Tag Archives: picture book illustration
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!
Welcome to R. Gregory Christie’s picture book life!
R. Gregory Christie has illustrated so many books for children that I can’t possibly include every one in depth in this feature, so you’ll find snapshots of many of them from his website below. I mean, wow, right? So many beautiful books, so much African American history, so much variation and yet key elements that connect the pieces and paintings in his body of work.
Christie’s art is sensational—more specifically, it’s striking in terms of emotion and impact. The expressive faces he paints, the signature stretched-out figures, the engaging perspectives and compositions, the vivid background colors. All of it comes together in paintings that if I had to pick one word to describe, I would use dynamic. They move, they emote, they dance, they gesture, they transport and convey.
He’s an NAACP Image Award winner, a Caldecott winner, has garnered the Coretta Scott King honor six times, designed the USPS Kwanzaa stamp in 2013, delivers lectures, and teaches art workshops to kids—among other notable accomplishments and meaningful pursuits.
You’ll find his work not only in picture books but in many publications and venues. He got his start creating art for jazz records after attending New York’s School of Visual Arts. His first picture book, an anthology, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children edited by Davida Adedjouma, was published by Lee & Low in 1996.
And you can find his prints and stationery at his other website, Gas-Art Gifts (“GAS” stands for “Gregarious Art Statements”).
Freedom in Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford (2016). This extraordinary book portrays enslaved Africans in New Orleans as days of toil count down to one afternoon off, Sunday, which is spent in Congo Square for music, dance, and sharing news, a place that embodied freedom. “Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”
Only Passing Through written by Anne Rockwell (2002) is an in-depth picture book biography of Sojourner Truth with the most dramatic figurative paintings throughout that emphasize emotion and perspective in inventive, surprising, powerful ways.
Lift As You Climb written by Patricia Hruby Powell (2020). This picture book profiles the extraordinary Ella Baker who worked for voting rights, always listening to people, always lifting her voice for justice, always lifting as she climbed. In this picture book, R. Gregory Christie uses some of his technicolor backgrounds, captivating compositions, and portraits that pop off the page.
The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali written by Tonya Bolden (2007). A definitive and striking biography of Muhammad Ali that captures his determination and values and boasts the most captivating cover!
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (2015) is the story of Lewis Michaux Sr. and Harlem’s National Memorial African Bookstore told from the perspective of his son.
I hope you’ll check out R. Gregory Christie’s incredible artwork and the incredible books he’s illustrated.
My last Their Writer’s Life feature was on Cátia Chien, which you can find here.
I haven’t published a “picture books for pairing post” in so long! Here’s one showcasing two picture books I couldn’t help but envision together in a storytime or stack.
They both are about mothers and daughters. They both are about spending time together and the bond between them being their center. They both are about coping when things don’t go as planned. They both have totally distinct styles but are both utterly beautiful.
This picture book is full of paintings as evocative as the accompanying words. It is full of moments. Full of details in the text and details in the art like flowers, curtains, wallpaper, the textures of a home. Full of objects and observations the narrator notices about her day, her day spent with her mama—her constant.
It exudes togetherness and love in the simplest things: a morning, an oatmeal breakfast, their rain boots, their toothbrushes, a walk in the rain. And when there is a mishap, a cup breaks, that is perfectly okay because the narrator is with her mama. And the book ends with her knowing that she’s always with her, a soothing, steady balm.
“…I want to be everywhere Mama is.”
This picture book features vibrantly exuberant pastel collage art, energetic language, and a mother-child relationship that is honest and connected and full of love. It is also about a particular day—Saturday!—that has a very particular and special, splendid routine, a routine that on this Saturday has one big mishap, and then more to follow.
But this story embodies resilience. Because with each mishap, with each potential ruined outing, mother and Ava keep on and bounce back and come up with creative solutions. Why? Because they have each other. And that is the most special, splendid thing there is. It’s all they need.
“Saturday was the day they cherished.”
You may also want to check out the collage card craft I made for Thank You, Omu!, also by Oge Mora.
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.
This. Picture. Book.
It explores homes. All kinds.
It seamlessly moves from country to city to sea. And then it travels to faraway homes, to unusual homes, to homes of animals and even fairy tale characters.
All of it portrayed through the most beautiful, majestic artwork. Hints of an old world and new. Flora and fauna and textures. Pink noses and rosy cheeks. The most wonderful details. The smoothest, matte paper.
The color palette, earthy tones with pops of red is just gorgeous.
There are homes we know.
Homes we’ve heard of.
Homes we can’t even imagine.
French homes. Atlantians’ homes. A Kenyan blacksmith’s home. A Slovakian duchess’s.
It starts and ends with Carson Ellis’s own home. And Carson Ellis in it. And not to be missed is that mourning dove that carries us through the book, that leaves its nest-home on the title page and makes appearances here and there. That bird is our guide, our proxy.
And one of my favorite things? This book asks questions. It doesn’t have all the answers about all the homes. Some of them are mysterious, for us to decide.
This is a book to behold.
To snuggle into, to make yourself at home in.
HOME. Copyright © 2015 by Carson Ellis. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Carson Ellis’s work has been on my radar for a few years via her middle grade novel covers/illustrations and her work for the Decemberists (aka her husband’s band; he’s the writer of Wildwood too). You may have already known her work too. Here’s some of her stuff to admire!
Images via Carson Ellis’s website.