Frederick’s Journey and an Interview with London Ladd

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An Interview With Illustrator London Ladd


Written by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Disney/Jump at the Sun; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

What’s the first thing I noticed when picking up my review copy of Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass? The piercing eyes of Douglass in illustrator London Ladd’s cover portrait and the absence of a title on the front. Then, gripped by the story, I devoured the book, not once, but twice in my initial read throughs of this expertly crafted picture book. Part  of the Big Words series, Frederick’s Journey effortlessly pairs Rappaport’s thoughtful biography of this former slave turned author, abolitionist and ultimately free man with Douglass’ actual words. “Douglass had traveled far – from slave to free man, from illiterate to educated, from powerless to powerful. It had been a difficult journey.” The book ends with this quote from Douglass, “What is possible for me is possible for you.” As a picture book, Frederick’s Journey is brought to life by Ladd’s inspiring artwork. I’ve interviewed this talented illustrator once before, but felt compelled to reach out again, this time for his insight on creating the illustrations and what working on the book meant to him.

An Interview with London Ladd

GRWR: Please tell us how you came to be connected with this project?

London Ladd: The publisher contacted my agent at Painted Words, Lori Nowicki, to see if I would be interested. I read the title of the manuscript [and] the answer was a definite yes. Once I read the through the manuscript I was so moved by it, so eager to get started.

GRWR: How do you decide what medium you’ll use for each book you illustrate and what did you choose for Frederick’s Journey and why?

LADD: For my illustration career I’ve primarily use acrylic with minor touched of pastels and colored pencils on illustration board if necessary. People says acrylics are challenging to use, but I love its flexibility because you can make it look like watercolor with layered thin washes or heavy opaque application like oils. It’s something I’ve always been comfortable using and quick drying is excellent for fast approaching deadlines.

GRWR: You mention in the back matter Illustrator’s Note how deep you dove into the research to really understand your subject including actually posing yourself in front of a mirror and reciting lines. Was there any particular text from Rappaport or quote from Douglass that you found most inspiring for this story’s artwork?

LADD: Rappaport’s text was so excellent with the way she gracefully combined her text with Douglass’ own quotes. But his autobiography was so powerful because you’re getting a first hand account in all its detail of his experience as a slave during the 19th century. Each page was filled with so much raw, honest, brutal, heart breaking material. So many vivid images would pop into my head from sadness, anger.

GRWR: Was there one particular image in the book that most resonated for you?

LADD: I think the first three images [see below] as a whole really resonate for me deeply due to the range of emotions and sounds I hear from the heart wrenching scream of Frederick’s mother as he’s being taken from her, the peacefulness of the river when he’s fishing with his grandmother, and his low weeping as he suddenly realizes his grandmother is gone and now his new life begins in the institution of slavery.


Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.


GRWR: You travelled to a lot of places in Douglass’s history, which place made the biggest impression on you?

LADD: Wow it’s so hard to pick one. Visiting his home in Anacostia was powerful. But I’ll have to go with a trip to Rochester in 2006. During my last semester in college I enrolled in an African American religious history course and the final was this amazing project where you had to travel to historical locations involved in the Underground Railroad in and around the Central New York area like Harriet Tubman’s grave and church in Auburn, NY. Well it happens that Douglass’ grave at Mount Hope Cemetery (Susan B. Anthony is buried there, too) in Rochester NY was on the list. The cemetery is huge and his grave is by the front street nearby so vehicles drive by constantly so it can be a little noisy. When walking to his grave it was so quiet with only a slight wind blowing. Being at his gravesite was moving. I just stood there silently for 20 minutes with many emotions going through my mind. After visiting his grave there was this incredible interactive Douglass exhibit at a local nearby museum and I’ll never forget it. So much on display like his North Star press, part of a house with hidden area for slaves, a double-sided mirror that when you dim the lights Douglass’ face appeared on the other side, an exhibit where you lay in a really small area like slave did during the middle passage (that had a strong impact on me) and so much more. Ten years later and it’s still one of my favorite museum exhibits.


Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

GRWR: Not many illustrators get a front cover portrait with no title as an assignment. That’s a huge honor and your cover is outstanding. Can you tell us more about how that decision was made?

LADD: Thank you so much. That’s what makes the Big Words series so unique from other book series because each biography has this beautiful portrait of a well known person with the title on the back. That’s why I worked so hard on trying to not only capture Douglass’ likeness, but his essence. 


Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

GRWR: In a previous interview here you said “The human spirit interests me. I love stories of a person or people achieving through difficult circumstances by enduring, surviving and overcoming.” Douglass clearly exemplified that spirit. Who else, either living or deceased would you like to portray next in your artwork or in a story of your own creation?

LADD: Ernest Shackleton! I would love to illustrate Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance. An absolutely amazing story of when, in the early 20th century, he and his crew were stranded near Antarctica for nearly two years and everyone survived. It’s a testament to his tremendous leadership during the whole ordeal.

This Shackleton quote sums up my attitude towards any challenges I face. “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”


Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.


GRWR: It’s said art is a universal language. What is it about making art and teaching it as well that speaks to you?

LADD: I think to be able to share with other people is something very important to me. I wouldn’t be here without the help of other people so it’s always been my goal to pay it forward when possible.


Interior artwork from Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by London Ladd, Disney/Jump at the Sun ©2015.

London_LaddGRWR: Can you share with us anything else about your experience working on Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass?

LADD: I truly loved working on this book and I’m so thankful to have been part of such a special project. Hopefully young people will learn, enjoy and appreciate the life of Frederick Douglass.

A huge thank you to London Ladd for this candid and informative interview. 

Click here to download a teacher’s guide.

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel

I am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer

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Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $12.99, Ages 5-8)



This fabulous nonfiction series called Ordinary People Change the World asks the question, “What makes a hero?” Then, while his latest, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. takes its place alongside seven previously published titles, author Meltzer answers that question. By honing in on certain positive traits of the young King, the biographer immediately pulls readers in while introducing this great man born 87 years ago.

As a child, MLK got “into a lot of accidents,” but never let unfortunate circumstances keep him down. Recounted in first person, King tells us, “No matter how many times I fell, I kept getting back up.” Enamored with the power of language, King surrounded himself with books, ultimately becoming the powerhouse speaker who, at age 35, won a Noble Peace Prize and is still frequently quoted today. His negative experiences with segregation and racism began at an early age. But, rather than hate, King’s parents taught the angry young boy “that it’s better to have more love in your life than hate.” He also learned that the color of his skin did not make him any less of a person. “You are as good as anyone,” his mother told him. Throughout his formative years, King felt the injustice in society and was determined to make changes. Influenced by the writings of Thoreau and Gandhi, MLK strove to eliminate segregation peacefully, without violence.

The arrest of Rosa Parker for refusing to give up her seat on a bus prompted a yearlong boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama by black people. It worked! This was a pivotal time for the growing civil rights movement. King gave a moving speech about justice and moral courage, but was also arrested for orchestrating the boycott. King’s strategy led to countless other protests, and sit-ins as he helped give voice to a people whose growing calls for equality needed to be heard. The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama and then the massive March on Washington were turning points in history culminating with MLK’s powerful I Have a Dream speech. Soon after “the president and Congress passed new laws for civil rights,” but the work for equality was still not over. Black people had no rights to vote and that, too, had to be overcome. Eventually, it was.

Conveyed via text and speech bubbles, and illustrated in Eliopoulos’s fun-to-look-at comic-style (who can resist the mustachioed, mini-sized, black suited MLK narrator), I am Martin Luther King, Jr., is an ideal way to introduce youngsters to one of America’s great leaders. Not only does Meltzer share some of the most important aspects of MLK’s life with children, but he makes it meaningful, memorable and moving for such a short book. The back matter includes a timeline, some photos, as well as sources and further reading for kids. I thoroughly enjoyed this kid-friendly picture book that combines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inspirational story along with “Dr. King’s actual dialogue whenever possible.” It clearly demonstrates to children how one individual, armed with only a dream and determination, can make a huge difference and a lasting impression in the world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

A Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…? Contest & Giveaway for Women’s History Month

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Read on to learn about a cool new Grosset & Dunlap contest along with a Good Reads With Ronna giveaway!
Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month together!


Who Is Jane Goodall? by Roberta Edwards with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap

When I was growing up the biographies for kids were awful. They looked like they had been on our local library’s shelves for decades, in other words, as old as the famous people they were about! Plus, they weren’t engaging, and there’s nothing worse than a boring biography (insert yawn here). Had they pulled me in the way the Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…?  biography series for young readers does, who knows, I might have become an historian. That’s also why the contest Grosset & Dunlap is running is not-to-be-missed!

CONTEST: WHO WAS…? 100th Book Contest! (Scroll down for the GRWR giveaway, too!)


Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

Grosset & Dunlap’s Who Was…? series, with over 50 titles featuring famous thinkers, politicians, and history-makers published to date, is particularly interesting. This past summer I reviewed Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor and learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the musician and song writer. (Click here to read the review.) A recent fave is Who Was Christopher Columbus? by Bonnie Bader. The eclectic biography collection includes everyone from George Washington to Walt Disney to Dolly Parton. With their quirky cover art, interior illustrations, and novel-like prose, the books make learning about important figures exciting and accessible for middle-grade readers, both in the classroom and at home. The success of the series has inspired the spin-offs What Was…? and Quien Fue…?, for Spanish language readers. And now having Common Core Curriculum in 45 states makes these nonfiction books all the more relevant. Click here to learn more about the What Was…? series.


Who Was Frida Kahlo? by Sarah Fabiny with illustrations by Jerry Hoare, Grosset & Dunlap

WHAT: Penguin Young Readers recently announced that the subject of their 100th Who Was…? biography (to be published in Summer 2015) will be chosen by their readers! How cool that kids can have a hand in helping to select who will be written about. Perhaps they’d like to see a biography written about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or author Louisa May Alcott? Think hard. Will it be Diana, Princess of Wales or maybe scientist and two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie? They can choose from Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher or Catherine The Great. There are so many deserving individuals and these are just the women. Kids can also choose an important male, but since we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, I just picked female candidates. Believe it or not, they can even cast a vote for a teacher, an athlete, a rockstar, a movie star or their very own mom or dad. Click here to find out more.

WHEN: From March 1 – June 1, 2014, readers will be able to cast their vote for the figure of their choice. Voting will take place at bookstores, libraries, schools, book fairs, and online at The winning subject will be announced on July 1, 2014.

Good Reads With Ronna Giveaway


Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? by Gare Thompson with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

In conjunction with Grosset & Dunlap’s 100th Who Was…? book contest, we’re happy to offer our readers a Women’s History Month giveaway (for US only, through the end of March) – 1 prize pack of 3 women’s history titles. The winner will receive a copy of Who Was Frida Kahlo?, Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? and Who is Jane Goodall? To be eligible to win, you must first LIKE us on Facebook or FOLLOW us on Twitter. Doing both gives you an extra entry. Click here to enter via email and give us your address. Remember to also write Who Was…? in the subject. This giveaway will run through March 31, 2014. One winner will be chosen on April 1, 2014 by and notified via email. Good luck!