Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Gwendolyn Hooks/Colin Bootman
Historical dramas like Hidden Figures have me thinking about all the stories of black excellence I don’t know about; stories that we’ve yet to discover and celebrate. Though I was fortunate to grow up with a decent education on Black History, there’s always more to learn.
In Tiny Stitches, Gwendolyn Hooks tells the story of the incredibly gifted Vivien Thomas. We meet Vivien as he’s examining the tiny needles he designed. The needles are for an operation he invented but wouldn’t get credit for for twenty-six years, all because of the color of his skin. As a teenager, Vivien worked as a researcher at the all white Vanderbilt University for Dr. Alfred Blalock. He absorbed everything very quickly, but when he learned that his official job was “janitor” (and that he made less than his white counterparts) he refused to work until that changed.
When given the chance, Vivien moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland to assist Dr. Blalock at John Hopkins University. Even though he faced more discrimination and segregation there than in his home of Nashville, Tennessee, he thrived. When presented with the challenge of how to treat “blue babies” he excelled. Though he got no credit for his procedure until he was much older, he became a respected technician, always eager to share and teach his knowledge. Vivien Thomas pioneered open heart surgery on children and his compassion, intelligence and bravery has saved countless lives.
Hooks does a great job chronicling Thomas’ life & explaining medical procedures clearly for children to understand. She also includes interesting back matter about “blue babies” and more information about Thomas. Bootman’s use of cool colors gives the story a calm feeling; Thomas seemed to be a calm and collected person and the watercolor illustrations reflect that.
This is a really nice addition to non-fiction picture books for children and even better, it’s about a black man! It very deservedly just won a 2017 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. If you have a child who is interested in the body, medicine and stories of perseverance, check out this book!
Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up Great for: History, Medicine, Pioneers, Perseverance, Determination, Discrimination, Segregation, Black History Month, African American, Dreams, Role Model, Non-Fiction, Science Book Info: Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomasby Gwendolyn Hooks/Illustrated by Colin Bootman, 2017 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781620141564
Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis
“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan
I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.
Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.
Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.
Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.
E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!
P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437
Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison
Sometimes it’s better to be friends than rivals, especially when you’re working towards the same goal!
In The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Alta’s role model is the amazing sprinter Wilma Rudolph. The story takes place in 1960 when everyone in Clarksville, Tennessee is preparing for the big parade to celebrate Wilma’s 3 Gold Medals at the Rome Olympics. Wilma is the fastest woman in the world and Alta is the fastest kid in Clarksville. She’s confident in her feet. Problem is there’s a new girl named Charmaine who’s just as confident in her speed and struts around like she rules the block! It doesn’t help that she has shiny new sneakers while Alta’s are worn down. Nevertheless, Alta challenges her to a race! On parade day, Alta and her friends struggle to get their bulky banner to the parade site and reluctantly accept Charmaine’s help. Relay-style (just like Wilma and her team) they arrive at the parade to celebrate their champion! Representation really matters and I can’t imagine how much Wilma meant to young black girls in the 60s (and now!).
Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison
I enjoyed the writing of this book; there’s a nice rhythm and just the right amount of sass and confidence. Morrison’s beautiful watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the words. Just take a look at the cover! Alta knows exactly who she is! Throughout the story, we see determination, confidence, worry, shame and happiness on her face and in her body language. My favorite spread is when she’s ready to run, banner in hand with furrowed brows, chanting “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph” in her head to boost her heart and her feet.
P.S. Check out author Pat Zietlow Miller’s awesome Nerdy Book Club post about the process of making this book/finding the right story. Also check out this great photo of Wilma with her parents during the parade! ❤
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Determination, Confidence, Friendship, Rivals, Relationships, Teamwork, Sports, Track and Field, Black Girl Magic, African American, Diversity, History, Segregation, Clarksville TN, Wilma Rudolph, Rhythm, Read-Aloud Book Info: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2015 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452129365
Not only is the cover beautiful, well designed and eye-catching, the entire book is gorgeous.
The story begins with young Marian in her house, set in the middle of a grand stage. When Marian Sang is a moving and beautifully told story of the life of singer Marian Anderson. There was never a moment she didn’t love to sing and people loved to listen. She was passionate about her faith and her music and by the age of eight, was performing for choruses in Philadelphia. Early on, Marian decided that music was something she wanted to dedicate herself to but because of her race, she was turned away from formal lessons.
Prejudice is intertwined with Marian’s story. Even though she was invited to sing across the country, she couldn’t even get a hotel room! But she continued to rise and share the gift of her voice with the world. Like Josephine Baker, she came back to the US and faced the challenge of performing as a black woman. The D.A.R. might’ve denied her performance at their hall but little did they know Marian’s spirit was destined for greatness. Eleanor Roosevelt and President Roosevelt set her up to perform at the Lincoln Memorial instead!! That performance was groundbreaking and memorable not only for the integrated crowd that witnessed it, but for the entire country. Marian continued to sing, inspire and move audiences for years to come.
The art!! Selznick uses rich acrylics and his palette is lush and golden. He uses only browns, golds, rose golds, pinks, and creams for entire book. The layout is very wide and grand. The large pages are perfect for highlighting his art. His paintings glow and the combination of his art with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s beautifully poignant writing is perfect. What a team, what a book and what a story of an amazing woman!
P.S. Take some time to read through the notes in the back about the author and illustrator’s loving and thorough research. Also check out Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century. She was inspired by Marian Anderson!
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Family, Love, Relationships, Faith, Music, Girls in Music, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Determination, Inner Strength, Prejudice, Segregation, Choir, Opera, Spirituals, Integration, Philadelphia, Europe, Non-fiction, Biography Book Info: When Marian Sangby Pam Muñoz Ryan/Illustrated by Brian Selznick, 2002 Scholastic Press, ISBN: 9780439269674
A passionate woman full of energy, charisma and magic was Josephine Baker.
Patricia Hruby Powell uses the metaphor of volcano to describe Josephine’s personality and I think this is perfect. Ever since a little girl, she bubbled and popped and fizzled with pent up energy to perform and dance. She was born poor in segregated St. Louis to a single mother who also loved to dance. They shared a love of vaudeville. As a child she started out in the group The Jones Family but quickly moved on to The Dixie Steppers. Even in a chorus line she stood out with her distinct, silly style. She got hitched, went to broadway and used her smarts to get onstage and SHINE.
Look how spunky and charming she is in the film Zouzou (1934)!
Though she loved to perform, Josephine was tired of segregation and just barely getting by. She got the chance to head to Paris where as soon as she stepped off the steam ship, she wasn’t discriminated against because of her color and felt truly beautiful! She took Paris by storm, charming the entire city, headlining shows, staring in movies and drawing crowds with her energy and risqué banana skirts. She was in every way fabulous, scandalous and daring. When war came she spied for France and became a hero.
As she got older, she remarried and adopted twelve children from all over the world; her rainbow tribe. Though she worked hard to support her children and keep up her lavish lifestyle, she was put out of their mansion, the bills too much to pay. Luckily her friends helped her family and years later, at sixty-seven years old, she decided to give the US one more try. It was a success! America loved her and dear Josephine danced herself to eternal sleep.
The rhythm and energy of the writing in this book suits Josephine’s personality. It’s broken very cleverly into “acts” of her life. Robinson’s illustrations, as usual, are vivid and beautiful. His signature long bodied figures are perfect for Josephine’s limber body. The book opens with a red curtain, each “act” is introduced by a scene on a stage and finally, after we finish reading the story, the red curtain returns, flowers stewn on the floor below it. I love this touch. It brings the story full circle; she lived for performance. Robinson says in the end notes that he’s been connected to Josephine Baker’s story ever since he was young and it’s very evident in the loving way he depicts her.
Josephine has become one of my favorite biography picture books. It’s one that my bookstore never carried and I kept reading about online. I kept thinking “I’ve GOT to read that book!” After reading Josephine (or maybe even during, like I did), you’ll want to look up photographs and videos of this AMAZING woman. What a woman she was…
Recommended for: 2nd grade and up Great for: Dance, Vaudeville, African-American, Segregation, Determination, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Confidence, Courage, Rhythm, Energy, Paris, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Biography Book Info: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Bakerby Patricia Hruby Powell/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2014 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452103143
I love to watch track. I was lucky enough to see Usain Bolt in my town of Daegu, South Korea a few years ago. Whew! The speed and athleticism. Wilma Rudolph is an inspiration not only because of her athletic accomplishments but also for the hurdles she had to cross in her life to achieve greatness.
Born the twentieth child in her family, she was small and sickly though full of energy. Her family gave her love but there wasn’t much they could do when she was stricken with polio around age five. On top of her physical ailments, she was a black girl in segregated Clarksville, Tennessee. There was only one doctor in town who treated blacks and he was fifty miles away! Despite her struggles, Wilma was extremely determined and even while wearing braces on her legs, she worked on her strength. One day at church, she stood up without her braces, walking confidently down the aisle.
Wilma’s 100m dash win at the 1960s Rome Olympics. Woooo!
From then on, she was off! She got stronger and stronger and played basketball in high school. Though she was a skilled basketball player, she was scouted for track-and-field and got a full ride to Tennessee State University. In 1960, she headed to Rome for the Summer Olympics. This powerful woman left her competitors in the dust (with a twisted ankle!) and 3 gold medals later, she was the fastest woman in the world!! ❤
The illustrations of Wilma Unlimited are beautiful. They’re a mix of acrylic, gouache and watercolor with spreads that use photographs for backgrounds. I love this effect. The page where Wilma and her mother triumphantly wrap her steel brace in a box to send back to the hospital is surrounded by a photograph of a cardboard box marked “fragile.” Diaz’ style is wonderful. His human figures have long bodies, wide eyes, strong noses, large hands and remind me of Greek figures on ancient vases.
Have a young runner? A child with boundless energy? Check out this beautiful biography about one of our greatest athletes!
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Family, Segregation, African-American, Inner Strength, Determination, Polio, Sports, Track and Field, Fastest Woman in the World, Olympics, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Faith, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography Book Info: Wilma Unlimitedby Kathleen Krull/Illustrated by David Diaz, 1996 Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN: 9780152012670
Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes
“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”
Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.
Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.
Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.
Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes
I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.
When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.
What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.
We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.
Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movementby Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319
Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Floyd Cooper
Family vacations are an American staple right? They’re when we take time away from our jobs to get in a car, train or plane to travel and have fun. But can you imagine needing to rely on a little book to help you stay safe on the road? The danger isn’t from other cars or weather conditions; the danger is from people who don’t like you because of the color of your skin.
Ruth and the Green Book is a story based on real historical events. Like Ruth and her family, in the 50s, many Black families were prospering in the North but had to take precautions when traveling, especially back down South and into Jim Crow. In this story, Ruth’s dad gets a brand new car and they head from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandparents. Ruth tells the story from her perspective and we experience her confusion and anger towards segregation. She doesn’t understand why they can’t use the restroom at the gas station and why the white hotel owner won’t let them stay in the hotel but she sees the effects these events have on her family.
Image Credit: Wikipedia.org (New York Public Library) 1940 Edition of The Negro Motorist Green-Book
“Whites Only” signs are everywhere on their journey but her family sings joyfully as they drive and enjoy each other’s company. They make do as oppressed people do! Ruth learns the hard truth about Jim Crow, but luckily a family friend along the route tells them to look out for Esso Gas Stations. Esso is one company that accepts black business. At the first Esso Gas Station they see, a black worker sells them The Negro Motorist Green Book which lists safe places for Black people to eat, sleep and rest on the road. As they travel, Ruth grows up and makes a new friend at one of the inns they stay at. The Green Book helps Ruth and her family get to Alabama safely and she reflects on how thankful she is for a nationwide network of black people looking out for each other!
I love Cooper’s illustrations. He uses muted colors of browns, greens, and blues and it gives the feel of an old soft crackly television. Warm, expressive brown faces and Ruth’s loving family are beautiful to see. I really like the design of the cover of the book with its swooping green retro font, Dad’s brand new “sea mist” green Buick, and Ruth smiling proudly as her mom holds her steadily (strength, determination and a little worry in her expression.) This book is excellent for ALL ages because it discusses an important (and probably little-known) aspect of Black History. Check it out and talk about it!
P.S. For more information on The Negro Motorist Green Book and to browse through one online, click here and here. These links are super cool. I really encourage you to take a look!
Recommended for: 1st Grade and up Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, 1950s America, Jim Crow, Segregation Community, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Travel, African-American, Social Issues, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books Book Info: Ruth and the Green Bookby Calvin Alexander Ramsey/Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2010 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761352556
Duncan Tonatiuh’s work is some of the most important work in children’s literature right now. His books speak truth, teach our realities and his art isn’t too bad. 😉 He creates picture books that cover topics like immigration, city vs. rural life, friendship, art history, discrimination, prejudice, determination and history. You can read my reviews for Funny Bones and Salsahere.
Funny Bones was the very first book I reviewed for my blog, so it holds an important place in my blogging life. Through reading and experiencing his books, I became more interested in learning about him. He’s a very cool person! Let’s get on to the interview…
Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?
Duncan: Thats a tough one. One would be responsible or dependable.
Alia: Yeah I know! I like to ask people this though…
Duncan: Creative maybe? Smart sounds conceited but something to do with being a thinker. Thoughtful? That is what I can think of for now.
Alia: That’s great. Thank you.
Duncan: Calm maybe?
Duncan: No problem.
Alia: Q2. Congratulations on your baby daughter! Has having a child influenced how you see yourself as a storyteller?
Duncan: I’m sure it has. But I’m not quite sure how yet. It’s definitely had a huge impact in my life. My world does not revolve around me anymore by any means. And I feel an enormous and unconditional love for my daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Alia: Q3. The first time I saw your books, your art made me cheer. It’s such a beautiful display of indigeneity. The Mixtec codex influence. Do you mind discussing your style and how it developed?
Duncan: I went to design school in New York City. There is a large Mixtec community there. I became friends with a Mixtec guy named Sergio. For my senior thesis I decided to make a small comic book about his journey from his small village in the south of Mexico to working as a busboy in a restaurant in New York.
One of the first things I did when I began that project was go to the library to look up Mixtec artwork. I found images of Mixtec codex from the 15th century. I was blown away by them. I grew up in Mexico, so I was familiar with Pre-Columbian art but never paid much attention to it. When I saw images of the codex at the library I decided I would make a modern day codex of Sergio’s story.
I began emulating the drawings from the codex. I drew every one in profile. I stylized their ears to look like a number 3. I drew the character’s entire bodies, etc. I collaged my drawings digitally though to make them feel more modern.
Alia: That’s awesome! You kind of touch on that modern day application of art in your book about Diego Rivera. How he’d view the world now and create it in his style. I love how you take ancient art from your culture and make it modern for today’s children. I really really like how you use digital collage too! It makes the images pop.
Alia: No problem!
Image Credit: Dear Primo, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh
Q4. What was your favorite food growing up?
Duncan: Hmmm. Maybe enchiladas or pozole. When I was a kid I asked my mom why my Dad always got to pick what we were having for lunch. She said it was because he gave her the money to buy the food. At some point I got a job after school helping out a jewellery maker. When I got paid I gave the money to my mom and asked her to make enchiladas.
Alia: Hahaha. That sounds like something my mom would say. 🙂
Alia: Q5. Your books are very powerful and full of history and perspective. They also have the ability to reach any child in the world. What do you hope children take away from your books?
Duncan: Thanks! Well, first and foremost I hope they find my books entertaining and interesting to look at. I make books about things that interest me. Hopefully young readers will find those things interesting and important too. I try to have a message in my books but I hope they don’t feel preachy or didactic.
When it comes to Latino children I hope they see themselves, their family and their community in the books. Hopefully they feel pride and realize that their voices and stories are important. For non-Latino children, I hope they learn about a different culture. With books like Pancho Rabbit or Separate Is Never Equal, I hope that they feel empathy and understanding of the struggles Latino children and people have to face sometimes.
One of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as an author is when a group of 4th graders from an Elementary in Texas wrote a multi-voice poem about their border crossing experiences after they read Pancho Rabbit. I feel my book encouraged them to speak and realize that their voices and stories are important. Let me find the link:
Alia: Thank you for sharing and that is amazing. I’m glad for your books because it is so important to not only share stories, but to create stories that children can relate to. Children of color sometimes need that boost, that representation. That’s why diverse books are so important. For teaching and learning, and inspiring as in the case of those 4th graders! 🙂
Alia: Q6. Congratulations on all the recent honors (Sibert Award/Pura Belpré Honor/NCTE Honor) for Funny Bones! Have you received any feedback from kids on that book?
Duncan: Thank you! I’ve received a few calavera drawings from students. And I’ve seen projects that they’ve created at school for the Day of the Dead. I look forward to receiving more feedback from kids and seeing how they respond to the book and what resonates with them.
Alia: How cool! When I was a teacher in Korea, I learned about Day of the Dead to share with my students. In Korea, they have a holiday called Chuseok where they also honor ancestors, make an altar of food, and clean graves. They seemed to connect with it, especially since they saw some cultural similarities. They were a little surprised about the calaveras though. But when I showed them the sugar skulls, they wanted to taste them. lol!
Q7. For the book Salsa, you illustrated words that weren’t your own. What was it like working with Jorge Argueta?
Duncan: The majority of picture books are written by one person and illustrated by another one. The publishing company pairs the two together. I did not meet Jorge until after I had illustrated the book. That is often the case with picture book authors and illustrators. I enjoyed illustrating Jorge’s book and we have become friends, but we didn’t work on that book together; at least not at the same time.
I finished illustrating a book recently for another author, a woman named Susan Wood. We’ve only met once very briefly. I enjoy illustrating other people’s stories but I like writing and illustrating my own books the best because I have a little more control. I can change the text or the illustrations as I need and hopefully that makes the book flow more smoothly.
Alia: That’s really interesting. I’ve also noticed that for some smaller publishers, the author can have some say in who they’d like to work with and there’s more dialogue during the creative process. I think the book came out really nicely.
Maybe also, like any piece of art, a book that is written and illustrated by you is your complete piece and like you said, you can tweak and bend the product to be exactly what you like and want to say.
Duncan: Definitely. And I’m not sure but I think the publisher asked Jorge if he thought I would be a good fit for the manuscript he wrote. He didn’t give me comments on my illustrations and sketches but he had the opportunity to look at some of my work first I believe.
Alia: Thanks for the insight!
Q8. You touched on it a bit above but are there any upcoming projects you can share with the public yet?
Duncan: I have two picture books coming out this fall. One will be called The Princess and the Warrior; A Tale of Two Volcanoes. I wrote and illustrated it. It’ll be published by Abrams. The book is my own version of the origin legend of two volcanoes that are outside of Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The story is set in Pre-Columbian times and it has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.
The second book is called Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. It’s written by Susan Wood and illustrated by yours truly. It’ll be published by Charlesbridge. The book is about a Mexican composer who is considered the creator of lounge music. It was fun to illustrate. It’s a groovy and swanky book with a lot of hand-drawn text in it.
Alia: Oh man, I’m looking forward to both!!
Duncan: Thanks! Me too!
Alia: Side note: While studying your books for this interview, it was fun to see how your art style has evolved over time. In Dear Primo compared to Funny Bones, your lines now are a little cleaner, the hands of the people are smaller and they have necks! So interesting to see.
Duncan: Yeah. That is true. Sometimes I miss some of the rawness of Dear Primo. I am hoping to experiment a little more with upcoming projects. I want them to still be in my style but I also want them to evolve or change a little depending on the project.
Alia: Looking forward to how your style grows.
Q9. Any place or food you really recommend during a visit to your hometown of San Miguel de Allende?
Duncan: San Miguel is a great place to visit. A few years ago it was voted “Best City in the World” by Traveler’s Magazine. I think one of the things that visitors like about it is that there is nice combination of high-end and cheap options. There are some really good fancy restaurants but also great cheap street tacos.
My favorite place in town is probably the library. It has a wonderful courtyard. I love going there to write, draw and read. Some good places for visitors are the crafts market, the botanical garden, the Fábrica la Aurora -an old factory that was converted into art galleries- and the hot springs.
Alia: Fábrica la Aurora sounds sweet! A great space for creativity. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Duncan for taking time to talk with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m excited for all the books coming from you (this year and years to come!). Yay!
Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep
Ah, what a COOL guy. This excellent biography is about Hawaiian athlete Duke Kahanamoku who’s credited for spreading surfing all over the world with his passion for the sport and the waves.
Duke didn’t grow up with much but he grew up a boy of the island Oʻahu and its waters. He wasn’t the best at school work but he was a natural athlete and a powerfully fast and gifted swimmer. When he was a teen, he lucked upon a coach, started a “poor man’s swim club” and continued perfecting his swimming as well as the curve and design of his surfboards.
At a local AAU swim meet, Duke shattered the world record and AAU records but people on the mainland didn’t believe it! His community would raise money to send him to California to try out for the US Olympic Swim Team where he’d easily qualify and set off to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Duke faced a great deal of discrimination and racism on the mainland for being a person of color and Crowe addresses these issues in the book. Though he faced several challenges, he overcame them and and became a symbol of Hawaii. In his lifetime, he won multiple medals, gained adoring fans from all over the world and would share his love for surfing with the global community.
Duke Kahanamoku truly embodied the spirit of aloha (love/kindness) in everything he did! He rightfully deserves the title of Surfer of the Century and continues to be a role model to this day.
Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep
[Jim Thorpe and Duke Kanahamoku on their way to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden a.k.a. #IndigenousBadassery]
Now an excellent book about surfing needs excellent illustrations and luckily, Walrep comes through strong. The gouache illustrations are absolutely glowing and gorgeous. Blocks of color, excellent lighting, shining dark brown skin, confident smiles, and blue waves with wispy foam transport readers to Hawaii. Surfer of the Century is a worthy tribute to a great sportsman and human being.
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Community, Diversity, Surfing, Aloha, Hawaii, We Need Diverse Books, Biography, Discrimination, Segregation, Discussion, Social Issues, Family, History, Swimmers, Non-Fiction Book Info: Surfer of the Century by Ellie Crowe/Illustrated by Richard Waldrep, 2007 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781584302766