Ben Clanton is Awesomerific!

Ben Clanton is one of the coolest author/illustrators in children’s literature right now. I found his book Rex Wrecks It! by chance in the picture book stacks of my bookstore and it quickly became one of my favorites. Lucky for us, he’s been very prolific in a very short period of time, so we have many great books to read from him!

We had a great time chatting for this interview. I hope you’ll enjoy it! You won’t be RAWRY you stopped by to read. 😉

 

AliaQ1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Ben: Kind, creative, and ambitious. That last one is always what gets me sorted into either Gryffindor or Slytherin even though I feel like a Hufflepuff.

Alia: Haha. Nice. Yeah I’ve been sorted as a Ravenclaw or a Gryffindor. I think I feel more like a Gryffindor but I’m not quite sure.

Ben: Hooray for a fellow Harry Potter fan! I’m far too fond of those quizzes. I take a new one almost every year.

Alia: Have you done the “Official” Pottermore one yet?

Ben: Yes, both the one from the previous Pottermore site and the revamped one. I was a Gryffindor the first time and am now a Slytherin (as much as that pains me to say).

Alia: Yeah I heard that happened to a lot of people and they’re kinda upset, lol. It’s totally understandable though. Identity crisis kind of situation.

Ben: I take some solace in that apparently Merlin was a Slytherin and he wasn’t such a bad guy.

Alia: True, true. I know some great Slytherins. Okay, next question, lol.

Ben: Haha! No promises I won’t steer the conversation back to HP.

Alia: HAHA! Well let’s see how you answer question 2. I feel like HP might have some influence. This is a big question…

Q2. Why picture books? Your art style is very approachable; you could illustrate really anything for kids…

Ben: Great question! And thanks! I do have an interest in exploring & making other sorts of books and content, but picture books are particularly dear to me for a number of reasons. For a start, the format allows for a great range of creative exploration. There are so many options with what you can do with the words and pictures in a picture book that other formats don’t provide. I feel like in chapter books, for example, the illustrations usually parallel the text. But in picture books, the illustrations augment the text or even contradict it. Also, with the picture book there is much less of an expectation that it will follow particular narrative conventions. So that out-of-the-box potential that picture books welcome is a big part of why I love them.

Also, I was a reluctant reader of words as a kid. Chapter books were hard; I didn’t read my first on my own until 4th grade. But picture books I could spend ages with. I loved reading the pictures. Still do! I’m a highly visual thinker.

I also love the general brevity of picture books. They are poetic in many ways. So much can be said in a picture book and of the format.

Alia: Yeah it’s obvious that picture books are what you enjoy creating. You put your heart into each one and it shows.

I’m also a very visual thinker so I’m drawn to the magic of picture books. I agree with you. Their brevity also leaves a lot for your imagination to fill in. A lot of people might say that chapter books do that (obviously they do) but picture books also have room for exploration. Kids know this magic immediately (and some adults). 😉

Ben: Just so! They welcome creativity, interaction, and the really good ones become like a friend that you want to spend every night with just before you go to bed. Something special about that time just before dreams and how you choose to spend those last waking hours. Some kids will form such a bond with a particular picture book that it might even see hundreds of readings or viewings.

Alia: Exactly. It’s a pretty special thing to find a book that you connect to!

Okay next question? 🙂

Ben: Sure thing! I could easily get stuck talking and thinking about the picture book format all day.

Alia: Oh man, me too! But onward!

Q3. Do you like ice cream and if so, what’s your favorite flavor and topping?

Ben: ‘Like’ is not a strong enough word. I don’t like ice cream, I love it!

Alia: Haha!

Ben: Caramel ice cream with hot fudge sauce is my favorite.

Alia: Oooh nice choice.

Ben: I spend so much time in ice cream lines I’ve come up with a few of my books while waiting in ice cream lines. 😉

Alia: Haha really?

Narwhal

Image Credit: Tundra Books, Ben Clanton

Ben: True story! My Narwhal and Jelly series for a start. And both of those characters have a love for waffles which I think might have been a result of the smell of freshly made waffle cones while I was standing in line.

Alia: LOL the smell went right to the creative side of your brain.

Ben: And stuck! Narwhal and Jelly both have a borderline obsession with waffles!

Your favorite flavor?

Alia: I mean, that’s a pretty awesome obsession if you ask me. So many possibilities.

My go-to ice cream flavor is probably chocolate chip cookie dough. I’m not big on sauces or toppings. Just give me the scoops.

Ben: Fair enough! And classic choice! I approve.

Alia: lol Thanks!

Q4. Congrats on your new baby boy, by the way. 🙂 Are you already thinking up stories to tell him?

Ben: Thank you! Lots of stories in the works but none that have been inspired by Theo as of yet. I’m sure there will be many, though! I can’t wait until he is old enough for me to share my stories with him and my favorite books.

Alia: Yeah that’s going to be fun. Some babies are so attracted to color and faces and books.

Ben: Adds a whole new level of specialness to making stories!

Alia: For sure! “My dad makes books” I mean…your coolness factor…

Ben: I wish I had been working on more board books now that I have a baby. But Mo’s Mustache will be coming out as a board book. Rex Wrecks It! too!

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Alia: OMG!!! I’m excited!

Ben: Haha! I’ve heard from other authors with kids that their kids aren’t overly impressed because it is just part of their lives. That’s okay with me as it is pretty great to have books be a part of everyday life.

Alia: That makes sense. Right! Your kid is going to grow up with so much richness. All the creativity and that’s great!

Q5. You REALLY like jokes and puns, don’t you?

Ben: I do! I so dearly do! Which, funnily enough, if you just met me on the street and had no idea what my job was, you wouldn’t begin to expect it. I’m generally a fairly serious person. But I do love to play with words and am overly fond of puns (both the bad ones and the good ones).

This is the point where I’m supposed to make a clever joke, but they tend to come to me at the most inopportune times.

Alia: Haha the best ones come organically. I really love how you integrate them into your stories. It’s really fun. I love corny jokes anyway so it’s perfect.

Ben: Haha! Yay! Kindred spirit!

Alia: Yay! I also read that you studied Anthropology? Me too!

Ben: I’m not surprised! I read that open letter you wrote to J.K. Rowling about her new writings involving magic and Native American peoples and it seemed to me you had a solid foundation in anthropological thinking. Told you I might steer things back to HP!

Alia: Ah yes!

Ben: But perhaps that is a conversation for another time as I’m sure we could both get stuck on that particular subject.

Alia: Well, thank you. I really enjoyed studying Anthropology and Native studies. Really enjoyed.

Haha you weren’t lying. 🙂

Yes, for sure.

Ben: I see in your profile photo that you’re holding a copy of Thunder Boy Jr.! Great book! J.K. should have consulted someone(s) like Sherman Alexie!

Alia: Yes! Such a good book. I love that book. I anticipated it for over a year before it came out and both Yuyi Morales and Sherman Alexie came through (of course). Sherman is amazing and yes, she definitely could’ve and should’ve!

Let’s talk a bit about your art, if you don’t mind.

Ben: Much less interesting of a topic. 😉

Alia: Haha! I mean, it’s a hot (and important) topic BUT I do really enjoy your art.

Q6. For Mo’s Mustache, did you really use a mustache as a brush to make the art??

VoteForMe

Image Credit: Kids Can Press, Ben Clanton

Ben: Haha! Yes, and according to my bio for Vote for Me! I’m nine feet tall and am President of the Universe. What is for sure true, though, is I used elephant poop paper for Vote for Me!. The mustache is admittedly a fib.

Alia: Oh man, I’m too naive, lol.

Ben: Hey, knowing me I might have actually done it!

Alia: Ah, so that’s why the art in Vote for Me! looks speckled but unlike your paint splatters. That’s neat. Yeah I could see you taking a mustache and crafting your own paintbrush. Cause why not?

Ben: Exactly! When I remake that book someday I promise to look into that!

Alia: Yes, please, lol. Or a sequel? *wink wink*

Ben: Haha! Perhaps! I’m finishing a sequel to Rex Wrecks It! called Boo Who? currently and I wasn’t sure that would come about. Wouldn’t say ‘no’ to another with Mo!

In regards to the materials/art question, I do like to use techniques and media that fit with the content of the book. For example, with It Came in the Mail (my latest picture book) mail ephemera plays a big role in the art.

Alia: Oh yeah! I’m really excited about that! Rex Wrecks It! is my favorite of yours.

That’s really cool and probably makes it more interesting for you.

I noticed that with the mail! I have some questions about it later for you! I have a few things I want to mention about your art, if you don’t mind.

Ben: Please! Have you noticed I can’t draw backgrounds? 😉

Alia: lol. You like to splatter paint and draw squiggles and stars?

But it’s actually pretty cool, I think. Some picture books can get too busy and I like how you focus in on what we need to see. In general, I love how your style is so simple but not really; it’s pretty complex. Just a few lines and a pop of color go a long way. You create really cool stories about relationships that are fun to look at. 🙂

Ben: Thanks Alia! Definitely some Mo Willems influence there for me. I like to focus on the characters and story and let the reader fill in the white space. To me this goes back to the question regarding the picture book format . . . less can often be more. That’s what I strive for! And the reader really does bring a lot to the book. It’s a collaboration. I’m not making the book alone.

Alia: Ah yeah I can see that! Definitely. It’s a conversation you’re sending out to people to continue.

Ben: And splatter paint is just too much fun! Also, as I can get somewhat tight when doing final art, it forces me to loosen up and go with it.

Alia: Oh man, it is! I just did a workshop with Hervé Tullet and one of the best parts was when he told us to lift the brush and DROP it on the paper. So fun!

Ben: I’m jealous! Hervé Tullet’s work is amazing! I’ve got to try that!

Alia: It really is! He’s so kind too and you should. It’s very freeing.

Q7. Would you rather have a dinosaur best friend who’s a master chef or a monster best friend who’s slightly better than you at basketball?

Ben: Haha! Tough one! This one requires some serious thought as both are great options. I think I’ve got to go with the monster best friend who is slightly better than me at basketball. I like a challenge! Even more than food! Which is saying something.

Alia: Yeah I agree this is a tough question, lol. Good choice though. You’d probably have more laughs with your monster best friend too (and maybe a few arguments).

Ben: Yes! I think so! Can you make this happen for me?

Alia: Umm I wasn’t expecting that question. Let me see who I can call…I’ll get back to you.

Ben: Figures! 😉

Alia: Haha! Okay Q8. I’m all about stories and characters that reflect our world. How do you feel about the push in the publishing industry to get more diverse characters, stories and authors out there?

Ben: I think it is hugely important! It has been great to see the increasing rhetoric and push to have more diverse books, authors, and industry people.

Alia: I think so too!

Ben: In addition to writing and illustrating books, I’ve been working as an editor-at-large for Sasquatch Books (their Little Bigfoot imprint) for about a year. We’ve had a number of conversations about this!

Alia: Oh wow.

Ben: And whenever I’m with fellow authors and illustrators it has come up a lot recently. We’ve all got to keep at it! Keep moving forward!

Alia: Definitely. It’s important for our children to see themselves in books and to learn about others (and each other). It’s how we build community. Books are important parts of development, yeah?

Ben: I was just trying to formulate something coherent along those lines!

Alia: Haha

Ben: Yes, way important! Books are such a great space for exploration!

Alia: Definitely. It’s the only space for exploration for some children.

Ben: True! For new topics and familiar ones and subjects that are uncomfortable.

Alia: Exactly. We need it all.

Ben: Yes.

AliaQ9. Seems like you’re pretty busy (yet amazingly organized). Any non kid-lit books you’re currently reading or strongly recommend?

Ben: Haha! There was a time I wouldn’t have had any recommendations outside kid-lit, but now I listen to a lot of books while illustrating. I’m big into science fiction and fantasy in particular. Recently I’ve been enjoying (?) or at least captivated by the Game of Thrones books. I’m finishing the fifth and will be impatiently awaiting the sixth and seventh. Haven’t watched any of the TV series yet! Red Rising series by Pierce Brown is gripping. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Brandon Sanderson lately.

Alia: Very cool. Oh man, I’m sure you’ll have strong feelings about the series. 🙂 I’m always meaning to listen to audio books but I never do…

Ben: I love audio books! I usually go through 2 or 3 books a week. It’s lovely!

Alia: I think I’m gonna have to try them soon.

Ben: But it has got to be the right voice actor. The wrong voice actor can totally ruin the experience.

Alia: Yeah I’ve heard that. There’s a science to it! Has to feel right.

ItCameIntheMail

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Ben Clanton

Q10. Your next book, It Came in the Mail, comes out June 21st (Yay!). Do you mind talking about it a bit? I’ve read it and it’s very sweet. Also what do you hope children take from it?

Ben: Thanks!! It Came in the Mail is particularly special to me. I’ve been working on that one for a long time. Since 2011 I believe. Might have even been 2010. I love mail! I love to get it and I love to send it! And I love the experience of opening a mailbox . . . there is always that ‘what if’ possibility. Perhaps there will be something special in the mailbox. Perhaps something extraordinary and life changing! I’m very good at coming up with elaborate daydreams involving mailboxes. It Came in the Mail is pretty much a love letter to mail! The story itself has evolved a lot since I first had the idea for it. My first take focused a lot on the dragon and became more or less about the pitfalls of having a dragon as a pet. Which was actually quite a fun take, but that wasn’t what I wanted the core of this book to be about. I wanted it to be about the mail and reciprocation. But I didn’t really have a specific message I was setting out to impart.

But I suppose what I hope is that children will be inspired by it to dream big dreams. And send mail! And, perhaps even pay it forward!

Alia: There’s something special about knowing that someone took the time to send you something, isn’t there? Waiting, anticipating or being surprised. I think children will enjoy it; there’s a lot packed in there for them to experience, learn and reflect on!

Ben: Thanks! I hope so!

TableSetsItself

Image Credit: Walker Childrens (Bloomsbury Publishing), Ben Clanton

Alia: You said that you’ve been working on It Came in the Mail for a while…and that you love mail. I think we can see that in your book The Table Sets Itself! It’s obvious that you lovingly spent time on those spreads with the postage stamps and envelopes and letters.

Ben: Haha! Yes! I have a feeling this won’t be the last time mail plays a big part in a book of mine. Even in Mo’s Mustache it all starts with receiving a package in the mail!

Alia: Oh yeah! “Huzzah!” He’s so cute (and frustrated). >_<

Ben: It can be tough being a little monster thing!

Alia: It really can. I’m sure your monster friend will tell you that during a game of pick up, lol.

Ben: Haha! He better not if he is beating me!

Alia: Haha! 🙂

You touched on it earlier and I’m wondering…(Q11.) Did you actually collect the old postcards & envelopes featured in It Came in the Mail and then draw on them?

Ben: Not all of them. Some of those were ones I found online free for commercial use, but many are ones I collected. I would frequent antique stores and thrift stores and seek them out. My wife’s grandmother has a treasure trove of old love letters sent in those classic airmail envelopes! And because of the history of the ephemera (and because drawing on them was a bit daunting) I actually drew on blank paper and scanned the images and combined them with the ephemera in Photoshop. Same for the burned paper in the book. Actually, I got in trouble with my wife over that. I work late and was inspired at two in the morning one night to burn the edges of paper for the dragon illustrations.

Apparently the smell of burned paper is enough to wake someone up in the other room! My bad!

Alia: Ah, I see. I guess that’s the cool thing about technology; you can use it to make so many great effects and art. I love those classic airmail envelopes! They’re lovely.

Haha well I’m glad you decided to do the burned paper. It adds something special to the story and design. I’m a night owl too so I understand completely.

Also, I like the bolder line you use in It Came in the Mail! It looks good and I feel like this book story-wise and art-wise is showing off how much you’ve grown as an author and illustrator.

Ben: Thanks! That is so good to hear! I feel like a bolder and more expressive line is working much better for me than my previous line work. With each new book I’m learning new things. Which can make it hard to look back at books I’ve done. So many things I feel I could do better now! But I suppose it will likely always be that way. Growing pains!

Alia: Yeah, we always look back and think about how we could’ve improved. But I think it looks great!

Q12. Is there any cool place in Seattle that you recommend and like to escape to to relax?

Ben: Seattle has a lot of great places! But I really love to be by the water. The Bainbridge Ferry or Vashon Ferry or really any of the ferry rides around here I find to be particularly relaxing and enjoyable. Great for being inspired too! Oh, and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream is pretty great. Grab some of that and head to the park. Maybe stop by Elliot Bay Books first or University Book Store.

 

 

Thanks Ben for taking time to chat with me! It was fun and I wish you the best of luck with promotions for It Came in the Mail! I can’t wait to see it on bookshelves! 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about Ben Clanton, check out his:

Website, http://www.benclanton.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Clantoons

Twitter, https://twitter.com/Clantoons

 

 

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The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

 

Happy Black History Month!

Please use this concentrated acknowledgment of BLACK EXCELLENCE to learn something new and keep it with you throughout the year.

I’ll be reviewing quite a few books for Black History Month this year so I hope you’ll enjoy my posts!

TheBookItch

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

The Book Itch was recently awarded the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honor and for good reason. Not only are the illustrations cool but the content!! The content is gloriously heavy. It’s inspirational and thought provoking. This is a unique book.

The story is told by the son of Lewis H. Micheaux, the founder & owner of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. “Louie” as his father calls him, takes us back to 1960s Harlem, explains the significance of the bookstore and tells a story that honors his father’s brilliance and determination. The bookstore is more than a bookstore, it’s a gathering place, a refuge, and space for knowledge and politics. All types of people visit, even Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X! We get to experience Louie’s sheer amazement and adoration when he meets such powerful Black figures of the time.

I love Lewis H. Micheaux’s way with words. His catch-phrases and poetic slogans are catchy and real. “Don’t get took! Read a book!” encourages young people of color to educate themselves through reading; a message as important today as it was in 1960s America! He constantly encourages his son to read and learn so that he can sort out the truth of the world. This book doesn’t shy away from discussing civil rights and racial issues; the bookstore often hosts rallies and Micheaux jokes “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” The later half of the story explores Micheaux’s close friendship with Malcolm X. As the reader finishes the book, he/she is left thinking about the power of words and are reminded that some are willing to die for freedom.

TheBookItch2

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie’s paintings are excellent at creating place and mood. He places the reader directly in Harlem, on its streets and in the bookstore with its large collection of books knowledge. He draws long lanky bodies again like he did in Freedom in Congo Square but this time he focuses on detailed faces and expressions. His palette is dark and earthy and suits the story.

Please take time to read and discuss this book! The last few pages tell more about Lewis H. Michaeux’s life and there’s a great Author’s Note. I’m so grateful that Vaunda Micheaux Nelson created this book to share her great-uncle’s story; it’s a moment of Black History that I didn’t know about. The Book Itch is one of the strongest non-fiction historical books for children to come out in 2015. Oh the power of books…and words.

 

P.S. I love endpapers and this book has GREAT ones! Check out some of Micheaux’s “poetry” 🙂

 

Malcolm X delivering a speech outside of one his favorite places, The National Memorial African Bookstore, in 1961.

 

Recommended for: 2nd-3rd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Discussion, 1960s America, Community, Black Bookstores, Family, Relationships, Friendship, Harlem, Lewis H. Micheaux, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Non-Fiction, Power of Words, Social Issues, The National Memorial African Bookstore, Determination, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2015 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780761339434

Too Many Mangos

TooManyMangos

Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Hawaiian Author. Hawaiian Illustrator. Hawaiian Press. Woooo Boy! What a beautiful thing to see a completely Hawaiian product come to fruition and be shared with the world. This little book made it to my library system in Ohio and I’m glad. ❤

Too Many Mangos is gorgeous. Just look at the illustrations! Kama and his little sister Nani learn the power of kindness and sharing. Whenever they visit their grandpa’s house, they like to climb the big mango tree in the back. Grandpa tells them to pick the ripe ones and hand them down to him. There are just too many mangos for them to eat alone so he sends them to the neighbors to share. Kama and Nani head out with a wagon full of lovely mangoes and at every house, they’re given a gift in exchange for the mangos! Aunty Pua gives them fresh banana macadamia nut muffins, their friends Momi and Kawai give them golden papayas and on and on. When they finally get home, grandpa prepares a feast with all their “mahalo (thank you) gifts.” Sharing can be very sweet.

TooManyMangos2

Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Robinson’s illustrations are GORGEOUS. Look at those soft pastel colors and how beautifully he blends them. His human figures are chubby and remind me of Peanuts characters. While reading this book, you’ll feel like you’re on the island in the warm sun. This is a feel good story in both content and the brightness of the illustrations. Hope you have a copy of Too Many Mangos near you so you can enjoy this delightful book! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Sharing, Kindness, Relationships, Food Culture, Hawaiian Food, Hawaii, Cultural Diversity, Family, Friends, We Need Diverse Books, Ripe Mangos, Love, Grandfathers, Grandfathers-Grandchildren
Book Info: Too Many Mangos by Tammy Paikai/Illustrated by Don Robinson, 2009 Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), ISBN: 9781597007580

 

 

 

A Chat With Duncan Tonatiuh

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 Salsa here.

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…

 

AliaQ1. 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?

Alia: 🙂

Duncan: No problem.

AliaQ2. 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.

AliaQ3. 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.

Duncan: Thanks!

Alia: No problem!

DuncanTonatiuhInterview2

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. 🙂

Duncan: lol

AliaQ5. 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! 🙂

Duncan: 🙂

AliaQ6. 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!

Duncan: lol

Alia: Yeah my students were cute.

DuncanSalsa1

Image Credit: Salsa, Groundwood Books, Duncan Tonatiuh

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!

AliaSide 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!

Be sure to check out his:

Website, http://www.duncantonatiuh.com/

Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/DuncanTonatiuharte/?fref=ts

Blog, https://duncantonatiuh.wordpress.com/ 


 

Thanks for reading! ❤

Joelito’s Big Decision

Joelito'sBigDecision

Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

This book discusses making change and social justice in an easy way for children to understand. They can connect to Joelito, his friend and his struggle to make a big decision. It’ll get your children thinking about what they can do to improve our world and to ensure that everyone makes a living wage.

In Joelito’s Big Decision, Joelito wakes up Friday morning thinking about his family’s weekly trip to MacMann’s for burgers! At school, when his sister’s best friend’s backpack is stolen, he makes a comment that she can just go buy another one; he doesn’t get that his family is economically in a better place than his friend’s. Excited to finally get his burger, his family heads to MacMann’s but there are a lot of people standing outside with signs and no one’s eating. A big protest is happening because MacMann’s pays low wages and the workers can’t live on what they make. Turns out his best friend Brandon’s mom and dad work there and they’re a part of the strike too! When Brandon invites Joelito to join the strike, Joelito is hesitant (he wants to sit and eat his burger!) and he has to decide what is most important to him.

JoelitosDecision2

Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

Joelito has to step outside his comfort zone. Until he encounters the strike, he doesn’t really notice that his friend’s family is struggling to make ends meet. Things become personal for him and he empathizes. Sometimes, something as simple as giving up a favorite treat can show how much you care for someone…and for a cause.

Daniel Camacho’s illustrations are very cool. I like the raw sketchy quality of the color pencil, his use of color, and the large, chunky bodies and hands of his figures. His illustrations suit the story very well. An extra treat to this book is that it’s bi-lingual (English & Spanish) and this duality will make it accessible to more children, which is excellent and needed.

I really recommend this book for discussion and learning. Teachers, look at this page from Hard Ball Press for ideas on how to use this book in the classroom!

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Social Justice, Social Issues, Friendship, Change, Economic Inequality, Empathy, Family, Immigrants, Latin-American, Low Wages, Moving, Perspective, Poverty, Relationships, Spanish Language, Struggles, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity
Book Info: Joelito’s Big Decision by Ann Berlak/Illustrated by Daniel Camacho/Translated by José Antonio Galloso, 2015 Hard Ball Press, ISBN: 9780986240096

 

My Seneca Village

MySenecaVillage

Image Credit: Namelos, Marilyn Nelson

 

My Seneca Village is a mighty work. Marilyn Nelson, as she describes in the introduction, connected to the people of Seneca Village while spending years researching the community and this is very evident in how heartfelt and moving this collection of poems is. Seneca Village was a community in New York City located where Central Park now is. It was a community of mostly African American families, with Irish, German, Jewish and some Native Amerian residents. It existed from 1825 to 1857; in 1857 all residents were forced to move out by the city in order to build the park. With this forced removal came the end of a rich, vibrant and thriving community.

What My Seneca Village does so beautifully is bring Seneca Village back to life. Through original poems, Nelson honors and creates a voice for its residents. We learn their stories, we see young dreamers, young love, life, death, gossips, mischievous children, racism and strength. Some of the residents we meet are real people who lived in Seneca Village, others are fiction and we also meet huge historical figures, like Frederick Douglass, who stop through the village to give moving speeches. It’s hard to narrow this book into one category because it does so much. Nelson’s poetry is powerful. One of my favorite stanzas is from the village’s Reverend Rush during an anti-abolition riot:

 

                                      “I asked everyone to bow their heads and pray.

                                        Pray for this nation’s struggle to be free

                                        for ALL Americans. Equality

                                        must be bitter, if you’ve always been on top,

                                        and you’re slapped awake out of a lifelong sleep.

                                        Pray we’ll pull together toward a common hope.”

 

Over a hundred years later and we’re still struggling for the same thing. I’m glad for this story. I’m glad to know about Seneca Village, I’m glad that this novel is being read nationwide and I encourage you to read this book and travel to Seneca Village.

 

P.S. Just wanted to note how nice this book is. Namelos is a small publisher and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book with such nicely inked letters.

Also, here’s an interesting NPR article about the play The People Before the Park.

 

Recommended for: 12 and up
Great for: Poetry, Everyday Life, Community, History, Seneca Village, American History, African American, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Racism, Family, Love, Friendship, Relationships, New York, Eminent Domain, Injustice, Central Park
Book Info: My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson, 2015 Namelos, ISBN: 9781608981960

My Two Blankets for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

MCBookDay-white-2

Woo Hoo! 😉

 

MyTwoBlankets

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Irena Kobald/Freya Blackwood

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th) is a beautiful effort to share the love of multicultural books! I have the pleasure of participating this year. Thank you to MCCBD and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a copy of the book My Two Blankets!

My Two Blankets discusses the struggles that immigrant children may face when leaving their home and making a new one. In recent years, there have been more and more picture books that discuss this topic and it’s encouraging to see. It’s important to think about the experiences of others and picture books have the power of bringing a whole new world of understanding to children! It’s also important for these children to know that their stories matter. 

The story opens with Cartwheel playing happily in her village in Sudan, but soon war comes and she moves to another country (possibly Australia) with her Auntie. Everything is strange and jarring for her; the people, the food, and especially the language! She’s frustrated by her confusion and she feels like she’s losing her identity. At home, she’s able to soothe herself under a “blanket” of familiar words and sounds. One day, she meets a girl in a park who talks strangely, like everyone else, but her kindness draws her in. The girl teaches Cartwheel her language, a little at a time, and their friendship blossoms. She begins to feel more confident, a new blanket growing alongside her old one.

MyTwoBlankets2

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Irena Kobald/Freya Blackwood

I enjoyed this book very much, but I do have one very important suggestion for how the story can be improved. Cultural exchange is crucial for creating a better, multicultural world. Readers don’t get to see Cartwheel share her original blanket (her culture, stories and WORDS) with her friend. We only see the friend teach Cartwheel her language and not the other way around. The additional imagery of a blended blanket, red and blue, with her friend having a similar blanket, would’ve been powerful. Cartwheel teaches her friend how to do cartwheels, but I hoped to see much more! I encourage families and teachers to think about this while reading the book and maybe it will spark healthy discussion!

The illustrations in My Two Blankets are beautiful. I enjoy Blackwood’s style; the wiggly, sketchy lines around the oil and watercolor paints create a feeling of movement and energy. The contrasting reds and blues make the images stand out and she is excellent at depicting soft expressions. I love how she uses symbols to represent words that float in the air, are held by the girls and absorbed by Cartwheel.

 

Please take time to read this book, discuss the story, and enjoy the illustrations. Touching back on the importance of cultural exchange, below is a video recipe for Sudanese Blended Okra Meat Stew or Bahmia Mafrook! Maybe this is something Cartwheel ate in Sudan and continued to make with Auntie in her new home. It’s also a dish she could’ve shared with her new friend. I hope your family will try it and enjoy! 🙂

Ah, it looks so tasty!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Immigration, Diversity, Relationships, Frustration, Struggles, Struggle With Identity, Inner-Strength, Support, We Need Diverse Books, Family, Discussion, Sudan, Australia
Book Info: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald/Illustrated by Freya Blackwood, 2014 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544432284

 


 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD)

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Our Mission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Founders: The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

Sponsor Info

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors!

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press,* Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers T

Tuttle PublishingNY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China Institute.org*Live Oak Media

Co-Hosts

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 11 amazing Co-Hosts and you can read more about them here.

Furthermore, here are the links to the co-hosts’ individual sites: All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share, The Educators’ Spin on it, Growing Book by Book, Imagination SoupI’m Not the NannyInCulture ParentKid World Citizen, Mama Smiles, Multicultural Kid Blogs, and Spanish Playground.

Classroom Reading Challenge!

Attention Teachers! Check out this awesome opportunity to earn a FREE hardcover multicultural children’s book for your classroom. Follow this link to the MCCBD website for more information. Also, click here for a free MCCBD poster for your classroom!

 

A Chat with Daniel Miyares

I first discovered Float sitting on the new books table of my bookstore. You see, I had a ritual of familiarizing myself with the new crop every Tuesday; excited to find a new favorite. I picked up the small gray book, took some time to flip through the pages…and kept the story with me.

When I started my blog, I knew I had to review it. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Daniel Miyares a bit and he was kind enough to let me interview him. Really, it turned into a great conversation. Hope you enjoy our chat.

 

Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?

Daniel: Ummmm…introvert, unorganized (or as I like to say intuitive), heartfelt.

Alia: I’m introverted too! Yay for introverts! 🙂

Daniel: Yay! Let’s get together and feel anxious.

Alia: Q2. I know you’re married with kids. Has your family given you any ideas/inspiration for projects?

Daniel: YES, absolutely my family gives me inspiration everyday. I am married. My wife’s name is Lisa and we have two little children together. I always like to say my best story ideas come from some sort of anxiety or character flaw that I have. Couple that with the fact that children and marriage can be some of the most honest mirrors you’ll ever come across and you’ve got a free flowing fount of possible story fodder.

I do see a lot of my children’s way of looking at and experiencing the world make it into my stories. Not just the innocence, but the honesty of their emotions. I see the ups and downs of Float almost everyday in my house in one way or another. It’s true and sweet.

AliaQ3. My dad was an artist, so I grew up surrounded by art. Do you have artists in your family? Have you noticed your children taking a strong interest in art?

Daniel: My dad took a few art classes in college I believe, but he never pursued it. My daughter really loves art. She’s always got a project going. I can count on her to sit with me if I need a painting buddy. It’s fun to talk art and design with her. It’s like I have some inside track on all the stuff that hasn’t been “taught” out of her. She frequently schools me on color. My colors are never sparkly enough for her. 🙂

Alia: Cool! Yeah I agree with her. I love sparkly but then there has to be balance. I’ve also noticed that children often have insight that we are too old and too “trained” to have.

Daniel: So right! That’s why I feel like I’m continuing to learn about my own books. The more I share them with children the more insight I walk away with.

Alia: Kids are pretty sweet. I learned a lot from my students when I was a teacher.

Daniel: I bet you did! What did you teach?

Alia: I taught Elementary school English in Korea for four years.

Daniel: That’s so wonderful. I’m sure you’ve got stories. I should interview you about that!

Alia: Haha. Oh yeah I have a lot. It’s all kinda a blur of dirty noses, screaming kids and lots of laughs.

Q4. I love the paintings you post on Instagram and Facebook. Are you a paper margin doodler?

Daniel: I am a margin doodler, an over the important information doodler, an on my desk and chair doodler. It’s kind of an obsession. Thank God someone invented Instagram. Now I have a place to put all those random scribbles. Actually it’s been freeing to post things without much editing. I can get pretty calculated when it comes to making art and I need to be reminded to loosen up and not worry about it so much.

Alia: It must be nice to just make art for arts sake when it’s your JOB to make art. Just put it out there and go!

Daniel: It is nice to just make art without a big agenda. It also reminds me of the things I love about making pictures.

AliaQ5. Okay big question. Why do you make picture books? What do YOU get out of it?

Daniel: Okay this is a biggie. Picture books kind of found me. I had always loved drawing and painting, as well as secretly writing poetry, but I never dreamed of making picture books. A friend introduced me to my artist rep and through working with them I realized that the things I love about making illustrations and telling stories could be really meaningful in picture books. I suppose what I get out of it is the sense that I’m using more of the whole of my creative self on a project. For me there is an emotional cycle to the process of making a book- the passion and uncertainty of conceiving an idea, the anxiety of pitching/selling it, the craft and focus of making it, all ending with the joy of sharing it with so many people. It’s a roller coaster and I feel in love with it.

Alia: Ah what a great answer. I love it! 🙂

Daniel: Great question!

Alia: Thanks!

Q6. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB&J? lol

Daniel: Grape. Absolutely, Grape. Smuckers if it’s on the shelf, but the generic store brand works too. Every now and again I do make a monster PB&J. You know the one with the extra piece of bread in the middle?

Alia: Classic. Good choice. But I’m more about Welch’s Grape. I’ve never done a monster PB&J and now I’m wondering why I haven’t. Haha

Daniel: Me too!

Alia: I guess I have to try it now!

FloatDounpour

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Daniel Miyares

Q7. Where did Float‘s story grow out of? The book-making process can be quite long. Can you remember any big or tough edits you made to the story or design of Float?

Daniel: I was on a plane flying home from my Aunt’s funeral. It had been raining so I did a drawing of a little boy floating a paper boat in a puddle. I wondered what happened before that moment and drew that. Then I wondered what happened after that moment and drew that. I went on like this until I found the beginning and end of the story. The book making process is quite long and requires you to stay focused on what’s best for the story throughout. That’s how I know I’m working with good collaborators- if they honestly critique with that lens. Hurdle one for me with Float was should it have words or not. It seemed like a strong visual narrative that took you to all the emotional places necessary without words, but I wasn’t sure. I tried a whole string of variations on the manuscript, but none of it seemed to say anything that the pictures weren’t. My editor Kristin Ostby at S&S was great about helping to weigh and measure that. At one point I wrote a sound poem for the story. I’d still like to do something with it someday. I’m actually thinking of trying to do some readings of Float in the music rooms of elementary schools instead of a regular class. I figured the children could help tell the story with the instruments. Kind of a rainy day orchestra! Another hurdle or edit was how to get all the emotional beats into the story in an interesting way. Panels seemed like a logical way to pace things out and reveal information as the reader needed it. It was just another layer of design that became really important once I got into building the book.

Alia: Doing readings of Float in music rooms sounds awesome! I can see kids really getting into that.

Daniel: Yeah I’d like to give the instruments a try.

AliaQ8. I read Float as a story about imagination and delight in play. What were your favorite imagination activities or games as a child?

Daniel: My favorites were drawing, building forts or hideouts, exploring the woods, playing in the creek near my house. The spaces weren’t that big, but they seemed like whole different worlds. I don’t know how many makeshift boats and action figures met their end in that creek.

Alia: Me too. I grew up in the city but I loved making forts out of sheets in my room. Crawl inside and…read books.

Daniel: Those little hiding spots were the best.

Alia: Yup!

Q9. Do you like origami? Origami used to be MY THING so I enjoyed the paper-folding element of Float very much.

Daniel: I do. I’ve worked at Hallmark Cards as an artist for the past twelve years. I’ve gotten to make a lot of things out of paper in that time. It has always amazed me how just a blank piece of paper can take on a life of its own.

Alia: Well that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about card artists. There are so many well designed and unique cards out there.

PardonMe

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Daniel Miyares

Q10. While preparing for this discussion, I realized that Pardon Me is your book and I got really happy because I think that book is a little dark and very hilarious. Can you share some background on that book?

Daniel: Absolutely, remember what I said about starting with an anxiety or character flaw for a story idea? That’s how Pardon Me! started. I’m introverted so I like to have my alone time and think space. With a family I’m often scheming of ways to find those quiet moments. So I imagined the little bird as me. I can try to cling to what I think is right, fair and deserved even to my detriment. In short, I just took a look at what was making my blood boil and I wrote it down. I just had to substitute interruptions with animals.

Alia:  Ohhh, I see and I totally understand! Very cool. I’m imagining the animals as your family now!

Q11. What are you thoughts about efforts like We Need Diverse Books and the general push for diversity in publishing and literature?

Daniel: It’s so critical that children have access to books that celebrate a wide range of cultures and experiences. I see it either challenging and expanding what they know about the world or affirming who they are. I feel like I as an individual can choose to invest in projects that help to do that, but I have to tell stories that lean into my point of view. I have very specific memories from growing up where I read a book or a poem and it churned something up inside of me. It widened my gaze in a way that I never would have on my own. That gives me hope that if talented authors and artists from all different ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations continue to lean into their experiences to craft meaningful stories, then there will be those kinds of transformative intersections. Of course it’s important for that focus on diversity to be present at all points of the book making process-all the way to a child having the book in hand. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful book champions who strive to do just that.

Alia: When I think back to books that shaped me growing up, they’re all kinds of books but I definitely connected to seeing little girls who looked like me.

Daniel: Sure, we all want to feel like we belong and are understood.

Alia: Q12. I think I read that you’re from South Carolina? Serious question…Do you like grits?

Daniel: Oh my, yes I do love grits. I was raised on them and biscuits. One of my favorite breakfast foods.

Alia: Yes! Okay, even more important question. How do you like them? Butter? Salt? Cheese? I love biscuits too. My grandma made great ones.

Daniel: I used to take a serving of grits and put scrambled eggs, butter and bacon in them then cover it with cheese.

Alia: OMG…

Daniel: I know…gross.

Alia: Hahaha. We cook ours with butter in the water, add a little salt and I like a side of scrambled eggs too. Sometimes I add cheese.

Daniel: This is all making me really hungry. I would’ve eaten just fine at your house.

Alia: Haha. Yes. My family is from Alabama and Mississippi so I grew up with good Southern Cooking.

Q13. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your next two books Surf’s Up and Bring Me a Rock!?

Daniel: I don’t mind at all. Surf’s Up is a collaboration with the amazing Kwame Alexander. He wrote it and I illustrated. It’s the story of two frog friends, Bro and Dude. Bro just wants to read his book and Dude just wants to get to the beach. It’s really a celebration of the power of reading and imagination. Kwame’s dialogue is fantastic. It is releasing Feb. 1st. Bring Me A Rock! is my next book with Simon & Schuster. I’m the author and illustrator on this one. In it a megalomaniac insect king demands that all of his loyal subjects bring him a rock. He’s going to build a majestic pedestal fit for a king. It’s about how his kingly plans don’t go as expected and how the day is ultimately saved by the most unexpected hero. It’s out June 7th.

Alia: They both sound really cool. I’m looking forward to both! I love the names Bro and Dude haha. That’s awesome.

Daniel: I know! When I read it with my kids we crack up so hard. They call each other Bro and Dude for the rest of the night.

Alia: I feel like teachers are going to enjoy reading that one aloud with their students!

Q14. ALA Midwinter Conference is underway and the Caldecott Medal winner will be announced on Monday. You already know I’m rooting for you…How do you feel about all the love you’re getting for Float?

Daniel: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine so much love being poured out on Float. You know when you’re making a book you do your best to craft the best story experience you can, but once it’s released it takes on a life of it’s own. I’ve been overwhelmed by all the kind and generous people I’ve gotten to meet along the way such as yourself! It’s given me a more well rounded view of the book community. I’m in awe.

Alia: I honestly think that when a book gets love like Float is getting, it’s partially a reflection of the author’s spirit because you put so much of yourself into every aspect of the book. Float has kinda flown under the radar and into people’s hearts because it’s that good. 🙂

So thank you for sharing stories.

Daniel: Alia, I appreciate all the support you’ve given to me and Float. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share them.

Alia: Of course! Okay final question!

Q15. Are you a fan of BBQ and if so, what’s your favorite place in Kansas City?

Daniel: I’m required to be a fan of BBQ if I live in KC. It’s in the contract. There are so many places to go if you’re coming this way, but by far my favorite is a place called Joe’s KC. It used to be called Oklahoma Joe’s. It’s in a gas station and it’s worth the wait every time.

 

I want to thank Daniel Miyares once again for taking time to talk with me. It was a fun chat and I wish you and Float THE BEST on Monday for the ALA Youth Media Awards!

Be sure to check out his:

Website, http://www.danielmiyares.com/ and Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/danielmiyaresdoodles/

Thanks for reading! ❤

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

DrownedCity

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown


Drowned City
is a tough but very important read. The graphic novel element makes this story accessible to reluctant readers and Brown does a great job of recounting and documenting this part of history. It’s easy to pick up the book and learn the history, facts, heroism and the incompetency. The writing of Drowned City reads like an extended newspaper article; fact after fact with the addition of speech bubbles. The moments of dialogue help connect readers to the tragic events and the people who suffered through them.

As I read the book, I’d stare at the words and then the illustrations and I’d shake my head, memories of television news reports coming back to me. Brown’s illustrations are powerful. He uses a palette of of browns, blues, grays and purples to depict the stagnant water, stormy skies, and hopeless expressions of the people of New Orleans.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Don Brown

One criticism I have of this book is that in the summary, Brown writes “The suffering hit the African American community hardest; a weather disaster became a race disaster” but he never addresses this in the book. Brown skin is visually noticeable in the illustrations but he doesn’t discuss the issue of race in the lack of response to the hurricane victims, or even acknowledge that most of the victims were African American. This is something I’d encourage parents and teachers to discuss.

Published in 2015, just in time for the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City is a worthy and moving read that will provoke much discussion in your home or classroom. This book can be even more powerful when used in conjunction with real life accounts and stories from the victims themselves. A while back I compiled a group of excellent books about Hurricane Katrina for a display at my bookstore. Check out my post here for those books and be sure to pick up a copy of this graphic novel.

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: History, Modern History, Hope, Community, Determination, Discrimination, Discussion, Economic Inequality, Incompetency, Hurricane Katrina, Inner Strength, Lack of Leadership, Leadership, Social Issues, Struggle, We Need Diverse Books, Non-Fiction, African American
Book Info: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544157774

Freedom in Congo Square

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033