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Thao Lam’s Picture Book Life + giveaway
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!
wallpaper by thao lam + paper creature craft!
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!