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Interview with Author/Illustrator Rich Lo

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.

Rich Lo’s work can be viewed on his websites:

Review Rich Lo’s books on Amazon.  Mountain Chef, Father’s Chinese Opera, New Year

Originally published online at Manhattan Book Review

Dewey Bob













Dewey Bob

by Judy Schachner
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015

Author Judy Schachner moseys through Dewey Bob with rhymes, rhythms and delightful metaphors, like “…he scrubbed his catch until it was as clean as a bucketful of bleached bones.”  Most every time Bob speaks, he does so in rhymes.  It’s just a pleasure to read her story and savor her illustrations, with subtle humor peeking through on every page.

Dewey Bob, a young raccoon, sets out to find his own place.  As are most raccoons, he’s a collector; of buttons, fireflies and stuff.  Stuff to make things, stuff for art.  He finds himself a great place to live, but soon gets lonely.  Thinking he can just pick up friends, he places a few in his cart and takes them home. But he’s very sad when they all leave.  Except for one friend, Mudball.  Find out how Dewey Bob uses his natural talents to help Mudball and learns how to make a true friend. A rich story of friendships.

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Love is My Favorite Thing













Love is My Favorite Thing

by Emma Chichester Clark
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015

Love is My Favorite Thing describes love from a dog’s point of view.  For, after all, isn’t love all the same?  Children will delight in all the love Plummie feels.

“When they say, ‘You are a very good girl, Plummie!’
Then, I feel loved all over.”

What child doesn’t feel ‘loved all over’ when he receives love from his parents.  Plummie receives love and feels loved, even when he collides with trouble and punishment scene after scene.  Brightly colored illustrations show plenty of action highlighting the story’s words, which ring true of the unconditional love all parents aspire to give.  A meaningful story for both child and parent.

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Sewing Stories, Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist













Sewing Stories, Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist
by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

Harriet Powers’ biography introduces young readers to the life of a slave in the early 1800’s.

Harriet was an artist and quilts were her medium.  As a young child she watched others card cotton, spin thread and dye and weave cloth.  As she grew, she helped with stuffing quilts and eventually making them.  Quilts made of scraps, sewn after a long day of work for their master, were often the prized possession of the slaves.  Harriet married and after the Civil War gained her freedom, but lived in poverty.  Jennie Smith saw Harriet’s first story quilt and offered to purchase it.  Harriet refused, but created a quilt for her.  The quilt was displayed at the Exposition in Atlanta.  Admired, she received an order to make another.  Harriet passed in 1910, but her quilts are displayed in the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Photos of the quilts fill the end papers and friendly illustrations rendered in gauche with Corel Painter 11 and Photoshop.  The text gently introduces readers to the hardships slaves and newly freed African-Americans faced after the Civil War.

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Trombone Shorty













Trombone Shorty
by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
2016 Caldecott Honor Book, Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Award Winner

A great celebration of a great musician, written by the musician!  Trombone Shorty played music way before he had an instrument. When he found an old beat-up trombone, twice the size of him, he played it everywhere he went.  Raised in New Orleans, he was born to play music.  While in the audience of a Bo Didley concert, he started playing his trombone.  The show stopped.  Bo asked who was playing the trombone.  He was so short, his mother had to raise him up so Bo could see him.  Trombone Shorty was passed up to the stage and played with Bo Didley at a young age.  Soon after he formed his first band, The 5 O’Clock Band, as that’s when the practiced after they completed their homework.

Readers can feel the joy of music, the love of rhythms, and the passion Trombone Shorty has for his music.  Bryan Collier’s illustrations further enhance the story bringing color and passion to each page.  A wonderful introduction to music, the Mardi-Gras, and following your passion. An afterward includes more details of the musician’s life

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Hero Mom (A tribute to women in the military)













Hero Mom
by Melinda Hardin, illustrated by Bryan Langdo
Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013

Hero Mom features the jobs women do as today’s American soldiers.  From erecting buildings, to using dogs to search for dangers, to piloting helicopters, to driving trucks, and more.  While meant for children of American female soldiers, all children will benefit by learning the kinds of jobs women do in the service.  The book emphasizes that love endures even though mothers are far away.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.