Written in poems, readers learn how Ezra Jack Keats bravely pioneered books in 1962 about African-American kids’ experience in the city. Born of poor Jewish immigrant parents, Ezra faced prejudice early. Drawn to be an artist, his father supported Ezra’s interests as much as he could with leftover paints. Just when Ezra managed to get a scholarship for college, his dad died, and he had to earn a living to support his family. Enlisting in the Air Force for World War II, he made posters, booklets, charts, maps and art. After the war, he returned to the same prejudices and decided to rearrange his name. After he successfully illustrated a couple children’s books, the editors invited him to write and illustrate his own story. He created a story of Peter, a ‘brown-sugar boy’. In 1962, his book, The Snowy Day, led to six others.
The book takes you down a delightful lane sharing how Ezra came to do his books and how much kids enjoyed them. Illustrations used are similar to Ezra Jack Keats style. A great reminiscent look down memory lane for parents, a great introduction to a writer/artist for children.
Little Night Cat’s breath-taking illustrations will capture reader’s hearts in this heartfelt story of a young boy who gives away his most cherished possessions.
Tony wakes in anticipation of a big day at the animal shelter. He decides to donate his collection of stuffed animals. His mother suggests that it is not a good idea, but Tony insists the animals want to do it to help. While at the shelter, Tony is attracted to a gray tomcat, who approaches Tony and purrs. Without his animals, Tony can’t sleep that night and his mother pulls out of the closet an old, ragged stuffed animal from her childhood. He begs her to bring the stuffed animal when she returns to pick him up from school. She does not and he is crushed, until…he sees the surprise waiting for him.
Illustrations are rich in colors, rich in details, and moving. Each page is filled with life. This is the kind of art most can’t afford, but it can be found in a picture book. A book that will be read over and over again.
In Adventures in Asian Art, An Afternoon at the Museum we follow a girl and her brother as they explore 53 pieces of art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The author and illustrator cleverly work in how the children interact with each art piece shown. They meditate with the Buddha, they ride rhinos, they wear samurai warrior suits of armor. The story is written in simple, up-beat rhyme, blending the art with the child’s imagination:
“You’ll dance with the Sky-walker
And clear the path ahead.
You’ll carry the fire of wisdom
Through the hair upon your head.”
Juxtaposing the rhymes with the art, the child can put together the references to each. Each page invites the youngest into the fun and imagination of the artwork, while showing the actual art piece itself. Art pieces includes kimonos, statutes, puppets, paintings, and more from centuries ago to modern times. Unlike traditional museum art books, this book is abundant with up-beat energy and kid-like fun on every page to draw in young readers.
Mountain Chef tells of Tie Sing’s trials and tribulations to prepare gourmet meals for first trip of visionaries taken to Yosemite in the effort to form a national park service. The time was 1915 when all food and people were carried in on mules and horseback. The parks were undeveloped and the terrain was rough. For the chef, it was one of those trips where everything that could go wrong did, and how he creatively solved each challenge and kept the bellies of the visionaries happy.
Tie Sings accomplishments were significant in an era where Chinese-American discrimination flourished. A mountain peak named after him honors his consistent contributions towards forming a national park service.
Illustrator Rich Lo’s pencil drawings and watercolors splash Yosemite to life and invite readers to savor each page. The artwork itself is well-worth discovering. The book’s beauty wrapping the historical story of one person’s dream in an area of discrimination makes for a fascinating, inspiring read.
Following a well-told story are photos from the trip and background on the National Park Service.
In an era where Chinese-American discrimination flourished, Mountain Chef features Tie Sing who kept the bellies of the visionaries happy on this first critical trip to Yosemite.
Interview with Illustrator/Author Rich Lo
Q. I fell in love with your art when I read your book, Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost his Groceries, Changed his Plans, and Helped Cook up the National Park Service. How did you come to illustrate the book? How long did it take to develop and complete the illustrations? What medium(s) did you use?
I was contacted by Charlesbridge last fall about illustrating the book. They liked the watercolor technique used for Father’s Chinese Opera. It was a technique I had used on a couple of projects commissioned by Great Books Foundation 2010. It took about two weeks to create the sketches from the manuscript and about 30 days to complete the finished art. The media are pencil and watercolor composed digitally.
Q. What do you mean when you say the publisher used ‘spot varnish’ on your illustrations? Where was it used on your book, Mountain Chef, and how does it help ‘pop’ the illustrations?
Spot varnish is a printing process used to highlight areas of emphasis. In the book Mountain Chef, the varnish was used on the artwork. If you look closely, you can see a slight sheen over the illustrations. The publisher also used quality semi-gloss white paper stock. The combination resulted in rich colors throughout the book.
Q. As an accomplished artist in your own right, how did your journey take you to illustrating children’s books?
In 2012, I was emailing out samples of my work one night on the internet. One email was answered. It was from Anna Olswanger, a literary agent working out of NYC. She asked “I know you can do great art but can you write text?” Without hesitation, I said yes. I had no experience. In about 6 months, she chose 1 of 9 vignettes loosely based on childhood memories when I lived in Hong Kong. Layouts were created into a presentation. She sent the text with three color illustrations to the editors. We agreed on the terms with Sky Pony Press in 2013 and Father’s Chinese Opera became my first published book in 2014.
Q. For your first book, Father’s Chinese Opera, you won the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category. How did you come to write the story? How has that award on your first picture book impacted your life?
I lived in Hong Kong for the first 6 years of my life. Father was a famous opera composer and a conductor. I was too young to be in school, so he often took me to work. I met all the actors and acrobats and sat in on rehearsals and performances. Those were happy times, so it was easy to visualize. I used my imagination to create the scenes and wrote text to describe them. It was the right process for me.
The award was unexpected. It is an accomplishment like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It gave me confidence to write and illustrate more children’s books. At a book talk at the Chinese American Museum Chicago, I honored my parents as heroes of my life. It also validated for me that miracles can happen.
Q. How is creating picture books changing your life?
It adds another dimension to my repertoire. The picture book industry provides a stage for creativity. As a professional artist, you want to extend and build skill sets to be better. I was fortunate to be invited to the ALA (American Library Association), participated in an award ceremony in San Francisco and the Book Expo in Chicago in the last two years. These are incredible experiences and are not to be taken for granted.
Q. Your first book was inspired by your father’s work as a composer, so you were born into a creative family. Was your artistic interest always supported by your family? How has their support helped? When did you know you were going to be an artist?
Growing up in a pragmatic Chinese American culture, the arts are not always looked upon as valued professions. I followed my passion and worked hard to develop an artistic life and career. Raw skills are refined and imagination cultivated. With strong fundamentals and a lot of luck, I was able to make a living and raise a family with the earnings from the artwork.
Q. Do you do classroom visits? If so, what is the response of the children?
Yes, I do. The children are more fascinated by the illustrations than by the story itself. I am learning how to make the artwork even more interesting for children.
Q. Earlier, you were commissioned to illustrate stories by Ray Bradbury and Langston Hughes, among others. What was it like for you to create visuals for some of these great writers? Did you immediately see images as you read their words?
It is a privilege to illustrate for any author, but the great ones are icing on the cake. I do see imageries as I read. Keywords are used for initial ideas. Compositions are refined and techniques chosen to fit the story. I am blessed to be able to explore and then perfect techniques on projects.
Q. Do you have any more books coming out soon? Where can people find out more about you?
A picture book titled New Year, published by Sky Pony Press, will be coming out in November 2016.
by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher
Little Bee Books, 2016
Painting Pepette is a fun way to introduce children to great Parisian artists.
Josette and her rabbit Pepette live in Paris and live in a house filled with fine art of her relatives, including her dog. But one day Josette noticed there was no painting of Pepette. So she went to Montmartre, where the best artists in Paris painted to find someone to paint Pepette. Several artists, like Picasso, Matisse and Dali, take a hand at painting Pepette. While the artists and many sidewalk critiques love the renderings, they are not right for Josette. When Matisse points out, “But through art we can see the world any way we want,” Pepette knows exactly what to do. A fulfilling story with loose, color-filled illustrations and a study in what makes a Picasso, Matisse, or Dali painting theirs.
You Make Me Happy
by An Swerts, illustrated by Jenny Bakker
Clavis Publishing, 2015
Originally published in Belgium and Holland
The exquisite artwork and title attracted me to this book. The story opens with Sofia blowing little clouds on the window and drawing little hearts. When Grandma and Sofia go for a walk, Sofia asks, “Is it possible to love someone too much?” They discuss Sofia’s very important concern, Grandma sharing when she first told Grandpa she liked him. Grandma encourages Sofia to find a special place to tell her friend she likes him. Sofia tells her friend in a very creative way.
A sweet story about what is a major concern for some children, their first love. Loose illustrations highlight character’s faces and truly speak to the heart and introduce children to love.
The Night Gardener is a book of awe-inspiring, life-changing magic. Set in the thirties, a young William wakes to a tree sculpture of an owl. Awed by its beauty and wonder, he stares at it all day. He goes to sleep with a sense of excitement and the next morning he awakens to a tree sculpture of a cat. After several days of new sculptures, the people of Grimloch begin to feel joy enter their hearts. When a dragon appears, they celebrate until late into the day. Going home, William spots an unfamiliar person. As the gentleman enters the park, he turns and invites William in. They create a park full of new creatures. When Williams awakens in the park, a pair of sheers with his name on it are before him. William’s life is changed, and so are the lives of the people in Grimloch.
Graphite drawings detail the times and the tree sculptures. As tree sculptures are within the realm of possibilities, the story sheds a whole new light on night and trees. A story of both eye and heart beauty. A joy to savor.
It’s the exquisite illustrations that make this book work. I think the author/illustrator Lane Smith created the words just to stretch his artistic genius. Using oils, acrylic varnish, colored pencils, graphite and more, the readers follow a young boy as he explores different groupings of wildlife. From a colony of penguins, to a smack of jellyfish, to an unkindness of ravens, we follow the mischievous boy as he playfully explores his worlds. Moving through a bed of clams and a night of dreams, the boy discovers a tribe of kids like him! Readers rejoice with the boy when he sees all the playful, creative kids to play with.
By Anna Pignataro
Little Bee Books, 2015 Originally published in Australia
This is a book on ‘being different’ told primarily through illustrations.
In the opening page we see her parents are a bear and a pig, but because they look so happy together, we quickly overlook their differences. While words said, “she didn’t quite fit in,” she looked like she fit in okay. When it was her turn to share her one special quality, she was so embarrassed she hid. When she came out, each of the others shared a special quality they saw in her. The story ended when someone shared the universal truth that applies to everyone, “No one else is a better Agatha than you!” First published in Australia, the expressive drawings accented with simple colors provides a subtle message that being unique is special and a good thing. The drawings are so expressive, each child will find a character they can relate to.