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An Interview with Ishita Jain – Debut Illustrator of The Forest Keeper

 AN INTERVIEW WITH ISHITA JAIN

ABOUT HER ILLUSTRATOR DEBUT

THE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng 

(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

 

the forest keeper the true story of jadav payeng cover Jadav in forest

INTRO:

I’m honored to have been invited to host this NorthSouth Books interview exclusively in the U.S. Elena Rittinghausen, Zurich-based editor of NordSüd Verlag/NorthSouth Books recently spoke with Ishita Jain, debut illustrator of The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh, (on sale April 18 and available for preorder now), and the timing couldn’t be better as we approach Earth Day 2023.

 

INTERVIEW:

Elena Rittinghausen: What part does nature play in your life? How would you describe your relationship with nature? For you personally, what is the main lesson we can learn from this true story?

Ishita Jain: I consider myself a part of nature, all humans are, even though it’s easy to forget it in our fast-paced lives. I grew up in New Delhi and now live in New York, both of which are big, urban cities, yet I have been fortunate to spend a lot of my childhood and my present days in the midst of greenery.

 

The Forest Keeper endpapers
Endpapers by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

When I moved to NY, I was often homesick, and trees and parks became a source of comfort to me. I love going on long walks and it is fascinating to watch the seasons turn in my neighborhood. The same tree that is lush green turns to a fiery red in the fall and is then almost unrecognizable in the winter. Watching all these visceral changes in natural things around me has made me far more open to change and evolution within myself.

I am often told that individual acts matter very little when it comes to changing the world- that it all comes down to corporations and government policies. I don’t entirely agree, and this story is a reminder that no matter how small you are, you matter and even if you can’t change the world, you can change your world around you.

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 05
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: You’ve lived in the US for some years now. Did it feel special to go back to illustrating a story set in India?

IJ: It’s interesting, the longer I live in the U.S., my sense of identity of being Indian and thinking of India as my home only grows stronger. So, in some ways, it didn’t matter where I was when I illustrated this book. Though I did illustrate some of the trees for the endpapers while I was in India, and to be drawing a neem tree when there is one right outside your window makes the process so fun!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 11 Jadev watering plants
Interior art from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: What was your first thought when you received our e-mail asking if you wanted to illustrate for a Swiss publisher?

IJ: This is my first picture book and when I got the email from you, I thought it was wild that someone was asking me to do this because I have very few drawings of kids, or even people in my portfolio! I am so grateful that you took that chance because I enjoyed the process, and it was a huge learning curve for me.

Funnily, the first time when I traveled outside of India was to Switzerland. I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents took me with them to Lucerne and I have very vivid memories of that trip. I used to spend all the loose change from the day on ice creams and for years, if anyone I knew went to Switzerland, I would jokingly ask them to bring me an ice cream. I was very close to my grandfather and I think he would have been thrilled to know that I got to work with a Swiss publisher!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 16 hungry elephants smashing huts
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: How did you approach the illustrations? Which technique did you use? Did you look for specific references for your images?

IJ: I love working analog and all the pictures are done in ink and watercolor. For this book, I also did my thumbnails as loose little paintings. It was important for me to get a sense of the color, texture, and mood in the sketch phase to be able to proceed to finals. I also made a tiny dummy to flip through to get a sense of the page turns and the visual pacing of the story.

 

The Forest Keeper Ishita Jain's thumbnails
Ink and watercolor thumbnails by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

In some illustrations, all the elements are painted separately and then stitched together digitally. This gives me the flexibility to make changes without having to start from scratch.  Other times I just go for it and love embracing the unpredictability that comes with watercolor.

India is huge and very diverse in terms of its people, its culture, and its geographies. I am from Delhi, which is quite far, and different, from Majuli. I did extensive research and referenced movies, news, documentaries, and the work of photographers from Assam and the northeast to make sure that I understood the flora and fauna, the physical features of the locals, their attire, and the visual geography of the region. I also looked for videos about the Brahmaputra floods, time lapses of bamboo growing, and travelers’ videos of Majuli to get a sense of the overall environment.

Ishita Jain's Studio
Studio of The Forest Keeper illustrator Ishita Jain

 

ER: Would you like to illustrate picture books in the future?

IJ: Without a doubt, yes!

Thank you Elena Rittinghausen and NorthSouth Books for this exciting opportunity to introduce Ishita Jain and her artwork to readers here in the U.S.

 

Click here to order a copy of The Forest Keeper today

Click here to read an interview with The Forest Keeper author Rina Singh

Get a teacher’s guide here.

 

Jain Ishita ©Anirudh-Garg 2021 sRGB
Photo of illustrator Ishita Jain ©Anirudh-Garg, courtesy of NorthSouth Books

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Ishita Jain is an illustrator from Delhi, India, though she is now based in New York. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places, and stories that surround her. Her work is inspired by day-to-day moments and the wonder that comes from being around nature. The Forest Keeper is Ishita’s first picture book. Find her on social media here: @ishitajain24

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The River That Wolves Moved

 

 

THE RIVER THAT WOLVES MOVED:
A True Tale from Yellowstone

Written by Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated by David Hohn

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99,  Ages 5-9)

 

 

The River That Wolves Moved cover wolves river fish in Yellowstone

 

The title of Mary Kay Carson’s new picture book drew me in: The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone. What?! How? I wanted to find out. Using the structure of “The House That Jack Built,” we learn why wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Without them, elk overpopulate, overgraze, and, ultimately, cause muddied rivers to forge different paths.

Pages incorporate new lines while repeating what’s come before. Additional information is provided below the main text to paint a broader picture of each animal’s contribution to diversifying the environment.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int1 pack of wolves along river
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. In the subsequent years, wolves were legally hunted, trapped, and poisoned by rangers and ranchers. By the early 1900s, wolves were gone. Facts are presented in a manner that kids can understand and, rather than seeing wolves as the bad guys, we learn they are helpful and necessary.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int2 walking along the riverbank
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

The illustrations by David Hohn capture the beauty of nature through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather. Evocative, warm art combined with the lyrical text make this important topic accessible for the youngest child, hopefully fostering environmental stewardship.

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – The Big Beach Cleanup Blog Tour

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP

Written by Charlotte Offsay

Illustrated by Katie Rewse

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

TheBigBeachCleanup cover

 

 

In Charlotte Offsay’s debut picture book, The Big Beach Cleanup, the main character, Cora, is looking forward to the upcoming Crystal Beach Sandcastle Competition which she intends to win. So you can imagine her disappointment when a sign at the beach says it’s “Postponed due to beach conditions.” And what are those conditions you might wonder? The ever-growing problem of plastic and other kinds of trash that wash ashore from the ocean in addition to being left by people are ruining our beaches.

Together with her mom, the pair clean up what they can but four hands will never be enough. The next day Cora and her mom return, this time with Grandpa in tow, but the task of collecting the vast amount of litter and empties feels daunting for just six hands to tackle. Cora’s grandfather also explains how animals mistake the trash for food which further concerns the little girl. Clearly this pollution is wreaking havoc on the environment and its inhabitants. Then Cora comes up with a plan.

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TheBigBeachCleanup int1
Interior spread from The Big Beach Cleanup written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Katie Rewse, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

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Maybe six hands aren’t enough to pick up all the trash, but many hands might be. So Cora creates flyers to post all over town with her mom’s help. When initially people don’t seem to respond to the flyers, Cora’s mom explains that people are busy and there are lots of ways to reduce trash such as cutting back on one-use items and not littering.

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TheBigBeachCleanup int2
Interior spread from The Big Beach Cleanup written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Katie Rewse, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

Undeterred, Cora continues to ask friends and neighbors to help her in a big beach cleanup and soon “more and more and more hands joined together.” So many people pitch in for this community effort initiated by one very motivated and caring young girl that before long the competition is back on! And though ultimately Cora does not win the contest, she can claim a much bigger and enduring prize—the knowledge and self-satisfaction of having made a difference.

Katie Rewse’s art is at once simple yet expressive and optimistic for a topic like pollution. Her emphasis on conveying the variety of garbage that washes up on the beaches and is left by humans will help children get a good sense of what a big mess the trash, especially plastics, is causing for our planet.

Offsay shares important and easy-to-grasp information for young readers to learn in a relatable way. After seeing how the abundant beach litter disrupts the sandcastle event, children will hopefully realize the impact that they as individuals can have and feel empowered to fight for the cleanliness of our oceans and our beaches. Perfect for Earth Day, The Big Beach Cleanup would also be a welcome year round read for homes, schools and libraries who view environmental conservation not as an option, but as a necessity. An added bonus to buying the book is that all author proceeds from the book are being donated to Heal the Bay.

Click here to buy a book and support a local indie bookstore.

Click here to read about another environmental-themed picture book.

 

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Compost Stew Review for International Compost Awareness Week

COMPOST STEW:

AN A TO Z RECIPE FOR THE EARTH

Written by Mary McKenna Siddals

Illustrated by Ashley Wolff

(Tricycle Press/Random House BYR;
$15.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3 and up)

 

Compost Stew book cover illustration

 

For International Compost Awareness Week I wanted to check out Mary McKenna Siddals’ popular picture book, Compost Stew, because it’s always recommended for Earth Day as well as when a well-crafted “green-themed” book is needed to share its important content. It turns out that while I hadn’t read it before, it felt so familiar because my daughter, around age five or six, used to make her own variation of compost stew although quite unintentionally! Who knew then that it would have helped our garden grow or that we were accidental environmentalists?

 

Interior artwork from Compost Stew
Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

Earth’s resources are not infinite so it’s important for children to learn early on to treat our planet with respect, and how. In Compost Stew readers will be treated to a recipe for outdoor fun from A to Z beginning with “apple cores” and “bananas, bruised” all the way through to “yellow pine shavings” and “Zinnia heads.” But the best part is reading about what other ingredients get added to the environmentally friend concoction. Adding to the appeal of this story are illustrator Ashley Wolff’s “collage illustrations using recycled and found materials.” Not only do they pair perfectly together with Siddals’ prose, but looking at the newspaper and other items Wolff has incorporated into the artwork may yield some surprises like the stew itself.

 

 

Interior artwork from Compost Stew
Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

Siddals’ story, though eight years old, feels as fresh and appropriate today as it would have when first published. And caring for our planet never goes out of style! Having reviewed several of Siddals’ other picture books (Bringing the Outside In and Shivery Shades of Halloween) I should have known there would be catchy, clever rhyme involved bringing a bonus to this already engaging and educational story.

 

Final int spread from Compost Stew
Interior spread from Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth written by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press/Random House BYR ©2010/2014

 

A helpful “Chef’s Note” is included as back matter so that youngsters will know what truly constitutes compost and what does not.

Grass clippings
Hair snippping
and an Insect or two

Just add to the pot
and let it all rot
into Compost Stew.

For example, egg shells are okay but not meat or dairy. Siddals also smartly advises readers to check with authorities for local regulations. Keeping that in mind, it’s time to start looking around to see what might go into your very first compost stew. Happy cooking!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Behind-the-scenes with illustrator Ashley Wolff on the making of Compost Stew:
https://gotstorycountdown.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/earth-day/

Illustrator Ashley Wolff on the creation of Compost Stew:
https://dulemba.blogspot.ca/2015/04/ashley-wolffs-compost-stew.html

Click Here for Author’s Website
Click Here for Illustrator’s Website
Compost Stew Facebook page
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Bringing the Outside In (Random House)
Shivery Shades of Halloween (Random House)
Compost Stew (Tricycle/Random House)
Millions of Snowflakes (Clarion/Scholastic)
Tell Me a Season (Clarion)
=================================
http://www.facebook.com/BringingTheOutsideInBook
http://www.facebook.com/ShiveryShadesOfHalloween
http://www.facebook.com/CompostStew

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Quilts and Nature, A Perfect Combination

I welcomed a chance to review Nature’s Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats ($8.95, Dawn Publications, Ages 4-10) because the earth needs to be saved and the best way to do that is to encourage kids to one day become scientists. In addition to that, I just love books about animals and the environment. My own daughter is studying Geology in college, and I can testify that it was books like these that, from an early age, piqued her interest in the subject of studying the earth form. Written by Mary Miche, Nature’s Patchwork Quilt is a simple and clever way to present the many major habitats one finds on our planet.

Each beautiful 2-page spread of the book is visually presented as a quilt, with different plants and animals featured in each patch. The illustrations by Consie Powell are colorful and inviting.

Readers will learn about rainforests, prairies, the Arctic, lakes and ponds, ranches and farms, cities and more. I love the way the author, an environmental educator, weaves important vocabulary words into the text, such as biodiversity, food chain, extinct and more. In the back of the book are Tips from the Author with activities and information about environmentalists and other interesting facts. Nature’s Patchwork is a great way to introduce your young reader to the world of animals and their habitats.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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