Going For It: Q&A with Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit. When I found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization, I wanted to find out more about her experience in the program and how it affected her work. Alcántara worked with the illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores (who has also participated in a Latina Illustrators post) as her mentor and recently announced her second book deal. She will illustrate the book Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, which will be released by Candlewick Books in 2019. She will also illustrate The Field by Baptiste Paul, which is scheduled to release with NorthSouth Books in Spring 2018.

How did you hear about the WNDB mentorship and what made you decide to apply?

A friend/illustrator in my critique group forwarded me the email announcing the mentorship. He knew my work included a lot of diverse characters and knew that my interests were in pursuing projects that featured diverse main characters, so thankfully, he assumed I would be a good fit! At that time, I knew that I needed someone to help guide me, give me feedback on my work, grow my network, and help me build confidence. I wasn’t sure if that would be a friend, agent, editor, or mentor but was doing everything I could to find relationships like that. I decided to apply because it was honestly exactly what I was looking for!

What has been the best part about working with your WNDB mentor?

I think the best part of a mentor/mentee relationship is that there’s no other reason you are working together, other than to improve your work and career. Relationships with other people in the industry, i.e. agents, editors, fellow illustrators, etc are wonderful and critical as well, but there are quickly a lot of other factors those people can be thinking about in addition to your work when giving you advice or suggestions. Conversations with my mentor helped not only to allow me to see a path for myself within the industry, but also to see my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Carolyn is brutally honest, which I love. She has really wonderful instincts and fantastic advice. I believe a lot in instincts and trusting my gut, but working alone and pursing this dream can become really difficult. Carolyn is always reminding me to trust my instincts and to have fun! So I built up a lot of confidence in myself relatively quickly once we started working together. Not only confidence in my actual illustrations, but in goals, ideas, and direction of my career. I also felt a pressure to succeed, now that I had not only Carolyn, but WNDB holding me accountable! When you work for yourself, there is no one to push you or hold you accountable, so it requires a lot of self confidence and motivation. The boost I got from WNDB was great for that, but I also knew I finally had the resources to make it happen!

The next best part of working with my mentor was that fact that Carolyn introduced me to Adriana Domínguez at last winter’s SCBWI conference. Adriana and I continued talking for months after that and I ultimately signed with her and Full Circle Literary over the summer. That was the best possible outcome from the mentorship, and it actually happened! Relatively soon after working with Adriana, I got my first picture book offer. I’m very happy to share that I’m now working on 2 books, one with North South and the second with Candlewick. The first will be released in 2018, and the second in 2019.  I cannot wait for them to come out!

What other artists and writers do you consider your greatest influences (kidlit or not)?

In the kid lit world, my greatest influences are Chris Raschka, Patricia Pollacco, Chris Van Allsburg, and Kadir Nelson. As for traditional artists I’m a bit cliche; Picasso, Matisse, and Redon are some top favorites. Picasso’s sketchbooks are a constant source of inspiration for me. Redon and Matisse, I love their use of color and the imagination they brought into their work. I’ve also been in love with Japanese Ukiyo-e art since I was young. I think a lot of my energy and inspiration also comes from music. I have music on constantly in my studio, different genres depending on what I’m doing, but there’s a lot of electronic, disco/soul, hip hop. My favorite writer (currently) is Neil Gaiman.

You were a high school art teacher at one point. Do you think your students influenced your work, and if so, how?

I taught high school art for a short time before school funding was cut significantly in Illinois. Our department (along with many art departments state-wide) saw massive cuts, so I took the opportunity to push my own artistic career. I will always be influenced by my time teaching (I hope to still have teaching opportunities in the future) and the students I had! Remembering a personality, hairstyle, attitude, or name for character can be inspiration—or remembering a conversation or story a student shared about their life. I left teaching wanting to be a successful working artist, but I also wanted to do work that would directly influence, inspire, and speak to children.

What advice would you give other Latinx artists who might want to apply for the WNDB program?

Be open to everything. Participating in this program has led to so many other relationships and opportunities, and has launched my career. WNDB has really opened the door for a lot of people, beyond those who have received mentorships or grants. They are bringing the issue to the forefront of the industry, and editors and agents are definitely listening and searching for new diverse talented writers and illustrators. It’s been so encouraging. It’s an industry that can seem daunting and a job that seems too good to be true. It takes a lot of patience and time, but it’s really important work, so if you are thinking of pursuing it,  get involved ASAP! It’s much more fun to do with a network of people around you, and SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), WNDB and others are all fantastic ways to do so.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Reviews: Juana & Lucas, Rudas: Niños Horrendous Hermanitas, and Un Elefante: Numbers/Numeros

 

Reviewed by Becky Villareal

JUANA & LUCAS: Winner of the 2017 Pura Belpré Narrative Award

Juana and Lucas CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Juana loves many things — drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her dog, Lucas, the best amigo ever. She does not love wearing her itchy school uniform, solving math problems, or going to dance class. And she especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that makes so little sense? But when Juana’s abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning—one that Juana will need to speak English to go on—Juana begins to wonder whether learning the English might be a good use of her time after all. Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones — the hearts — of readers everywhere in her first adventure, presented by namesake Juana Medina.

MY TWO CENTSJuana & Lucas by Juana Medina is a colorful adventure through the life of young Juana as she learns to speak and read “The English.” Juana Medina sprinkles cognates throughout the book using them to their full potential. Since they are placed strategically, it does help with the understanding of most of the passages. Also, the manner in which she uses the position of the words to express emotion is engaging and reminiscent of comics.

Illustration is Ms. Medina’s strength. The pictures are drawn beautifully and meticulously detailed. Her use of brainstorming to list the characteristics is familiar to school age students and helps carry the story along.

As Juana learns more English and she is able to help others with her new linguistic skills, she gains an understanding of the importance of being multi-lingual.

As a teacher, I would recommend this book as a read aloud for a class of students who are working on second language acquisition.

For a look inside author-illustrator Juana Medina’s studio, check out this post.

img_4567ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Juana was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where she grew up; getting in a lot of trouble for drawing cartoons of her teachers. Eventually, all that drawing (and trouble) paid off. Juana studied at the Rhode Island School of Design – RISD (where she has also taught). And she has done illustration & animation work for clients in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. She now lives in Washington, D.C., where she teaches at George Washington University.

 

 

 

RUDAS: NIÑO’S HORRENDOUS HERMANITAS

Rudas CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Señoras y señores, niños y niñas, the time has come to welcome the spectacular, two-of-a-kind . . . LAS HERMANITAS! No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Las Hermanitas, Lucha Queens! Their Poopy Bomb Blowout will knock em’ down! Their Tag-Team Teething will gnaw opponents down to a pulp! Their Pampered Plunder Diversion will fell even the most determined competitor! But what happens when Niño comes after them with a move of his own? Watch the tables turn in this wild, exciting wrestling adventure from Caldecott Honor author Yuyi Morales.

MY TWO CENTS: Rudas: Niños Horrendous Hermanitas by Yuyi Morales is a wonderful addition to the world of Niño, the older brother of two twin sisters.

In this energetic children’s book, Niño has to deal with the misadventures of his sisters beginning with stinky diapers to horrendous crying fits.  All of which he does with as much patience as possible by enlisting the help of his imaginary wrestling adversaries.

Written with a commentary of a wrestling match, it may be a bit hard for someone to follow who is not familiar with this particular genre.  However, I found the book itself to be very entertaining as well as humorous as Niño has to deal with the repercussions of being an older brother.

This would be an excellent read for second language acquisition students.  For children who are learning the language, the author has included English definitions and illustrations in the book itself.  The illustrations are colorful and carry the reader along in this very busy day.

I would highly recommend this book for an early childhood classroom library.

For more about Yuyi Morales’s previous books abour Niño, check these out:

Guest Post: ¡Qué Vivan los Niños Luchadores!

Book Review: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yuyi Morales is a Mexican author, illustrator, artist, and puppet maker. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Physical Education from the University of Xalapa, México and used to host her own Spanish-language radio program for children in San Francisco, California.She has won numerous awards for her children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor for Viva Frida, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award for Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), the Pura Belpré Author Honor for Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009), the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Viva Frida (2015), Niño Wrestles the World (2014) Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (2004), Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (2009) and Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2008), and Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for My Abuelita (2010) and Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (2004). Morales divides her time between the San Francisco area and Veracruz, Mexico. Her next picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. (written by Sherman Alexie), will be published in May 2016.

 

UN ELEFANTE: NUMBERS / NUMEROS

Reviewed by Ruby Jones

31686520DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Inspired by one of the most beloved nursery rhymes in Latin America, “Un Elefante se Balanceaba,” this book will introduce little ones to numbers and their first English and Spanish words.

MY TWO CENTS: I grew up with my mother reciting the “Un Elefante se Balanceaba” nursery rhyme to me and my siblings so this simple bilingual counting board book is a fun and bright new way to teach counting to my little one.

Each page, as we progress in counting from 1 to 10 elefantes, brings a new, beautifully-illustrated, circus-talented elephant onto the spider web. The numbers are big and vibrant on each page with the number of elephants written beneath in both English and Spanish.

One thing to keep in mind is that this book is inspired by the nursery rhyme so there is no real story line except at the end where the spider web gives way. The book did make me wish that the whole rhyme was written out somewhere in the book, maybe on a final page, for those who may not be familiar with the nursery rhyme. That being said, the artwork is such that there is plenty to talk and engage with little ones about.

TEACHING TIPS: Other than the obvious bilingual number counting, educators can cover action words, discussing what each elephant is doing. Additionally, colors and simple shapes can be reviewed. Maybe even a fun balancing game can be played!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Patty Rodriguez: Unable to find bilingual first concept books she could enjoy reading to her baby, Patty came up with the idea behind Lil’ Libros. Patty and her work have been featured in the LA Times, Rolling Stone, CNN Latino, Latina Magazine, Cosmopolitan, People En Espanol, Cosmo Latina, and American Latino TV, to name a few! Patty is currently Sr. Producer for On Air With Ryan Seacrest|iHeartMedia, jewelry designer for MALA by Patty Rodriguez, and creator of Manolos And Tacos.

 

 

Ariana Stein: Ariana Stein, a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. Ariana spent the first 8 years of her professional career in the corporate world. Her life changed with the birth of her baby boy. She immediately realized that bilingualism played a very important role in his future, as well as the future of other children.

The publishers of Un Elefante, Lil’ Libros, have a series of other books that are also based off of Latinx cultural themes. See a short video here:

 

 
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS:
Displaying Headshot.jpgBecky Villareal, a retired teacher, loves working on family history and spending time with her grandchildren.  She has published three children’s books, Gianna the Great, Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues, and Snake Holes.  Her fourth book, The Broken Branches, will makes its debut in 2018.
 
 
 
 

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 Ruby Jones has been working in public libraries since 2007 in various capacities, including Adult & Teen Services technician and webmaster at her current library.  She currently lives in Maine with her husband and precocious 2 year old. She continually strives to impart a passion and a sense of fearlessness toward technology, reading and learning for all ages.

¡Felicidades! to the 2017 ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honor Books

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Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who were honored at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference! The Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Award went to Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. It’s a heartfelt and vibrant picture book biography about the childhood and life of Puerto Rican-Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The newest Pura Belpré Awards went to Juana Medina for her book Juana and Lucas and Raúl the Third for his illustrations in Lowriders: to the Center of the Earth.

Click here for an inside look at Juana Medina’s studio.

And click here for more information about Juana, the author-illustrator.

But, wait…there’s more….

Click here for a review of the first Lowriders book.

And click here for a super-cool audio interview of Raúl by author-illustrator Robert Trujillo.

Here are the winners and honor books by/for/about Latinxs. Click on the covers for more information:

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children and the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award went to:

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Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:

Winner:

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Honor book:

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Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.

Winner:

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Honor Books:

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Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video

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Stonewall Award Honor Books included:

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Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. The list included:

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Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Book Review: Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan

 

By Sujei Lugo

furqanDescription from back cover: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he’s a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right–Furqan’s first flat top is the freshest!”

My two cents: Amidst the historical outcry for children’s books that accurately and authentically represent the racial, ethnic, political, and social composition of the youth population in the United States, there are always creators advocating and opening spaces for the publication of marginalized voices and stories. Looking into small or independent publishers and daring to navigate the self-publishing wave are ways to challenge the constraints encountered in traditional and mainstream publishing houses. Recently, “crowdfunding” platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Indiegogo are gaining momentum for radical publishing, and this was the case with Furqan’s First Flat Top/El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, author and illustrator Robert Liu-Trujillo was able to publish his first bilingual picture book.

In Furqan’s First Flat Top, readers meet Furqan Moreno, a 10-year-old black Latino boy who always had “real curly hair” and decides it is time for a new haircut. He approaches his dad and asks him if he remembers how Marcus cut his hair last year. His dad replies, “yeah,” and that the haircut is called a flat top. Furqan’s conversation with his dad takes place in the bathroom, an enclosed and private space that certainly conveys the trust between father and son and how important this decision is for Furqan’s growth. After agreeing to visit Mr. Wallace’s barbershop, they get on the number 14 bus, embarking on a journey of bonding, trusting, and embracing each other. Furqan will gain more than a new haircut.

At first we see Furqan is shy while entering the barbershop, and a bit skeptical about how his hair is going to turn out. He keeps questioning his dad as to whether his flat top is going to look good. We know parents sometimes say we look good, no matter what. The boy starts imagining: will his hair look flat as a drum, or flat like the pancakes he had with his dad, or flat like abuelita’s tortillas, or flat like that cake that father and son tried to bake together? Or even flat like cousin Mary’s skateboard, or flat like the records his dad plays on his turntable? After every concern expressed by Furqan, dad always replies “trust me,” and “it will look just fine.” The father draws a parallel between those things they enjoy doing together and the experience and outcome of getting a new haircut. Through each experience or “step,” the dad helps Furqan to trust not only him, but also himself and his choices–an essential part of growing up and attaining individuality.

In this bilingual picture book, English-language words are presented in dark brown font, while the Spanish-language words are given a light blue hue, which can be a bit distracting. Executed in earthy and pastel watercolor, with pen and ink, Liu-Trujillo’s two-page layout illustrations portray the warmth and sincerity of this father and son relationship and their shared emotions. From the illustrated endpapers to the interior of the barbershop, there is great attention to detail: haircuts are recognizable and so are the hairstyle instruments and products. If you look closely at Mr. Wallace’s table and drawers, you will spot electric razors, hair combs, powder, gel, mirrors, and even a picture frame with a photo of a little kid. 

At the end, Furqan looks in the mirror, smiles, and feels excited about his “fresh” look. The next day in school, some schoolmates and friends look at him funny, while others really like his new haircut and are vocal about it. This is a reflection that, no matter what, people will always react randomly to our choices. But Furqan loves his new hairstyle and takes pride in his black hair and identity, knowing that it doesn’t matter what others say: the important thing is his confidence in himself.

 

photo1Robert Liu-Trujillo is an author, illustrator, visual artist, father, and husband, born in Oakland, California, and raised across the Bay Area. Liu-Trujillo’s art and storytelling are inspired and motivated by his cultural background, ancestors, family, dreams, and political, social, and personal beliefs. He is the co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to Rad Dad, a zine of radical parenting, and founder of Come Bien Books. He also has illustrated several picture books such as: ONE OF A KIND/ÚNICO COMO YO, written by Laurin Mayeno; A BEAN AND CHEESE TACO BIRTHDAY/UN CUMPLEAÑOS CON TACOS DE FRIJOLES Y QUESO, written by Diane Gonzales Bertrand; and I AM SAUSAL CREEK/SOY EL ARROYO SAUSAL, written by Melissa Reyes. Robert contributed a guest post for this blog, explaining his Kickstarter campaign for Furqan’s First Flat TopCheck out his website for more information about his work. 

A Studio Visit with Author-Illustrator Juana Medina

img_4567by Cecilia Cackley

Juana Medina’s latest book is Juana and Lucas, published this September by Candlewick Books. An illustrated early chapter book, it is narrated by Juana, a little girl living with her dog Lucas in Bogotá, Colombia, who gives the reader a tour of her city and her life. Juana loves her family, her friends and her school, but she does not like having to learn English. Only when her family reminds her that they have a trip planned to the theme park Astroland in the United States, does Juana admit that maybe English has its uses after all.

Medina was born in Colombia and now lives in Washington, DC, where she works out of a shared studio space on the northwest side of the city. I spent an afternoon with her there, looking at the tools she used to create the illustrations for Juana and Lucas and talking about the process of creating the book.

Medina started out working in graphic design. She originally came to the United States from Colombia to study at the Corcoran School in DC, but found that the program there didn’t fit her needs and instead she moved to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Her study of graphic design prepared Medina to write and illustrate this story. “It gave me great structure to understand books,” she says, adding that studying alongside undergrad students “made it more fun, gave it a sense of exploration.”

img_4574That sense of exploration is on full display in Juana and Lucas, which features a loose, sketchy quality to the ink drawings. Medina points to the British illustrator Quentin Blake as a key influence, noting that he draws with both hands, and she often does too, or sometimes draws with one hand and colors with the other. Another favorite artist is Joaquin Salvador Lavado, better known by his pen name Quino, who created the iconic comic strip Mafalda for the Argentine newspaper El Mundo. Medina gushes about Quino’s “level of expressiveness.” She points out: “He includes wit in such simple traces and achieves complexity and an incredible level of detail in just a few lines.”

Medina likes the ability to switch between different artistic media from book to book. For her, it’s about what the story asks for.  Juana and Lucas is illustrated in pen and ink, and colored with watercolor, which is a very personal medium for Medina, as it reminds her of childhood and illustrations by favorites such as Quentin Blake. The personal components of the story of Juana and Lucas meant that watercolor felt right for the book, because it gives it a sense of nostalgia. Other illustration projects that Medina has worked on, such as Smick, written by Doreen Cronin, and the counting book 1 Big Salad combine found objects with digital drawings.

img_4573For Juana and Lucas, Medina experimented with sketches in pencil first, then used a light box to draw the final version of each illustration in ink. Watercolor came next and the drawing was then scanned so that the colors could be adjusted digitally. This process also allowed Medina to correct small errors without having to redraw an entire composition. She showed me one spread containing an airplane that hadn’t been in the original sketch. Later in the process, it was added digitally to cover up an unruly inkblot!img_4571

For Juana and Lucas, her first chapter book, Medina wrote the story first, and then went back to draw. Through writing and rewriting, she found the balance between word and image. She says “It’s important to make a book where even if a kid can’t read yet, they can still get a sense of the story.” The relationship between Juana and Lucas, in particular, is mostly visual, so even if Juana isn’t talking about him very much in the text, you see them interacting in the illustrations. Medina points out that this is more realistic, as our interactions with our pets are mostly visual and tactile. Having narrative both in the text and in the illustrations makes this a great choice for readers still transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

img_4570 The dynamic presentation of text (words that curve, get bigger or in other ways deviate from the standard type) featured throughout the story was Medina’s idea. Her thinking is that typography is part of language, explored, and it can cue certain meanings of words that may be unfamiliar to young readers.

Medina says about her writing process: “I was telling a story that was personal in my second language, so that was hard. I was lucky to be working with an editor who got it—figuring out the exact language to make it understandable without imposing too much. Candlewick has been great at not treating the text as precious, but instead seeing what is working and what isn’t.”

The book was written first in English, and she says it was almost like writing lyrics, choosing places where Spanish could be inserted in a way that made sense. Medina wanted to avoid echoing the English words in Spanish. She felt it was important to be respectful of readers and give them a chance to figure out the meanings of the Spanish words on their own. Its inclusion adds richness and reminds the reader that English isn’t Juana’s first language. The mix of the two languages feels very genuine, because mixing languages happens with all multilingual children. Their brains are trying to figure it out, and it’s natural for them to begin a sentence in one language and end it in another. The Spanish hasn’t deterred young readers who aren’t already familiar with the language. According to Medina, “I gave it to my niece, who was the first kid to ever read it. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but as soon as she finished the book, she went to the computer and pulled up Google Translate. After a moment she turned to me and said, ‘Me encantó tu libro,’ which was just…I was crying.”

img_4572For readers in the United States used to seeing European cities such as London or Paris in children’s literature, it’s a breath of fresh air to get such a detailed, child’s-eye view of a major South American city. Medina went back to Bogotá after writing several versions, and says the trip was bittersweet. “It was the first time there without my grandparents, without having a place there to call home. It was a difficult trip, but it was sweet to see the mountains and smell the eucalyptus, and it was validating to see everything. I took some license in the book. I’m not tying myself to fact-checking everything, which was liberating in a way. There was a lot I left out, especially surrounding the conflict and civil war I grew up with. That’s something I’ll maybe address in another book. The hardest illustration was my grandparents’ house, which no longer exists. It was a safe haven, so no illustration could truly do it justice.”

Readers will be happy to learn that Medina is already working on a second book in the Juana and Lucas series. In addition, her follow up to 1 Big Salad, an ABC book called ABC Pasta, will be out in the spring from Penguin Random House. Medina’s advice to other Latinx artists looking to break into illustration is to be persistent and disciplined about their work. “Tell your own stories,” she says “Not the ones that will simply please an audience, but the ones that are meaningful.” And like her character Juana, struggling to balance her two languages, Medina advises artists to “find the language for the story you want to tell.”img_4568

Juana Medina is a native of Colombia, who studied and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her illustration and animation work have appeared in U.S. and international media. Currently, she lives in Washington, DC, and teaches at George Washington University. See more of Juana’s work at her official website.

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.