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!