Day 13: Jessixa Bagley

February 13, 2016
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Jessixa Bagley burst onto the children’s literature stage last year with the debut of her beautiful picture book “Boats For Papa,” a gentle story of loss, healing, and ultimately persevering. Bagley is both author and illustrator. The book has received numerous starred reviews, and it has been widely praised by children, the children’s literature community, and beyond.
Her gentle watercolors are richly detailed, and her characters–a loving family of anthropomorphic beavers–will delight young readers.
I appreciate the generosity Bagley put in to participating in this interview:
Don: Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract
Jessixa: It’s been a long road for me to get where I am today, but every step has held a lot of value. I pretty much always wanted to make picture books. Ever since I was a small child, I was writing and drawing my own stories, books, and comics, creating characters and their worlds. Right after graduating college in 2004, I started writing picture books and submitting them to publishers left and right. I had been published for comics already at that point, so I figured I could finally get my real dream going and jump into children’s publishing. I think I made every wrong mistake possible with submitting my work for about 6-7 years. I just really didn’t know what I was doing and I thought I could go it on my own and I had a nice big stack of rejection letters to prove it. I was at a loss for what to do.
Then I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2010. I was an Boats-for-Papa-jacket_sminactive member still for a while- thinking arrogantly that I didn’t need to be part of a club to get published (and just not knowing what SCBWI had to offer). And, shocker, I still wasn’t getting published and didn’t understand why. Then one year I made the leap and decided to go to their annual summer conference in Los Angeles having never attended any previous SCBWI events at all. And that’s when things started to make more sense. I got to see first hand what my portfolio needed to look like and I got to hear about how the business of books worked-the real ins and outs of submitting work and what editors and art directors really cared about.
After some  tears, I went home and started over. It still took me some time, and lots more tears, but I finally started to find my voice as an illustrator and then as a writer. That’s when things began to click inside of me and that’s when things started to change. Once I found this “voice” inside of me that people would always talk about, the awards and opportunities started to show up. Then I did another Hail Mary in 2013 and went to the SCBWI NY Winter Conference and I was runner up for the portfolio showcase and that is where I attended a workshop by Alexandra Penfold (my soon to be future agent). Alex believed in my work, offered me representation shortly thereafter and then went to work submitting my book dummy for Boats for Papa (then called Drift). She put the book in front of Neal Porter- one of the most loveable men on Earth- and then rest is history.
Don: What primary medium do you use in your work?
Jessixa: I use very fine waterproof black pens and watercolor for my illustrations. I use pretty inexpensive watercolor paper to help create my pooling affect in my paintings (pooling is what I call when the watercolor builds up in areas to create unique textures). I also use an eyedropper to help me spread my paint- a technique I created for myself so I can paint large areas fairly evenly with small brushes to retain the right look I want for my pooling. I like to do everything by hand and prefer not to work digitally, except for small touch-ups.
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Don: Tell us about your most recent book

Jessixa: My most recent book, “Before I Leave,” is about a little hedgehog named Zelda that finds out that she has to move away from her best friend (Aaron the anteater) and instead of being sad about leaving, they decided to cherish those last moments they have together. It’s a story pulled from my own experiences having to move when I was young and how hard it is to leave your friends. I wanted to use a style of writing that was very different than Boats for Papa so I wrote it in more of a letter format, like one friend writing a letter to the other. I was trying to approach it with a more open and poetic quality.
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Don: Talk about the research process for the book
Jessixa: This was so much different than my research for “Boats for Papa”-which was much more technical because of the boats and the nautical elements. For “Before I Leave” I looked at tons and tons of photos of hedgehogs and anteaters to familiarize myself with them for the book. (By the way, researching pictures of hedgehogs is probably the CUTEST research anyone could ever have to do.) I read a lot of facts about both animals, where they live, their everyday habits. They are both very fascinating animals. Fun fact: Both hedgehogs and anteaters have very poor eyesight. I thought that was a weird coincidence that I learned after I picked the animals. It seems like a good basis of a friendship, being able to relate to one another!
Don: Any important things you learned about the subject while researching the book?
Jessixa: I got very interested in the idea of having a hedgehog for a pet when working on my book! Once again, they are the cutest animals and you sort of can’t help falling in love with them when you are staring at photographs of them all day. But I found out that like reptiles they have salmonella on their bodies, which because I was about to have a baby, didn’t seem like a good idea. That and they are nocturnal and poop when they run. I figured we should only have one animal in the house that is awake all night and poops while it’s running.
Don: If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?
Jessixa: I have a really hard time with choosing a favorite anything (except for food- hamburgers are my favorite food). For dream artists will have to be a current top five list:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder– He was a master painter and the intricacies of his work are amazing. I’d love to see his traditional painting process. Heck, I’d take the Younger Bruegel too!
Beatrix Potter– She is magic and I think she would be a kindred spirit. I’d love to see how she worked in nature and how her environment shaped her relationship with her characters.
Richard Scarry– He would be SO fun to see work. I imagine he talks to his characters when he draws (like I do). I’d love to hear the backstories he created for his characters and why he thinks pigs would be such terrible drivers.
Mary Blair– She was an amazing painter and I’d love to see her design approach and how that graphic eye influenced her art decisions.
Frances Glessner Lee– She was an aristocrat in the 1940’s who made all of those dioramas of crime scenes that police used for forensic training. I love miniatures and it would be incredible to see how she worked (And just a little creepy).
Don: What would be your dream manuscript? Your dream author to work with?24140_669[1].jpg
Jessixa: I’d love the chance to get to illustrate “The Wind in the Willows.” Those characters speak to my soul as an artist and feel like a part of me lives in that world that Kenneth Grahame wrote. I don’t know how I could do it justice, but I’d love to try! One of my favorite authors right now is Matt de la Peña. I thought the writing in Last Stop on Market Street was simply exquisite. I was really moved by the poetic quality to his work. It did more than just tell a story, it really made you feel. I’d love to see what stories he could create for my little woodland animal world!
Don: Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?
Jessixa: Because I am a VERY unorganized person, I try to set myself up for success with my books by being very organized in my process. I start off by making a list of how many and what kind of illustrations I have to do and how long I have to do them all. Also because I have a full time job and am a mother to a burgeoning toddler, my time is very limited so knowing how long a painting will take me and knowing how much time I have to paint it is a huge help for time management. I pretty much have a standard process for my illustrations:  thumbnails, dummy, final sketches, transfer sketches to watercolor paper, pen over the pencil art, then watercolor. I also end up doing a lot of paint tests and color tests before I start working on the final art so I know I have my palette right where I want it.
I work at actual size of the final book so I know exactly how fine the details will end up being (and also because I have a hard time using math to figure out percentages for scaling up and down). I usually work on one piece at a time but if I have several pieces that have similar backgrounds- like they are in the same room or it’s the same day- I’ll mix up a huge batch of the watercolor wash and paint the larger areas (like the sky) at the same time to maintain consistency. I also have a really great rhythm with my AMAZING book designer Jennifer Browne and my editor Neal Porter, so once I have a little chunk of final work to show, I scan it and email it into them so we can all make sure everything is looking good. It’s so great that they are willing to work this way because it saves me from illustrating an entire book, then having to turn around and make a ton of changes in the end. Altering as I go is much more efficient and less stressful for me- plus I get to talk to them more frequently which I love because they are just the best people!
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Creating thumbnail sketches

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Final painting for BEFORE I LEAVE

Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?
Jessixa: I am lucky that I feel like I have too many cheerleaders to count within my friends and family! My husband though is my biggest fan and supporter and he’s really helped me keep up the will power to keep going when things were (and are) really challenging. And my amazing picture book friends are just the best. My community of my crit groups, writer friends, and SCBWI partners in crime has really given me so much love and encouragement that I can’t imagine this journey being possible without them. I’ve made incredible friends by getting involved in the community of the picture book world. You think you can do this alone, but I’ve found that making books is an extremely collaborative process and the more people you have to support you, the better- and the work is better for it as well.
Don: What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?
Jessixa: I’ve got two great projects on the horizon! Next winter (2017) my third picture book, Laundry Day comes out and it’s such a fun and silly book and I’m really looking forward to its release! It’s about two twin badger brothers named Tic and Tac who are bored one late summer day and they decide to help their mother with the laundry and of course some wackiness ensues-as of course it always does with laundry. It’s very different in tone than my first two books which I hope readers will enjoy. And my next project-which is very dear to my heart-is a picture book collaboration with my husband, Aaron Bagley. We’ve always collaborated on art and this will be our first picture book together. We both wrote the story and are both painting the illustrations. The book is called Vincent Comes Home and is about a cat that lives on a cargo ship. It’s a very sweet story and that much sweeter to get to work on it with my best friend! It comes out winter 2018.

Day 12: “Trombone Shorty”

February 12, 2016

trombone shorty by Jonathan Mannion

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was a child prodigy who began playing the trombone at the age of four, a discarded trombone that was twice as long as he was tall. By age six he was leading his own money-earning band, and by ten he was a bona fide touring musician. Today, at 30 years old, he is a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, playing not only trombone, but trumpet, drums, organ and tuba with his current band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.

Andrews credits his singer-songwriter grandfather, Jessie Hill, and his bandleader brother, James Andrews, as significant influences. Of his brother James—also a trumpeter—he often asserts, “He taught me everything I know.” Young “Shawty” performed with many heavy hitters, including Bo Diddley, Wynton Marsalis, and Wycliffe Gordon; he learned much about the craft of making music through their mentorship. Over the years, however, Andrews has blazed a distinctive path in the jazz world, fusing elements of modern rock and hip-hop to formulate a sound he calls “SupaFunkRock”.

At the same time he’s been forging innovative sounds, Andrews has also maintained his dedication to New Orleans by working to preserve its musical traditions. For the city he says “raised him”, he has established the Trombone Shorty Foundation “to preserve and perpetuate the unique musical culture of New Orleans by passing down its traditions to future generations of musicians.” The foundation sponsors two intiatives in particular: The Fredman Music Business Institute (providing top-level music industry training to high school students) and Trombone Shorty Academy (a partnership with Tulane University to provide musically gifted high schoolers with mentorship in various areas, including reading/writing music and performance).

In line with his mission to perpetuate New Orleans’ unique musical culture, Andrews has written an autobiographical picture book: Trombone Shorty. It is the story of how a young Troy Andrews became Trombone Shorty, and how practice and persistence transformed a dream into the reality of being an internationally celebrated artist.

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Trombone Shorty—illustrated by Bryan Collier and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers—is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.

 

The Buzz on Trombone Shorty:

“Where y’at?” Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, opens his book with this phrase, letting readers know that it’s New Orleans parlance for hello. In this stunning picture book autobiography, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andrews shares the story of his early years growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Andrews desperately wished to emulate the musicians in his family and those he saw performing all over his city, so he and his friends made their own instruments out of found materials, played in the streets, and marched with bands. When one day he found a battered, discarded trombone bigger than he was, Andrews finally had a real instrument to play, and he practiced day and night, acquiring the nickname Trombone Shorty from his older brother. The moment Bo Diddley pulled Andrews on stage to play with him during the New Orleans jazz festival was a turning point, and he hasn’t stopped performing since. Collier’s beautiful watercolor, pen-and-ink, and collage artwork picks up the rhythm and pace of Andrew’s storytelling, creating an accompaniment full of motion and color. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments. Andrews’s career is still on the rise, his music gaining an ever wider audience, and this title will be an inspiration to many. VERDICT Coupled with a selection of Trombone Shorty’s music, this work will make for fun and thoughtful story sharing. A must-have.”— School Library Journal

 

“This well-told and exquisitely illustrated story of a musician with a steep career trajectory will inspire young readers to pursue their passions, despite the challenges.”— Kirkus, Starred Review

 

“If a fairy tale were set in New Orleans, this is how it would read.”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

 

Learn more about Trombone Shorty:

His Website

An Interview with Vibe Magazine – Text

 

An Interview with Vibe Magazine – Video:

 

Trombone Shorty at age 13:

 

Trombone Shorty performs at the White House:


DAY 11: RONALD SMITH

February 11, 2016

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How can you not like a character named Hoodoo, who can’t cast a spell? Now that’s what I call creative!  Our spotlight is on an amazing writer, who has written a debut novel that awarded him the 2016 Coretta Scott King, John Steptoe Award for new Talent!  We not only applaud you, but The Brown Bookshelf is honored to spotlight , on this 11th Day of February,

Ronald Smith

 

Please tell us about “The Journey.”
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi stories, and loved creating imaginary worlds. As an adult, I found my way into advertising, and became a writer of TV commercials. It was a lot of fun for a long time, and writing fiction fell by the wayside. “At least I’m getting paid for writing,” I often told myself.

Then one day, my younger brother, who was working at a Barnes & Noble at the time, turned me on to some great books for young readers: The His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman, The Sabriel Trilogy by Garth Nix. Harry Potter, of course. That’s when I realized I wanted to write stories again. There was a period of a few years where I was writing very literary short stories, but seeing these great kid’s books inspired me to write what I loved to read as a kid: tales of adventure and other worlds.

Once I decided to focus on children’s lit, I found my voice. Several years later, I was signed by an agent and got a book deal

How about “The Back Story?”
I was fortunate in that I queried an agent who liked Hoodoo, but felt it needed some work. She told me what she thought wasn’t working, and asked if I’d be open to revise and resubmit. She didn’t have to do this, and most agents don’t. I agreed with her advice, and when I sent the manuscript back months later she signed me.

A few days after going on submission, I had offers from several publishers and the book went to auction, which, well, was pretty awesome, to say the least. I signed with Clarion, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

What does your Writing Process look like?
I write organically, without an outline or scene-by-scene plan. Only once I get a few chapters down, can I really see where the story is going. It takes shape as I write. It’s fun, because I am discovering it along the way, just as a reader would. I’ve tried writing programs like Scrivener but they just confuse me. I do outline a little, once I know where the story is going, but mostly it is all part of what John Gardner called “The Fictive Dream,” that place you go in your subconscious when you are really in the zone. It is a type of fugue-state.

I no longer work in advertising, and write every day in my favorite coffee shop. Some days I write at home, but I like having some background white noise, so the ambience in a coffee shop fuels the creative process. Plus…caffeine.

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The Buzz on “Hoodoo.”

2016 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 2015 Choices List

“The authenticity of Hoodoo’s voice and this distinctive mashup of genres make Smith one to watch. Seekers of the scary and “something different” need look no further.”
Kirkus

“The chilling supernatural Southern Gothic plot action is enhanced by atmospheric description of rural life in Depression-era Alabama…Readers will particularly enjoy Hoodoo’s authentic and engaging narrative voice.”
School Library Journal

“Hoodoo’s first-person narrative, which flows beautifully, has an appealing and natural cadence…Through his protagonist, Smith demonstrates an eye for detail and a knack for evocative imagery as well as for telling a riveting story with a dollop of southern gothic appeal.”
Booklist

“Filled with folk and religious symbols, this creepy Southern Gothic ghost story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can ’cause deeds great and powerful.'”
Horn Book Magazine

“What a splendid novel. Reader, be prepared to have your foundations shaken: this is a world that is deeper, more wondrous, more spiritually charged than you may have ever imagined.”
Gary D. Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor medalist and author of The Wednesday Wars

“Oh, wow! Hoodoo may just be the perfect book for a rainy day. Find a dog that will sit with you . . . and read on to your heart’s content. What a fun discovery!”
Nikki Giovanni, poet and award-winning author of Rosa

What are your thoughts on the State of the Industry

Shortly after Hoodoo was accepted by my publisher, the We Need Diverse Books movement took off. I think this is an exciting time to be writing children’s books, especially if you are writing about characters that fall outside the mainstream. I think publishers want these books, and are eager to find those that tell a great story. Has it come too late? Perhaps. But change takes time, and thanks to the voices of a few tireless advocates—booksellers, librarians, authors—diverse books are beginning to really be noticed. Every kid needs to see him or herself reflected in books. It’s simple. Seeing yourself, or someone who looks like you or talks like you or lives where you live, makes reading relatable to kids.

My website is http://www.strangeblackflowers.com
Twitter: @ronsmithbooks

Thank you, Ronald Smith, for your contributions to children’s literature!


Day 10: Mo’ne Davis

February 10, 2016

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At 13-years-old, Mo’ne Davis became the first African American girl to play in a Little League World Series. She was the first African American girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in the 2014 Little League World Series. She can throw a 70 miles per hour fastball. And her curve ball is positively scary. Baseball isn’t even her favorite sport. Basketball is number one. Now she has written a book about her miraculous achievements, Mo’NE DAVIS REMEMBER MY NAME. Girls (and boys) will be inspired by her achievements and will definitely remember her name.

From the Back Cover
This inspiring memoir from a girl who learned to play baseball with the boys and rose to national stardom before beginning eighth grade will encourage young readers to reach for their dreams no matter the odds.
At the age of thirteen, Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series. She was the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the magazine’s sixty-year history. And as she began eighth grade in the fall of 2014, Mo’ne earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame—her shutout jersey now hangs in the museum in Cooperstown, New York.

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Mo’ne’s story is one of determination, hard work, and an incredible fastball. From growing up in Philadelphia to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch—a perfect strike—at Game 4 of the 2014 Major League World Series, her groundbreaking achievements are changing the game for women in athletics and putting a positive new spin on the phrase “throw like a girl.” (HarperCollins Publishers)

Watch these interviews for more about Mo’ne.

Face to Face: Mo’ne Davis

Mo’ne Davis: Throw Like A Girl – Chevy Baseball | Chevrolet

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 9: Marguerite Abouet

February 9, 2016

akissi On Day 9, we welcome back Marguerite Abouet, whose revolutionary YA graphic series AYA was a global hit in 2007; she’s returned with a delightful series for younger readers, featuring the adventures of the mischievous and resourceful Akissi. In the first book, Akissi: Feline Invasion,released in the U.S. in 2013, Abouet “dishes out bursts of simultaneous hilarity and horror in African vignettes aimed at a younger audience,” according to Kirkus, where it received a starred review.

“It isn’t often when I see something in a children’s book that shocks me, but the final story was a glorious jaw dropper.”

School Library Journal.

Marguerite Abouet

The adventures and shenanigans of Akissi, her brother Fofana, and friends “are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu,” writes Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing. “It’s the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid’s interest.” Comprised of seven humorous and sometimes outrageous short stories featuring kid-friendly ups and downs with West African flavor, Akissi is pure fun, and with Books 1-6 already published in Europe, we hope to see more of her stateside very soon.


Day 8: Guy A. Sims

February 8, 2016

GsimsAdapting a book by Walter Dean Myers –  award-winning children’s book creator and former national ambassador for young people’s literature  – is a tough job. Monster, his acclaimed novel, won the first ever Michael L. Printz Award and countless other honors. But Guy A. Sims is used to challenges. In 1990, he, his brother Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee debuted Brotherman, a ground-breaking comic that helped fill a void in the industry.

With Emmy Award-winning Anyabwile as illustrator, Sims plunged into writing. His hard work paid off. Monster: A Graphic Novel (HarperCollins, 2015), a stirring black-and-white adaptation, has already won accolades and a starred review. We are proud to celebrate Guy’s great work on Day 8:

The Journey:

Writing has always been a natural extension of myself. From my early years in elementary school through today, writing (and my other loves; theater, forensics, film, songwriting, etc.) has provided the outlet for how I see myself, my place in the world, and perspectives for what could be. I discovered early the power that comes from the written word and the realization that the power could be mine. My father cautioned me to take care in what I write, to fully own what I write because others will take your words to heart and apply them to their lives. A powerful lesson for a powerful medium.

When I was in eighth grade, I had my first short story published in my elementary school newspaper. I cannot recall what the story was about, but I do know the feeling of excitement and anxiety when I heard other kids reading my words. That experience probably solidified my passion for writing. In 1984, I wrote the first children’s book on African American cultural celebration Kwanzaa. The book, The Kwanzaa Kids Learn the Seven Principles, was a collaborative effort with my brother Dawud Anyabwile as the illustrator.

Many people are familiar with street artists and performers, but I don’t know if there is a category called a street writer. During my high school days, I would write on the bus, the subway, different places downtown, at my local playground, wherever. I would engage all kinds of people into my writing process, asking them questions about what they thought were going on, what they were doing, and eventually, to take a look at what I wrote to see if I captured the essence of the environment. I always found my city, Philadelphia, to be a rich tapestry of tales from which to draw. In fact, the majority of my fiction takes place in and around Philly.

The Back Story:

My brother Dawud had worked with Walter Dean Myers before, illustrating the book monster - graphicSmiffy Blue. When the folks at HarperCollins decided to adapt his award-winning young adult novel Monster into a graphic novel, Dawud was tapped to illustrate. In seeking out a writer, my brother suggested me, sharing that I understood the process for writing in the comic book style, thanks in part to our creation, Brotherman Comics, which we started back in 1990.

When asked if I would work on the project, I jumped in head first, unfamiliar with the source material or about Walter Dean Myers. In the end, I am glad that I didn’t because after learning about him as an author, I surely would have been intimidated. In fact, I didn’t get my first taste of his “artistic celebrity” until I visited several of my family members who lived in the NY/NJ area. When I told them, I was working on the Monster book they were more than excited and began sharing with me his importance to the literary world. At that point, I knew I had to do my very best on the project.

During the book development process, I didn’t communicate with Mr. Myers directly, but I would receive positive responses after pages were submitted. Unfortunately, just before the final press, Walter Dean Myers passed away without seeing the final product, although he did see it completed. I understand he was very pleased with how we translated his work. I look forward to similar opportunities to translate popular works into graphic novels.

The Inspiration:

I owe a great deal of credit to really wanting to be a writer to my father who set me on the path. One day he shared with me a recording of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, narrated by Brock Peters. I was mesmerized both by Wright’s words and Peters’ presentation. When I finished listening to the record, I picked up the book from the library and read it. This is who I want to write like is what I told myself. There are numerous writers, theater actors, and pieces of music that have influenced my writing and writing style, but the ignitor was Richard Wright.

The Process:

Writing projects come to me in various ways. Often it is a concept or even a draft of a title that sets the wheels in motion. I begin with the key player or protagonist and let the story build itself from there. Although I have a desktop and laptop, I still draft out my writing in longhand. I tried carrying my laptop around but found I had to concern myself with finding power, the sun glare, etc. The old pen and paper never fail. I save the editing until the end so that I don’t bog myself down with the rules of writing. I write on my lunch hour and for about an hour during the week and use the weekend to transfer what I wrote from paper to the computer. I also usually have two to three projects going on at the same time which requires a high level of time management on my part. When at home, I write in my small office but I still have interruptions thanks to my children, which is okay with me.

Under The Radar

My favorite author currently is Yvvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats and the forthcoming, The Mother. She has a wicked way of keeping her characters in close proximity to each other, maintaining tension, and creates resolutions that take you by surprise. She’s from London, so her UK expressions are also a joy to experience.

The State of the Industry

I have two sons who they are strong readers, whipping through the Harry Potters and Hunger Games with ease. We often talk about the absence of characters that would appear to look like them or come from similar backgrounds. My advice to them is the same my father gave me. If they don’t exist, you must create them.

Guy A. Sims is also the author of the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim detective series, and the novel, Living Just a Little.

The Buzz About Monster: A Graphic Novel

“The superbly rewarding format serves to powerfully emphasize Myers’s themes of perspective and the quest to see one’s self clearly. A must-have for public and school libraries, and a standout graphic novel.”

— Booklist (starred review)

“It’s not easy for an adaptation to please both old and new readers, but this respectful one pulls off that trick.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“This graphic novel adaptation will introduce this story to a new generation of fans.”

— School Library Journal


Day 7: Ekua Holmes

February 7, 2016

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Photo credit: Clennon L. King

Before making her debut as a children’s book illustrator, Ekua Holmes was already an accomplished and award-winning fine artist. She was the first African American woman to be appointed a commissioner on the Boston Arts Commission. She was the recipient of a 2013 Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation for her contributions to the Boston arts community. In addition, she was the creator of a 2015 Google Doodle honoring the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday!

 

Last year, Holmes took the children’s book world by storm with her illustrations in Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. The book went on to receive numerous awards, including a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrator’s Original Art exhibition, four starred reviews, a Sibert and Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King New Voices Award.

Holmes is a painter and collage artist who uses news clippings, photographs, vibrant gunnamed[1].jpgcolor and skillful composition to infuse her work with energy.

Presenting Ekua Holmes:

Tell us about your path to publishing. How did you get that first trade contract?

My path to publishing seemed to appear out of the blue. One day I got a call from a woman who had seen my work at an Open Studios event in my hometown of Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston, MA. They asked would I be interested in working in Children’s literature. Would I ??? YES! I have always loved Children’s books and in the back of my mind held it as a possible path for my work. At exhibitions of my work people would say, “Have you ever thought about doing Children’s books.” I believe children’s books introduced me to art through the illustrations. Long before I went to museums and galleries, I went to the library. At the time of the call, I didn’t know if anything would come of it but I was pleased that there was interest.

Tell us about your most recent book, “Voice of Freedom.”

Months later the same woman called to say that her company, Candlewick Press, had a manuscript for me to consider—a manuscript about Fannie Lou Hamer. I knew about her role in the Freedom Summer, and her signature statement, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I admired her and was honored to be asked to illustrate her story. I said YES! What a blessing.

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Talk about the research process for the book.

Well first things first—reading the manuscript— again and again! Then images began to come into my mind – colors, patterns, shapes, faces.  After that, I started doing online searches. One search led to another and I was able to find images of Ms. Hamer from the 60s. The manuscript is so rich! It chronicles her life from the age of six to her 70s. Of course there were no early photos. Her family was too poor for that. So for the early years, I had to imagine her as a child. What did she look like? How did she wear her hair? What was her demeanor? Where did she live? I read books and articles about her. I read comments written by people who had worked with her in the movement. I listened to tapes of her speaking and singing. I looked at photos of her hometown. I immersed myself in her world.  Another smart thing I did was engage a college student to help me collect the books and information from various sources. She was so helpful (thank you Chianta).

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Google Doodle by Ekua Holmes

Talk about the medium you use in your work

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.

Was there anything especially interesting that you learned about the subject while researching the book?

Fannie Lou Hamer was 45 years old when she started her Voting Rights work. Because of her upbringing, experiences and intellect, she was ready when it was her time to step onto the world stage. She was a devoted mother and daughter, committed wife and staunch believer in the word of God. She knew the battle was bigger than her, bigger than any human being. It was a righteous struggle and right had to win.  She never said, I’m too old, too tired, too poor- I’m inspired by that.

If you could spend one day in a studio, working with any artist — past or present — who would that be, and why?

What I would really enjoy is going thrifting with them, so artists like Whitfield Lovell, Radcliffe Bailey, Rene Stout or Bettye and Alison Saar. Oh and Nick Cave! They have the same affinity for the power of found objects. WE could spend the entire day (or days) driving through the South (or new England) visiting garages and barns, finding just the right items to inspire our work.

What would be your dream manuscript?

 

I like to think it’s on its way to me right now. Stay tuned.

 

 

Your dream author to work with?

 

Its funny, there is not as much communication between author and illustrator as you might think. Generally the publisher selects the illustrator (but does get the writer’s approval, I think). So I feel very fortunate to have worked on this book by Carole Boston Weatherford, who has written over 30 books and won many awards. Now I’m working on a book of poetry created by Kwame Alexander – another powerhouse writer/poet and winner of the 2015 Newberry Award. I couldn’t be happier.

 

 

 

Can you talk a bit about your process of illustrating a book?

 

This was my first time illustrating a book but I think it’s much like working on my personal collages. Research is crucial. I saturate myself in the author’s words (or subject) and allow images to rise to the surface. I sketch and revise, sketch and revise. Each time hoping to get closer to what I feel is the right composition. There is a lot of looking, thinking and moving things around.

 

 

 

Who are your cheerleaders, those who encourage you?

 

My partner and I are both artists (he’s a filmmaker). We give each other a lot of high fives. He is very proud of me right now.  Also my 8-year old granddaughter introduces me by saying “…and this is Nana, my artist.” Once she patted me on the head while saying this. I couldn’t have been more amused or flattered. If I can work on books that she and her generation will cherish, I will have everything I need in this world as an artist.

 

 

 

What’s on the horizon, what can your fans expect to see from you?

 

Winning a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and a Robert F. Sibert Award for “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” is a hearty and magical welcome into the world of Children’s literature. I look forward to illustrating many more books. Folks can expect me to do my absolute best on each story, striving for creative excellence so that the illustrations I make will complement, illuminate and enhance the texts —it’s a collaboration. And after all—my granddaughter is watching.

–Don Tate


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