbing, boogie-ing, body-loving book.
Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani (2017). Eye-catching design and playful arithmetic with cats are a party!
This is one of my all-time favorites—so much so that I made a cat clay craft on this blog a few years back in its honor! It’s about cats. It’s about stacks of cats. It’s about math. And it is pure pure playful fun!
How to Have a Birthday by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Cindy Derby (2021). A day that’s all yours is a party!
A slower kind of party awaits readers in this beautiful picture book that encapsulates the childhood magic and love and hope I wish everyone had. A birthday doesn’t always mean a party, but it’s always a day to celebrate in your own way.
You might also enjoy my craft for the delightful crowd-pleaser Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani found here.
Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent, words by Matthew Burgess, pictures by Kara Kramer (2021).
This picture book emobies bold inspiration! It bursts with color. With art. With creativity and the impulse to share it. With love. And most importantly, with “plork“!—a term Corita coined, her portmanteau in the service of making work and play one undertaking.
And it certainly does sing, with vibrant illustrations, striking design, and explosions of Corita’s wonderful quotes. It’ll teach you about her life and her art, and it’ll teach you to embrace both for yourself.
“The person who makes things is a sign of hope.”
Corita grew up a reader. A kind person. A draw-er. A dreamer. Influenced by her father, she followed her heart. She also became a nun: Sister Mary Corita. (But she wasn’t a nun forever.) In the role, she taught art to young children. Then to older ones.
“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”
Corita made viewfinders (that she called finders) with her students to “look at ordinary things until the little details came alive.” She made screen prints and pop art. She made celebrations. She plorked and helped others do the same!
She made statements about social justice. She pushed for reform. And she left her vows because of it.
I hope you get to read Make Meatballs Sing for yourself. I hope it inspires some plorking, some making, some spirited singing in your own life. And don’t forget to follow that little blue bird that accompanies Corita through the book!
You can learn more about this artist and educator and activist at the Corita Art Center.
Big thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for review copies and images!
Ready to plork away?! It might be impossible not to want to make something fun after reading this book! Lucky for us, artist Anna Totten is here to inspire. Just like Corita’s students (and her little buddy the blue bird in Make Meatballs Sing), you can make a decorated paper finder (and more!) with the children in your life too! Anna’s craft is a burst of joyful creativity!
Over to Anna!
YOU’RE INVITED TO PLORK!
Let’s open our eyes to a new perspective. First, you will learn to make a finder like Corita and her students used. Second, you will learn how to make stamps from an ordinary object. Finally, you will create art with your new tools and plork away!
Cut card stock in half (unless you want a giant finder). Lay your sheets vertically. You need to cut a square in the top half of each sheet. I’m going to share my technique for making squares without using a ruler. Trace a circular object on the top section of each sheet. Pinch your paper in the middle of the circle but not to the edges. This pinch gives your scissors some paper to grab and allows the first cut to begin. Using the circle as your guide, cut straight lines parallel from the top, bottom, left, and right of the circle.
Now that you have your finder, hold it away from your face and look through it. A finder focuses your attention on smaller areas of what we usually see. For example, can you use your finder in a busy store to focus on only the letters on a can? What about the street where you live, the playground, or your bedroom? Do you notice any new details? A finder gives us another way to see the world. How can your finder views inspire your art?
Look at your sponge before you cut. Can you imagine the shape you want to create? Do you want to create a shape that already has a name, or would you like to invent a new shape? If you’d like a guide to follow as you cut, use a marker to draw a line on your sponge.
Cut the sponge and then stop and look at your shape. Are you done, or do you want to cut more? Repeat until you have a shape or many shapes you like. Remember, not all scraps are trash! Do you have any leftover sponge for a smaller stamp?
Sponges are just one item you can use for stamping. Are there other everyday items around you or in the recycling bin that could become a stamp? The lip of a milk jug or a cinched paper towel roll? Experiment! It’s okay if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. That’s all part of the process.
For printing with stamps:
Squirt some paint on a bigger surface so you can spread your paint around. I used paper this time but scrap cardboard, a paper plate, or a washable tray are other items I often use when stamping. Dab one side of your sponge up and down in the paint a few times to coat the underside of your stamp. Then pick up your stamp and place it paint side down on your paper (or finder, scraps, cardboard, etc.). If you have a lot of paint on your sponge you can probably stamp more than once. Dab your sponge back into the paint and repeat as often as you like. Are you placing your shapes randomly? Can you make a pattern? If you need more paint, dab it around or you’ll likely get a gloop of paint on your artwork. But as Corita believed—there are no mistakes, just make! You can use more than one color to stamp and be open to mixing colors. It’s fun, sometimes surprising, and definitely a great way to PLORK!
A decorated finder discovers new views.
There are no rules on what supplies you use for this art: layer paint, tissue, stamps, collage, and more to allow surprises. Tissue paper is easy to cut and tear for all ages and adds beautiful saturation to art. Old magazines or newspaper advertisements are an excellent source for texture, imagery, and type. Don’t throw out that box; make it into art! Cardboard is sturdier than paper and takes material well. Remix art supplies from where you live.
Anna Totten is an illustrator and designer who works at the intersection of creativity and kids. She writes and illustrates stories, instructs art, and organizes community art projects. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina where her murals are popping up where kids learn and play.
Thank you, Anna, for truly bringing this picture book to life with an inspiring tour through your “plork away” activity!
Sunflower Sisters by Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes (2021). It’s out in the UK now and will be coming to the US as well.
This picture book is a story about bonds of love. The ones between best friends, Amrita and Kiki. The ones between mothers and their children. The ones made at special wedding celebrations. And, at its heart, the ones we have with ourselves. Amrita’s story encourages readers to beam like a sunflower, proud and bold. And to be a sunflower with and for others too.
It has captivating, joyful illustrations and a message that radiates affirmation, connection, and purpose.
Amrita is getting ready for a wedding in her South Asian family, and the bride is wearing face cream to lighten her skin. This, as well as a comment from Aunty about drinking tea, sets off discussion and discovery for the main character.
Amrita’s mum though, is a source of self-acceptance, a voice of encouraging Amrita to fiercely love herself as she is—and her skin tone that is beautiful as it is, always, as well as in a yellow lehenga, the color of a sunflower. In fact, it is Amrita’s yellow lehenga and effervescent sunflower-spirit that eventually convinces Aunty how beautiful she is wearing any color at all.
“…the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.”
Amrita’s best friend, Kiki, is at a wedding the same day as well. At the end, we see the girls unite and twirl together, vowing to love who they are as they bloom and grow. And we even get a glimpse on the last two spreads of how they do! (Hint: it has to do with being, doing, and also wearing what you love.)
Plus, there’s an explanation of colorism in the back for handy reference when speaking with kids about the book.
“From that moment on, the girls would make sure they felt like sunflowers every day.”
The author of this book has an effervescent sunflower-spirit herself, and I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with my friend Monika Singh Gangotra to ask her a few questions about Sunflower Sisters. She shares her wonderful answers below! Read on to hear what she has to say!
This Picture Book Life: What was the impetus for you to write Sunflower Sisters; what inspired the idea for this picture book and to explore colorism through family, friendship, and wedding celebrations?
Monika Singh Gangotra: Sunflower Sisters is a story that follows two best friends, Amrita and Kiki, on their journey through self-love, sisterhood and the power of loving one another. Specifically, this story focuses on the issue of familial colourism and how we can tackle this with love, kindness, acceptance, strength and honesty.
I wanted kids to have some books on their shelves that were rich in diversity, cultures of those they are growing up alongside, representative of multicultural communities, relatable characters, contexts and adventures, books that carried important messages for the world we live in and how they affect all of us. To empower readers to make positive change. Further, I wanted more representation for the way we live our lives. The buildings, our clothes, our neighbours whilst also addressing and raising awareness of cultural issues and cultural wonders that are still alive and present today.
Colourism is an issue that has followed me throughout my whole life and continues to do so to ALL South Asians in some way. With a deep-rooted history related to colonialism and caste, colourism has become incredibly engrained in the way South Asians view beauty and success. South Asian pop culture is saturated in colourism and our exposure and ideology is incredibly high. As I began to work in the beauty industry, what I was taught to believe about what is beautiful became incongruent with what I saw and felt for myself. And I wanted to create change. I feel social change is incredibly powerful through children and it is our responsibility as adults to help steer them in the direction of love.
In my experience, wedding celebrations have a large focus on beauty and the way a woman presents herself to the community. Much of my exposure in relation to colourism was in and around wedding celebrations. In saying that, I love weddings. The joy, the colours, the clothes! Weddings have always been occasions where I have felt I can truly express myself in terms of my style and felt would make a great setting for Amrita to be able to do the same.
TPBL: Sunflowers! Do you have a special connection to these radiant blooms?
Monika Singh Gangotra: I remember growing up and watching my mum walking around the front yard of our coastal home in the early morning. The sun high in the sky and the most beautiful and brightly coloured birds chirping loudly, eating from all her fruit trees she planted herself – pears, guava, peaches and a mango tree to name just to name a few.
As more and more birds began to come to our house to eat and party, Mum felt there wasn’t enough fruit on the trees to feed them all so she began to buy large bags of bird seed to scatter on the front yard. This bird seed mix had sunflower seeds and before we knew it, we had these incredible sunflowers growing in our front yard. As tall as can be. These were some of the best days and the most beautiful images of my mum that I carry in my heart and can see ever so clearly when I close my eyes and think of home.
This image of my mum and her sunflowers is how this came to be. I feel that sunflowers grow their best when they are surrounded by the warmth of the sun. I also noticed in her flowers that some of the sunflowers looked towards one another. This is the imagery that I have used in the book to describe the important relationships between Amrita, Kiki and their mothers.
Amrita looks up towards her mother for love and guidance (as the sun). Her mother provides her with a safe environment to grow full of warmth and love. Sisterhood is explained through Amrita and Kiki being sunflowers for themselves and also one another. That at times when their sun isn’t there, they can look towards each other and know they will always be there for one another – unconditionally.
TPBL: Both you and Michaela Dias-Hayes have relationships with fashion and textiles, and your Instagram often features your radiant, joyful wardrobe in exuberant photos. How did both your passions for fashion inevitably infuse Sunflower Sisters?
Monika Singh Gangotra: The story follows Amrita and Kiki in their journey to open their own fashion house, just as I have been so lucky to have done so in my own. Fashion is such a huge part of my personal expression.
Michaela incorporated prints from clothes she had seen from my own personal wardrobe in social media. That is why my most favourite page is the very last. The colours, the diversity, little hints of my own story and journey in the colours and prints used. My heart sang when I first saw that page and Owlet Press lovingly gifted me a framed copy of this spread to hang on my wall.
Thank you, Monika, for spending this time and sharing with us, and to you and Owlet Press for review copy and images!
This sunflower hair clip is playfully easy to make with no-bake modeling clay and will remind the wearer that, like Amrita and the Sunflower Sisters, they have their own ability to beam like this golden bloom. It could be used in a child’s hair or worn on some item of clothing or accessory or affixed to a piece of furniture or carried in a bag or pocket.
Any no-bake modeling clay (I used yellow, orange, pink, and brown and Crayola’s Model Magic variety.)
A hair clip on which to fasten the bloom.
Some gold thread if you’d like to add flecks of it as I have done.
Hot glue gun (to be used by the adult present).
From there, it’s just a matter of starting with the sunflower center by rolling a ball of clay and slightly flattening it Then, you shape a whole bunch of petals, mixing clay colors if you’d like, and then kneading each one onto the center so it’s attached. Layer by layer, petal by petal, however you like! I cut small pieces of gold thread to embed into some petals as well, taking inspiration from the sunflowers on the cover of Sunflower Sisters.
The finally step is attaching the flower to the clip. Before you glue it, wait until your clay is dry. The timing may be different depending on what kind you use, but if you wait 24 hours, I’m sure that’ll do the trick in any case. Simply affix it with a dollop of hot glue, hold a few seconds, wait, and wear!
I love giving away books and this is the most to a single blog reader I’ve ever had the pleasure of sending off! These 16 terrific books from the last couple of years are for an educator’s classroom or library to celebrate 8 years of This Picture Book Life and to celebrate all the vital work teachers do, entry details below!
The picture books:
Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This is How I Know: a Book about Seasons by Brittany Luby & Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (2021). Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere.
Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (2020).
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon (2021).
Together We March by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Tyler Feder (2021).
Pride Puppy by Robin Stevenson and Julie McLaughlin (2021).
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim (2021).
If Dominican Were a Color written by Sili Recio, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy (2021).
Princess Arabella at the Museum by Mylo Freeman (2021).
A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa (2020).
The Secret Fawn by Kallie George & Elly MacKay (2021).
Amazing Women of the Middle East by Wafa’ Tarnowska, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, Sahar Haghgoo, Christelle Halal, Esteli Meza Margarida Esteves (2020).
Sato the Rabbit by Yuki Ainoya (2021).
The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth (2020).
My Bed by Rebecca bond, illustrated by Salley Mavor (2020).
Lift As You Climb by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (2020).
Toasty by Sarah Hwang (2021).
And quick update for any picture book creators out there: I’m super excited to be teaching another round of my online picture book revision workshop series starting August 7th! There are details about this special opportunity to REVISE your manuscript according to your voice and vision, RECEIVE encouragement and inspiration from me and the small group, and REVITALIZE your writing process on my website here! Or simply email me to get more info or sign up. Two scholarships at a significant discount available for participants with underrepresented/marginalized voices in publishing—we need your voices!