Search Results for: 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 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.
I learn so much from reading non-fiction picture books, and of course I’m sure kids do too! They give insight into historical figures and events, into the way people have solved problems and overcome incredible odds to follow a dream or to fight for justice, into the way dreamers and doers are formed.
With a new school year having started, I couldn’t help but think about a list of some recent favorites— standouts and truly terrific true stories. Here goes!
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe.
Terrific. Incredible. All the adjectives for this biography of Basquiat. “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.”
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie.
Congo Square was the only place enslaved (and free) Africans were allowed to meet together in New Orleans in the 1800s, a place where they played music, danced, and shared news. It embodied the hope of freedom and both the succinct, powerful prose and evocative illustrations truly capture that.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy, illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley.
A boldly designed picture book about a bold person whose journey started at the library!
Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate.
This is truly a terrific book about an ingenious inventor. “…Because facing challenges, solving problems, and building things are what Lonnie Johnson loves to do. And his ideas just keep on flowing.”
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Another excellent book, this one documenting the case of Mendez vs. Westminster School District—Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight to desegregate schools in California. Plus, I’m a big fan of Duncan Tonatiuh’s artwork (stay tuned!).
Crossing Bok Chito: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges.
An emotional story with stunning artwork of a Choctaw girl in the 1800s who befriends a little boy who’s a slave and then her family helps his escape to freedom.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López.
This one is inspired by the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dreamed of drumming in Cuba despite gender restrictions and eventually had an all girls band with her sisters and became a famous musician. The dreamiest text and illustrations.
Wangari Masthai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Frank Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty.
A breathtakingly beautiful book that tells of Wangari Maathai’s early life and obstacles in her reforestation work. “…a tree is worth more than its wood.”
Take a Picture of Me, James Van der Zee by Andrea Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett.
A wonderful exploration of the life of photographer James Van Der Zee and the Harlem Renaissance as well as the way history shapes lives and lives shape history.
The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill.
A gripping tale of a legendary wolf and a man who had the capacity for change. A book for budding conservationists.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, art by Shawn Harris.
With the Statue of Liberty as its subject, this one contains facts and laughs and cries and an important message about making the U.S. a welcoming place.
The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
Terrific in every way, this story of the National Memorial African Bookstore is also illustrated by a frequent appearer on this list—the talented R. Gregory Christie.
Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi, illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri.
This is a poignant biography of a Japanese poet, followed by her poems. A wonderful (and honest) book.
A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey and R. Gregory Christie.
This is a fairly comprehensive biography of JFK given the short format and young audience. His childhood, his political rise, and his delay and then eventual speech and action on civil rights. It begins and ends with inspiration for young people, the readers of the book “to speak up, to act, to move the world forward—to make history.”
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman.
A story everyone should know about Vivien Thomas, a research assistant who developed a procedure to give children open heart surgery in the 1940s, but who was not credited because he was African American. This book recognizes his struggles and celebrates his contribution, as we should.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, words by Amy Novensky, pictures by Isabelle Arsenault.
A biography of the artist, Louise Bourgeois, whose life was like a cloth lullaby, woven together with the threads of her childhood, her mother, their family tapestry business, Parisian fabrics, memory, and stitching itself.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls.
The story of a boy born with one leg who biked close to 400 miles when no one believed he could.
Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers.
A gorgeous book told in second person as a kind of letter of encouragement to a young girl to follow her dreams, filled with fiery, vibrant illustrations.
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad.
Another special book about dance and finding your passion, pursuing it despite obstacles and through practice, and sharing its joy with others. You can read my interview with the author here.
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code written by Laurie, Hallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu.
An amazing biography of a woman who from a young age was a creative whiz at figuring out how things work and solving problems. When she grew up, she used her skills to transform computer programming and also coin the term “computer bug.”
You might be interested in another post: Knock Your Socks Off Non-fiction Picture Books about the Natural World.
The Case for Loving by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.
This book. It’s by an interracial couple about an interracial couple in the past, the Lovings, who went to court to fight for the legality of their marriage and changed everything. Qualls and Alko combined illustration techniques to create a truly special, collaborative book with love at its center.
Growing up Pedro by Matt Tavares.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, I guarantee this story of two brothers looking out for each other will get to you. Pedro Martinez was once a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic, dreaming of the major leagues. This is the story of how he got there and the relationship with his older brother that sustained him.
Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo.
This biography of E.E. Cummings is moving because of its beauty—in illustrations and layout design and in poetry. Not only that, but it’s infused with spirit and the idea that you can accomplish your dreams with courage and by staying true to yourself. Yes.
Swan by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad.
The perfect combination of joy and melancholy, this tribute to Anna Pavlova’s life (and death) brings sweet, satisfying tears.
Ivan the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherin Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.
If you loved the middle grade novel, The One and Only Ivan, then you’ll love this pared down picture book version for younger readers. It gives us the real life story of a gorilla captured from his home and family, living an isolated shopping mall experience, and then finally finding a new home and companions.
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers.
This book will make you feel things because of who wrote it (principal ballerina Misty Copeland) and how she did so. And it will make you feel things because of who it’s addressed to: young people with dreams that seem far away to impossible. Plus those vibrant, fiery illustrations that dance on the page.
And finally, one to look forward to!
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (out in October!).
This is the origin behind the origin of Winnie the Pooh, the real life bear named Winnipeg. It’s a beautiful example of a story within a story—a mother telling her son a bedtime tale about their family history: a veterinarian in the army during World War I and the bear cub he bought for twenty dollars at a train station. It’s a masterful book and has so much to say about those moments when one’s “heart makes up one’s mind.”
Thanks to Little, Brown and Company for the image of Finding Winnie.
Any tear-inducing (in a good way) non-fiction picture books to add to the list?