I immediately loved the clever diagonal placement of Violet and her umbrella. My eyes easily followed the upward motion that expresses action and adventure. Violet’s smile radiates success and enjoyment, something readers will experience reading the book.
Molly’s signature charcoal linework and blends, along with her combination of muted and bright colors is something I’d recognize anywhere. And the texture in the art, along with the texture in the title font, enhances the visceral and overall presence of CRUMBS! And oh those crumbs! They really drive the point home.
GoodReadsWithRonna:Hi Molly, what an honor to have you back here on the blog with your third book cover reveal and your second artistic pairing with author Abigail Rayner. She tackles some important topics in her stories, the first book being about stealing and this one about Celiac Disease. Can you recall how you felt when you were asked to work on this project?
Molly Ruttan: Thank you so much, Ronna! The honor is all mine. It is such a pleasure to be back with you on your wonderful blog. I so appreciate your time and support!
I was so excited when NorthSouth Books contacted me to work with Abigail Rayner again; I love the topics Abigail writes about. This book, about a girl (Violet) who has been newly diagnosed with celiac disease is especially meaningful for me, because I have a gluten intolerance myself, along with one of my kids. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the manuscript. I wish so much that this book had been around when my daughter was little; I didn’t know a thing about celiac disease or gluten intolerance at the time– it would have saved us years of stomach aches.
GRWR: Regarding celiac disease, how much work did you have to do to make sure all the information depicted through your illustrations was accurate?
NorthSouth worked with the Celiac Disease Foundationand checked in with them many times along the way. In addition, Abigail Rayner (the author, whose daughter has celiac disease) is an expert on the subject! She had suggestions for some of the illustrations from her own experience; It was a wonderful collaboration! We also included charts on the end pages showing grains and foods that contained gluten, and commonly used grains, flours, and roots that were gluten-free. Illustrating these pages took a bit of visual research, as I had to be accurate with the drawings. It was fun, and I learned a lot!
GRWR:What are some significant elements you’d like to point out about the cover art? What impression did you aim to convey to potential readers?
MR: When I started sketches for the book, I thought a lot about how to visually indicate if food had gluten in it, since you really can’t be sure just from looking at it. I came up with the visual of swirly clouds with crumbs walking and flying around, and this motif is featured on the cover. In the story, Violet creates a costume to help protect herself from the crumbs from other children’s food at school—her own PPE, as it were! Since I had been drawing crumb “clouds”, I made her costume based on rain gear, including an umbrella. But I also included a cape, to show the heroic aspect of her journey and her Superhero attitude! The cover shows Violet in her gear, zooming up and bursting through the cloud of crumbs — she is smiling and clearly had her mind set on setting a victorious path. Since adhering to a gluten-free diet can be very difficult, especially for kids, I wanted the cover to be positive and optimistic.
GRWR:At the start of the interview I told you what I liked. Now please tell us what’s your favorite part about this cover?
MR: Well, of course I love Violet, she was wonderful to get to know as she came to life in my sketches and made her way through the book. But I also love how the stenciling of the crumb swirls came out, on the cover especially. Plus the crumbs are such odd and troublesome little critters, it was a delight bringing them to life, on the cover and throughout the book!
GRWR: How did you achieve the texture in the illustration?
MR:I work with charcoal and pastel on textured watercolor paper. I use a charcoal pencil for the drawings, pastels for the color, and a technique involving the creation of charcoal stencils for the backgrounds, gradation, shading and effects. I scan all of this into PhotoShop. The result is layer upon layer of textured color pastel and charcoal, with some digital texture thrown in here & there. The final art is digital, but there is a lot of traditional media spreading itself all over every surface of my studio along the way! I love working in both traditional and digital media.
ABOUT THE STORY:
Violet used to love parties, but now that she has been diagnosed with celiac disease she’s not allowed to eat pizza, cake, or anything that contains even the tiniest trace of gluten. Violet feels alone until she discovers that some animals have dietary restrictions as well. While standing up for them, she wonders: what can she do to stand up for herself?
Abigail Rayner and Molly Ruttan (creators of I AM A THIEF!) bring pluck and humor to this informative story, sure to spark conversation about this increasingly commonly-diagnosed condition.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:
Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. She currently lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles.
Her titles include her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and I Am A Thief! along with Violet and the Crumbs by Abigail Rayner for NorthSouth Books. Molly has two additional titles forthcoming with Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.
Meet cats from one to a dozen in this adorable board book introduction to counting with a feline twist. Author Lesléa Newmandraws on her love for (and familiarity with) cats in a concept book for the very young, while illustrator Isabella Kung captures the animals’ movements and gestures in a way that is sure to delight.
ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book
From curious to elegant, grouchy to inquisitive, rowdy to tangled to . . . well, unusual (who says cats don’t swim in the tub?), these twenty-six charming felines interact with oversize alphabet letters on rhyming spreads. Author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Isabella Kung offer a cat’s-eye concept book that makes the ABCs go down easy—and is sure to inspire many a repeat viewing.
Colleen Paeff:Happy book birthday, Isabella! It must be so exciting to have two books coming out on the same day! You had to paint over 120 cats for these two adorable books. Do you feel like you need to take a break from painting cats now?
Isabella Kung:Thank you so much, Colleen! It is exciting! They are my first board books too. And yes! 122 cats to be exact, more if you count the different painted versions on various materials to achieve the final results. Thankfully, I love cats so much that it is the one subject I have never grown tired of. Which is good, because I am working on theNo Fuzzball!sequel right now!
CP:Hooray! Your author/illustrator debut is getting a sequel?! I’m really glad to hear that. I love Fuzzball. She has so much personality–as do the cats in your latest books. Was it difficult to create so many distinct cat personalities at once? How did you do it?
IK:Lesléa Newman’s words really help spark the inspiration – ideas for gestures, expressions, and body language came to me rather quickly, a little easier for ABC CATS, as each cat only appears once. For 1 2 3 CATS, I kept referring back to my notes about each cat and did my best to stay true to their initial introduction for the following spreads. For example, Cat Number Three was first described as sweeter than Cat Number Two – I drew her being sweet on Cat Number Two, taking the kitten under her wing. From then on, you can always find them together for the rest of the book. The hard part was actually determining what breed, size, fur patterns and colors each cat should be depicted as, which was more a design puzzle to solve, it was fun and challenging.
CP: Can you speak to the experience of illustrating a board book. Did you face any particular challenges?
IK:Illustrating board books is fun! Honestly, they are not that different from illustrating picture books. The main differences are being aware of the preferences of a younger audience and a slightly lower page count– no need to illustrate the title page, endpapers, and such. The biggest challenge was at the beginning when we were figuring out the style and artistic direction for both books. I was given the art note that they wished to see a style that is a combination between my children’s book watercolor illustrations like in NO FUZZBALL! and the loose, minimalistic Cat Inklings paintings in mypersonal gallery. This is a great idea and I was excited to try it! Though figuring out how to execute that made me nervous! To achieve the right balance between the looseness and simplicity of my Cat Inklings style with a clearer representation of cats and keep them recognizable (especially for 123 CATS where all the cats are recurring characters) took me two weeks of experimentation, a few failures at the beginning, but I am glad I finally found a good solution! And that is simply the natural progress of figuring something new in art (and writing too) – that you can think about it all you want, but unless it is actually down on paper or screen, and you can review at it objectively, you won’t be able to tell if it really works. You’d think I would be able to trust myself and the process by now and stop being nervous, but unfortunately, my emotions don’t always listen to my logic. I am really grateful to my Art Director, Lauren Pettapiece, and everyone on the team for placing their trust in me, encouraging me, and giving me the room to experiment. It was truly a dream job!
CP: You teach illustration at Storyteller Academy and you also teach a watercolor workshop at Etchr. What do you like about teaching art?
IK: The act of teaching is actually a great learning tool for myself. I have to really break down and analyze my own thought process, materials, drawing and painting techniques, in order to successfully explain and demonstrate to others. I’ve learned so much more about myself and my work over the years thanks to teaching. Teaching is also a wonderful way to share and connect with the creative community. As creators, our career is often an isolating path, it’s nice to discuss your craft with others who are just as excited to hear it. Not to mention, it can be very rewarding when students enjoy my class!
CP:I am mesmerized by your YouTube channel–especially the time-lapse watercolor paintings. How much time (in real-time) does it take to paint something like the No Fuzzball in Despair painting? And what is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?
IK: Thank you! I enjoy watching them sometimes myself, because most of my paintings take hours, so speeding it up to only 2-5 mins really makes it look magical! It makes me look 100% confident, too (not always the case)! The painting No Fuzzball in Despair, in particular, took me about 15-18 hours to complete.
CP:Oh, wow! It looks so fast in the video! What is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?
IK:I love painting with watercolor and other water mediums like ink, even though it might not be as flexible or speedy as digital mediums. I personally really enjoy the tactile aspects of traditional mediums. Working with watercolor is like working with a living being, you’ll have to study it, observe, and guide it to create the effects you want. Sometimes it even leads you to happy accidents! Which is hard to come by digitally when the undo function is so readily available. It’s more challenging, but the results are immensely satisfying as well! Also, I feel like I can get into the “zone” or access the elusive flow state more easily when working with traditional mediums, whereas, when I am working in photoshop, it tends to feel like work.
CP:What’s your advice to people who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability?
IK: Drawing and painting are just skills, skills that anyone can learn and even perfect. Natural abilities will only affect the speed that you learn your craft, never let anyone (even yourself) tell you that you can’t draw or paint. All it takes is dedicated practice, draw and paint every day if possible. Start with the basics and don’t get frustrated if you make mistakes. We’ve all been there, it’s all part of the learning process, I still make mistakes! There are so many courses and workshop options nowadays, you can easily find something by an artist you like too.
CP: What are three art tools you wouldn’t want to live without?
IK:My watercolor palette, all my painting brushes and my trusty Pentel pocket brush pen with black ink!
CP:You’re the Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Has taking on that role had any impact on your work as an author/illustrator?
IK:SCBWI is such a wonderful organization, joining it really helped me connect with others in my community and learn more about the professional industry when I was just starting out; going to SCBWI conferences also sparked the desire to write my own stories too. So when I was asked to step up to this role, I said yes because I really wanted to give back and contribute to our region. I’ve gained the experience and confidence in organizing and planning events (and now virtually as well); I got to meet and invite fantastic industry professionals that I personally admire; and most of all it gave me the opportunity to personally meet my editor for No Fuzzball!, Kait Feldmann, through one of our annual conferences!
CP: I really related to something you said in your interview with Stephani Martinell Eaton on theCynsations blog when you were talking about the challenges of being an author/illustrator. You said, “Even when I do have time in between projects, it is hard to truly rest and exercise self-care. There are stories on the back burner that need to be worked on! Art experiments waiting to be explored! New tools to be learned! Promotional materials to be done!” Have you learned any useful tricks to help you deal with that particular challenge? I could use them!!
IK:Haha! I do have some tricks, though I must say, my tricks are less effective during this pandemic. My productivity has been a bit fickle during this trying time, but I’m trying to be kind to myself and take things one step at a time and dedicate time off. The best trick I can recommend is to set up various achievable goals and deadlines for yourself. I usually have 3-4 big goals in mind for the year. Then I break it down to a digital monthly to-do list, adding to it throughout the year as things come up. Then I have an analogue weekly planner that I slot these tasks into each week and cross them off as I go. That way, I am not overwhelmed by everything I need to do and can just focus on getting through each week. I do pay close attention to how much I can actually achieve and fine-tune my planning if needed. There’s no use setting way too many unachievable tasks and goals on your plate, that only cause more disappointment or frustration. Now that trick helps with getting most of my responsibilities done, though writing or coming up with ideas is a whole other ball game. I found just dedicating a creative hour every day, even if all I do is stare at my manuscript is helpful. Eventually, ideas will flow and solutions will reveal themselves to me as long as I show up consistently to work on them. Or if schedules allow, a work retreat somewhere else is an amazing treat to the creative mind!
CP:Speaking of retreat, what would a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, look like for you?
IK: A perfect day– that means no urgent emails, family and friends, or home duties interrupting, right? It might look something like this: (FYI, I’m a night owl so please adjust the timing to your sleep schedule)
10am – 12pm – Wake up, grab coffee and water, writing time.
12pm – 1pm – Lunch
1pm – 5pm – Illustration work
5 pm – 6 pm – Exercise or Meditation
6 pm – 10 pm – Dinner / Family / Relaxation time
10 pm – 2 am – Illustration work. If no pressing deadlines, then personal art explorations.
2 am – 3 am – Wind down, read and prepare for bed.
CP:Wow. That sounds amazing. Now I have to ask … How often (if ever) do you get to experience a day like that?
IK: Lol! I think I only maintained this schedule for a short period of time (about 2 months) 3 years ago. It was a time before I got any offers for my book, and right after taking a break from teaching and freelance work. During that time, I wanted to give myself a 6-month break from work to invest in my writing and focus on all the neglected back burner projects. I dug deep, took classes, and got a lot of creative work done! Though I wish I enjoyed that time more, it was also a period of time I was experiencing a lot of self-doubt and depression. I’m glad I hung in there and pushed through these difficult emotions! Now, I’m usually juggling multiple projects and deadlines, so it is almost impossible to have a perfect creative day! I hope later this year I’ll get to try this again.
CP: I hope so, too! What’s next for you?
IK: I’m currently working on the sequel for No Fuzzball!, scheduled to hit the shelves in Fall 2022, as well as creating another online course for Storyteller Academy with Julie Downing. Once all of this is completed, I look forward to a well-deserved break and hopefully, I’ll turn to some of those back-burner projects waiting on my attention.
CP: I look forward to seeing what antics Fuzzball gets up to in the sequel. Thanks, for chatting, Isabella. I really enjoyed it!
IK: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! I enjoyed it too!
Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books | Scholastic, 2020), about a fuzzy feline despot who rules the house with an iron paw. Continuing her feline obsession, she also illustrated over 120 cats for the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick Press, 2021). Outside the world of publishing, Isabella teaches illustration and watercolor classes at Storyteller Academy and Etchr Lab. She is also the current Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region. Isabella resides in San Francisco with her husband and two adorable – you guessed it – cats! She is represented by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary.
Greta is a little girl who lives in a beautiful forest threatened by Giants. When the Giants first came to the forest, they chopped down trees to make houses. Then they chopped down more trees and made even bigger homes. The houses grew into towns and the towns grew into cities, until now there is hardly any forest left. Greta knows she has to help the animals, but how? Luckily Greta has an idea that will lead to the Giants and the animals working together in harmony. An additional section at the back explains that in reality the fight against the giants isn’t over and Greta needs the reader’s help.
This book has been printed sustainably in the UK on 100% recycled paper. By buying a copy of this book, you are making a donation of 3% of the cover price to Greenpeace UK
INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO
Please tell us how you came to be a picture book illustrator?
Growing up I had many artistic influences that led me to go into what I do today, especially in books. I struggled with reading, but the illustrations always kept me eagerly invested and inspired. I originally wanted to be an animator, but quickly figured out that illustrating was my passion and wanted to figure out how I could achieve it as my career. I returned to my love for children’s books and knew I wanted to create works of art that would help others like they did for me. With family, friends, my partner, and educators who always supported me every step of the way I signed onto my current agency, got an early jump start into my career, and graduated college. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for over five years now and happily receiving great projects such as Greta and the Giants.
What medium/technique did you use to create the illustrations in GRETA AND THE GIANTS and how did the metaphor of the giants as symbols of corporate greed influence your choices?
I use Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 to create my illustrations, though I am heavily influenced by traditional materials and try to capture the magic of them through digital means. I use custom brushes that emulate watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, and so on. Before starting the final art for Greta and the Giants I knew that I really wanted to push some new painting techniques, so I practiced using traditional materials beforehand to figure out how I can capture them digitally.
The giants were quite a challenge! I needed to figure out how to portray the giants in a fantastical, but realistic way. It would have been too easy to use stereotypes as a crutch for their design and using certain physical traits to show how “ugly” they are is harmful because that’s telling readers having those traits are negative. I thought that illustrating them mostly from perspectives of Greta and the citizens of the forest, such as them looking up and only seeing their shoes and pants as well as not being able to see their faces as clearly due to the massive distance between them, was a perfect and simple way to achieve that the giants “have their heads in the clouds” more than anything else. They realize that they are causing harm and want to do better and I wanted to make sure their designs were an easy transition to the last spreads of the book as well. They have always worn normal clothes just like everyone else and their size doesn’t change. They are still giants! The change comes into how the new compositions show a better connection and understanding between them and the forest dwellers.
I was taken immediately by the gorgeous jewel tones in your palette. Please explain the decision behind that.
Thank you! I had a lot of fun with this palette for this book. When the design team told me they really wanted to a painterly look and using light for color and mood contrast I was immediately excited. I’ve always tried to push these elements in my personal work and I knew I wanted to push myself even more for this project. Since I have been painting traditionally on the side more, I’ve found new color palettes that I wanted to emulate in Greta and the Giants. I used warm tones for heavily lit areas and went with cool tones for shadows. I mixed colors on top of each other like I would with watercolors to keep interest and connection in each area. I have been in love with using a very bright candy red lately and knew it would be the perfect accent color in a sea of multiple shades of green. For the last spread I wanted to go with a sunset palette to help end the book on a warm and uplifting note. Overall, I would say the goal for this book was to have a mostly nature-inspired palette (greens, browns, oranges) with accents of fantasy-inspired colors (pinks and blues).
What inspired you about this particular story?
Throughout the years I’ve been finding ways to alleviate my carbon footprint on the planet as best as I can and having the chance to work on this project was right up my alley. I was inspired on now only how I can help show others on what we can do to help fight climate change, but to come together and speak up against “giants” by the power of your voice. I hope the illustrations in Greta and the Giants inspire children to ask questions. I hope it inspires parents and guardians to teach them about what is happening. I hope it inspires adults to speak out and vote.
Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Yes! Funny enough my favorite illustrations are the spreads that include the city. I rarely paint urban subjects and it was a fun challenge to depict what the giant city could look like from a distance. I’m proud of how it turned out!
I also enjoy illustrating animals as well. Any time I got to paint the fox was always fun for me!
What was the biggest challenge of creating the art for this picture book that’s dealing with a serious topic aimed at younger readers?
I would say finding the right visual balance of fantastical and visually showing a depiction of a real life issue. I wouldn’t be doing the message justice if I went a super happy and bright route for the illustrations. I want to show the dark sides of what’s happening to our home and make it easy to readers to understand that. I also wanted to show signs of hope and warmth as well. I use bright and inviting colors and character designs that young readers can gravitate towards. I paint light shining down on characters such as Greta to show that she is a beacon of hope. It’s little things like this that I add in my illustrations to help readers understand that things are serious, but we don’t have to be kept in the dark. It’s amazing how color and light and design choices can naturally click in your brain to know when something is “relaxing” or “melancholic” or “frustrating”. Illustrations are so important and I love that I get to create them.
As the giants learn about the negative impact of all their building and polluting, they begin to take on less fierce qualities. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. As I mentioned in the previous question regarding the giants, I really wanted to portray the giants in a way that they aren’t so different from the rest of the forest dwellers. Earlier spreads of the book emphasize how tall they are, how hard it is to see their faces from far away, and so on. There’s a disconnect and the giants aren’t aware of the damage they are causing. Towards the last spreads you can see their faces better and their postures and expressions are much more approachable. They are still giants, but there is now a more positive relationship between them and the folks living below them. I am hoping our real life “giants” can listen and start a positive dialogue with us to a better and healthier future.
Which illustrators have most influenced you as an artist?
I have so many! Some illustrators that have influenced me include Amélie Fléchais, Elena and Olivia Ceballos, Yvan Duque, Matthew Forsythe, Rebecca Green, Robin James, and many many more.
Thank you Zoe for your thoughtful answers. I hope everyone picks up a copy of Greta and the Giants to appreciate the beautiful artwork you’ve described in the interview and to see how wonderfully it complements the story.
• FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ZOE ON HER WEBSITE. • PUBLICATION DATE IS NOVEMBER 19 BUT YOU CAN PRE-ORDER A COPY HERE TODAY. • CLICK HERE FOR A HELPFUL DISCUSSION GUIDE.
Visit the below bloggers for reviews and other Greta and the Giants related coverage.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.
It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.
Q & A:
GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?
Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.
GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?
CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.
GRWR:Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?
CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.
GRWR:Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?
CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.
GRWR:Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.
GRWR:Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?
CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.
GRWR:What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?
CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.
GRWR:Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?
CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.
GRWR:What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!
GRWR:Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.
Check out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.
Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
GRWR: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.
REVIEW: IMANI’S MOON is written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press, $17.95, Ages 5-8)
Imani, the smallest child in her African village, has been teased mercilessly by the other children because of her size. Their heartless jabs are just beginning to take a toll on Imani’s self-confidence when her mother tells her the legend of the brave moon deity Olapa. Inspired by a dream in which she stands hand in hand with the lunar goddess, tiny Imani awakens with the desire to do something great, to touch the moon.
In pursuit of her dream, Imani tries to reach the moon by climbing a tall tree, and building herself a giant pair of wings. The village children, even a snake and a chimpanzee, scoff at her valiant but failed attempts to reach the sky. But Imani’s mother still believes in her, offering the tale of Anansi the spider as a soothing and inspirational bedtime story. “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it,” she reassures her young daughter.
Although discouraged, Imani attends a village celebration featuring the adumu, a special Maasai warrior jumping dance. She is particularly fascinated by one dancer who jumps higher and higher with each beat. Imani wakes the next morning, determined to try jumping her way to the moon. All day and into the night Imani jumps, a little higher each time. Despite her aching legs and throbbing feet, Imani keeps her focus on the moon, resolute on her goal.
Readers will yearn for Imani’s success in the face of her faith and tiny warrior-like endurance, and cheer when her persistence is ultimately rewarded by the moon goddess herself.
Gleaming and triumphant with arms stretched wide, the cover of Imani’s Moon welcomes readers into this magical story touched with mythology, folklore and story-telling traditions. Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations offer sharp contrast between the soft earth tones of the African landscape and the rich, star-studded night skies. Lovely details abound, from cuddly goats to beaded jewelry and colorful shuka robes.
This sweet, inspiring fantasy will rouse young readers to leap for their dreams, and dance, spellbound, until they hold the proverbial moon in their hands.
Where Obtained: I reviewed a promotional PDF file copy of Imani’s Moonand received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Q&A WITH HAZEL MITCHELL:
Good Reads With Ronna:Imani is a beautiful person and a wonderful role model. She feels so real. Did you have someone in mind when you drew her?
Hazel Mitchell: Thank you! It’s lovely to know that. I didn’t have a particular child in mind when I began. The text conveyed a strong sense of Imani to me. So that’s where I started. And then I spent a lot of time looking at photos of Maasai children, who are very charming and full of character. So I began to make sketches. I did have a live model, but mostly for positions and expression and not for facial features. But she was a very lively model and I think that came across!
GRWR:The artwork in Imani’s Moon is joyful, even despite the local girls teasing Imani for being small. That’s an impressive accomplishment. What medium do you generally work in? Or, do you approach each picture book as a blank canvas that you’re eager to experiment with?
HM: I am glad the illustrations gave you such a good feeling – I feel I accomplished my task. I do approach each book with an open mind. I let the manuscript, the age group and the subject suggest to me the mood, the characters and what might work with medium. Sometimes an editor/art director tells me that they like something particularly that I have done before and that is the starting point. But mostly I am left to my own devices. I don’t have one set style, so I guess it can be a leap of faith on the publisher’s part sometimes! Having said that, I’m experimenting much more in my work, using more watercolour, collage and mixing in digital techniques. Imani’s world spoke to me of rich colours and textures and dramatic effects, so I had a lot of fun with this book!
GRWR: What tends to be the hardest part of working on a new picture book: Starting it? Trying to capture the author’s vision while remaining true to yourself? Finishing the book, or waiting for the next assignment to roll in?
I personally find the initial roughs the hardest part, but also the most interesting. It’s where the first thoughts of the book come out. It can be frustrating, as the vision is only half formed and sometimes it’s exhausting. The hardest part is trying to keep the freshness that you have in the initial sketches. Once you get to finals, the vision is there and it’s time to have some fun with technique and any little surprises that come along that you didn’t expect. After the book is finished, it’s like you gave birth. Then it incubates, until it finally arrives in book form. Then it’s a love/hate relationship!
GIVEAWAY: Hazel Mitchell has kindly offered one lucky reader a signed copy of Imani’s Moon. Please enter the Rafflecopter below and good luck!