Tag Archives: their picture book life
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.
Today it’s illustrator Cátia Chien‘s picture book life here on This Picture Book Life!
When I think of Cátia Chien’s art, I think of textures: fuzzy, confetti-ed, rich, circled, splattered, splashed.
When I think of her art, I also think of these words: dreamy, vivid, beautiful.
Each page of a picture book Cátia Chien has illustrated is a discovery, each one varied in vibrant color and shape and experimentation and emotion. Stick around to see!
The above PBS video featuring Cátia Chien is extraordinary. I remember the impact it had on me a couple of years ago when it first came out. In it, she is honest about her childhood, her life, her experience as an immigrant and feeling like an outsider. She is honest about her process of being an artist and how making art is an act of empathy for her, and for the children she teaches.
“The feeling of actually belonging, it’s self-created. Arriving at the process of creating something from the inside out, it’s really just a validation of existing. It matters that we add to the conversation so that it’s not just one voice that’s being told in picture books.”
She has art and prints for sale at Gallery Nucleus here in Los Angeles.
Now for her picture books, starting with the newest one, forthcoming The Bear and the Moon (out September 29th from Chronicle Books and our giveaway book) as well as some special process photos of The Bear and the Moon Cátia Chien provided for us!
The Bear and the Moon written by Matthew Burgess (September 29, 2020).
This is a story of surprise. Of companionship. Of loss. And the art is fuzzy, rich, dreamy and beautiful.
Balloons are magic for children, and red ones have a literary and film history. And it turns out they’re magic for bears, too. This bear who is alone but curious and up for an adventure.
The red balloon the bear finds becomes not only a novel and wonderful mystery, but a friend. The bear shows the balloon all its haunts and habits, the way you’d tour a friend around too. The balloon is not only real, but feels animate. It’s a thing, yes, but a “wonderful thing! A squishable, huggable thing!”
Just look at those shapes and blended, muted pastel colors!
And here, the technicolor blue, the pops of white stars and constellations, the dreaminess of this evening scene as the bear and balloon sit together.
We all know what happens to balloons though. They don’t last forever. Nothing does, really.
The bear makes a mistake. Mistakes, like things not lasting, are something else universal. We all know what that’s like. The regret that follows. The blame. The despair and the wish that it wouldn’t have happened. That we hadn’t done it. That is the hard part.
I won’t give away the details of the ending of this beautiful, tender, reassuring book, but I will tell you that it’s hopeful. Because like anyone who’s made a mistake or experienced loss, the bear finds encouragement. The bear looks to nature. The bear accepts themself.
And like a red balloon and a full moon, the bear’s memories go around and around and around in an enveloping circle of comfort.
The Town of Turtle written by Michelle Cuevas (2018).
A lonely turtle has a dream and then builds it, builds a whole town, and by doing so builds a whole community. The text of this book couldn’t be more perfectly paired with Cátia Chien’s absolutely fanciful pencil, acrylic, and paper collage illustrations. The turtle’s shell and then town feel like a planet and there are galaxy elements throughout—stars and dark black space and elemental shapes. The book is a dream that mirror’s turtle’s told-of dream.
Things to Do written by Elaine Magliaro (2017).
A compilation of poems that explore things to do according to your perspective and place—a celebration of moments and nature and soaking up every small experience.
The Sea Serpent and Me written by Dashka Slater (2008).
This one is sweet-sweet-sweet and mirrors what it’s like to find, to love, and to, when the time comes, let go.
A Boy and A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (2014).
This is the autobiography of Alan Rabinowitz, wildlife conservationist, who found that his ability to speak with animals was his special gift.
My Blue is Happy written by Jessica Young (2013).
An exploration of color and feelings and the way two interplay.
Thanks to Chronicle Kids, I’m giving away a copy of the latest picture book Cátia Chien’s illustrated, The Bear and the Moon, words by Matthew Burgess—out September 29th, 2020!
Simply comment below for a chance to win! (U.S. only; ends Friday, September 4th at midnight Pacific.)
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 so delighted to feature Julie Flett here! She is a Cree-Metis artist, illustrator, and author from Canada, creating some of the most beautiful children’s books ever.
Her art is so distinctive—the play of smooth solids and patterns, of muted tones and vibrant accents of color, all with ever present clean lines, bold shapes, and collage. Her projects explore and celebrate Native people and include themes of history, family bonds, culture, and nature. You know when you’re holding one of her books in your hands—her illustrations communicate so much feeling and connection to others and the world around us. Each one truly tells a story.
Wild Berries (2013).
Julie Flett wrote and illustrated this one in which a boy and his grandmother pick blueberries in the woods. This book is filled with small, still, contemplative moments and details as well as bilingual vocabulary from the Cree language. Plus, there’s a recipe for wild blueberry jam at the back.
A lullaby to a little one, bursting with love and joy.
I’m interested in the everyday experience, in the intimacy of my subject matter. For Little You, I thought a lot about my son as a baby and toddler. The page with the hole in the mother’s sock reads, “Let’s all dance, let’s all sing,” and the image for this page came to me right away. I often played music for my son when he was a baby and we would dance around the kitchen or living room together.
—Julie Flett at 49th Shelf
This book fills my heart with happiness and is a wonderful exploration of the connective and special while simple things in life, incorporating elements of Native culture. Beautiful.
As an adult, I attended art school at Concordia University, where my major was studio art. The work I was producing at that time was installation based, painting, sound, and some film work. After graduating, I worked as an advocate and outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. During that period, my sister, who worked for First Nations publisher Theytus Books, asked me if I’d like to illustrate a book. They were looking for an illustrator for a children’s story and asked me to submit draft drawings. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have much of a chance to really think about not having experience as an illustrator. I discovered a love for this.
—Julie Flett, in Booklist
We Sang You Home, written by Richard Van Camp (2016).
“Just look at the joy and the smile of the child on the cover! That kid is loved, and that’s what I want for Native kids! To feel loved by words, by story, by books. We Sang You Home is a board book that, with very few words on each page, tells a child about how they were wanted, and how they came to be, and how they were, as the title says, sang home where they’d be kissed, and loved, and… where they, too, would sing.”
Her full review here.
My mom was a textile artist. She had a weaving shop when we were growing up, in the 1970s, and later a consignment-clothing store with a focus on vintage clothing from the ’20s and ’30s. I was around textiles a lot as a child. My sister and I used to spin wool for the weaving shop, and I developed a love for patterns, dyes, and materials. I think I approach the collage work similarly to composing a haiku. My collage imagery is often pared down, emphasizing simplicity, intensity, and direct expression. I’m also inspired by painters, filmmakers, and children’s bookmakers from earlier periods. I especially like Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle, artist Sonia Delaunay, Inuit print-maker Pitseolak Ashoona, and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, to name a few.
—Julie Flett, in Booklist
Without mentioning them outright, this book takes on the topic of Canadian residential schools in which Indigenous children were sent away to government facilities in order to assimilate into Canadian/European/English or French-speaking culture. “In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.” The conditions were terrible, and the children were isolated from their families, cultures, and languages for most or all of the year.
In this story, a child asks her grandmother a series of questions about her daily life and practices—her bright clothes, her long braid, her Cree words that “sounded just like a poem.” The answers illuminate the injustice of her grandmother’s past as well as the way she then and now strives to reclaim her heritage, pride, and self, courageously and poignantly. It’s an eye-opening, sad, and important book that’s perfectly crafted in a way for young readers to engage with.
Here’s an article that includes quotes from Julie Flett about the process of creating When We Were Alone.
We All Count (2014).
Admittedly, I haven’t been able to get a copy of this one to read myself, but wanted to include it because it’s another book Julie Flett has written as well. A counting book that’s gorgeously illustrated and helps kids not only count, but learn the Cree language. Win, win, win.
Good news! Thanks to the generosity of Orca Books and Highwater Press, I’m giving away a pack of four of Julie Flett’s books to one lucky winner! One person will win all four books pictured (My Heart Fills With Happiness; Little You; We Sang You Home; When we Were Alone. Enter through the Rafflecopter below.)