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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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Picture Book Review for Black History Month – Seeking Freedom

 

 

SEEKING FREEDOM:
The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe
and the Ending of Slavery in America

Written by Selene Castrovilla

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

(Calkins Creek; $24.99; Ages 7 – 10)

 

 

Seeking Freedom cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Three freedom seekers took a chance and entered Fortress Monroe without realizing another freedom seeker was watching them from behind a tree, leading to the eventual freedom of thousands of African Americans in Seeking Freedom: The Untold Story of Fortress Monroe and the Ending of Slavery in America, written by award-winning author Selene Castrovilla with illustrations by Caldecott Honoree E.B. Lewis.

With page-turning, easy-to-understand prose, and a history lesson that no reader will forget, Castrovilla’s nonfiction picture book presents a fascinating narrative of what led to President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to create the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual end to slavery

The book opens with an explanation of what took place when war broke out on April 12, 1861, after Lincoln took office and seven Southern states seceded from the union. It was when Virginia abandoned the United States that the enslaved people knew they would do anything to be free. Castrovilla also explains to readers that the terms slave and fugitive are considered dehumanizing and has replaced these words with enslaved and freedom seekers.

Lewis separates the illustrations with dates helping to visualize the time frame of when events were happening. Freedom seeker George Scott is first introduced watching three African American men enter Fortress Monroe who miraculously are not sent away. After spending two years hiding in the forest, which is much better than being tied to a whipping post, Scott watches more men and women enter the fortress. Hours later, there was still no sign of them! Was it true? Were these people now among friends?

 

Seeking Freedom int1
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

The soft tones of a large brick bridge, and the backs of men and women entering with bare feet, leave us wondering if they will be safe. Lewis’s evocative watercolors show Scott hesitantly walking behind the others on the bridge, becoming the last in the long line to be interviewed. He made the right decision! Fortress Commander Major General Benjamin Butler sits behind his desk questioning every man who has arrived hoping to get information about where Confederates are stationed. “I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war.” Contraband — property used for warlike purposes against the government of the United States — could be legally confiscated.

Scott tells Butler that he has seen many confederates in the woods. And now Butler has a mission for Scott to track down the confederates. In fact, George Scott was the first enslaved man to be handed a revolver and ride off near the front of an infantry of five thousand men. Chaos came fast. The loss … tremendous.

 

Seeking Freedom int2
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

Many of Butler’s men died but the confederates fled. Butler put his legal skills to work in a letter that was sent to President Lincoln asking for freedom for all African Americans. It was then, Castrovilla explains, that Scott journeyed to the capital to ask for freedom. Congress passed an act approving the confiscation of fugitive slaves by the federal government — and freeing all people enslaved by the Confederacy.

 

Seeking Freedom int3
Interior spread from Seeking Freedom written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Calkins Creek ©2022.

 

The interesting backmatter includes black-and-white photos of groups of Virginia contrabands wearing old civil war uniforms and explains the history of the Aftermath, The Contrabands, Benjamin Butler’s legacy, and the unsung hero named George Scott. It is unknown if he achieved his goal of asking President Lincoln for his freedom.

This book needs to be placed on every elementary and middle school bookshelf to be read not only during Black History Month but during history lessons. It is a book about the inner strength of George Scott, and the three original men, and what drive they had to change the lives of so many. This is an important perspective about the Civil War and the history of Black people in this country that I wholeheartedly recommend. In 2011 President Barrack Obama signed the proclamation that established the Fort Monroe National Monument, the pathway to freedom marking the beginning and end of slavery in our nation.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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