Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Sharon Sordo, Tatiana Gardel, Luciana Navarro Powell

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the twelfth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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 soon. 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!

Sharon Sordo is an illustrator, cat hugger, and expert soup maker. As a Mexican girl growing up in the United States, Sharon found it difficult to relate to the many characters in children’s books that were available. Since then, she strives to represent different cultural backgrounds through her art. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband and cat.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: The magical way a story book can transport you into a new world through colorful illustrations captured my imagination as a young child. This is what inspired me to become an artist. Sharing my own stories and drawings with the people I love and igniting a sense of wonder in them, this is what will inspire me to do it forever. 

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

A: Through digital art, I have all of the traditional mediums at my disposal without the clean up and I can erase with ease. I don’t need a huge studio to store canvases and stinky oil paints, my pigments will never dry up, and sharing my art with the world and clients is amazingly simple. Drawing and painting in Adobe Photoshop along with my Wacom Cintiq, has made art more fun and stress free. One minute, I can try pastels, layer some watercolor on top, and finish it off with ink, never worrying about how these mediums will interact. I was introduced to digital art in college. It was there that I learned the basics. I’ve since continued to learn about different softwares for producing art and eventually landed on Adobe Photoshop as the most versatile and user friendly. I still dabble in traditional art, mainly ink and colored pencil, but I don’t think I will be illustrating children’s books this way anytime soon!

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

A: Picture books are important because they allow children to escape into different worlds and adults to keep our inner children alive and happy. We can learn great lessons from the stories we read and share. Also, we all get to own a piece of unique and original art.

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Tatiana Gardel is a Brazilian illustrator and teaching artist based in New York City. She started her career in fine art, and while exploring other ways to express her creativity, she found a passion for storytelling and illustration. Tatiana co-founded #LatinxPitch and is a member of the Black Creators in KidLit. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators in New York and American Illustration.

She is the illustrator of the upcoming books Xavier’s Voice, written by Ashley Franklin (Innovation Press, 2023) and Painting the Sky with Love, written by Mary Baca Haque (Feiwel and Friends, 2023).

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

 A: My grandfather had a passion for drawing and was the one to encourage me to draw when I was a child. I also grew up watching lots of cartoons, animes, reading comics, mangas, and playing video games. All of that sparked my interest in creating art and imagining stories. But it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned I could have a career as a professional artist.  

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

 A: I’m a traditional artist who transitioned to making digital art. In the past 2 years, I went from scanning and adjusting images to mixing up techniques to working fully digitally. This was an organic process and my goal was to mimic my traditional pieces. I really enjoy the freedom of working with this medium, how you can combine and explore possibilities without having to recreate the whole image. My portfolio is a blend of traditional, mixed media, and digital artwork.  

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

 A: Picture books are important because they are a gateway to imagination, knowledge, empathy and connection.

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Luciana Navarro Powell is an artist living in San Diego, California, with her husband and two children. She has illustrated many children’s books over the years and has now started writing them as well. Her first two as both author and illustrator are My Dad Is the Best Playground and My Mom Is the Best Circus.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: There was not a single event or artist in particular that inspired me. Ever since I can remember myself as a child I was always drawing and reading, so storytelling through drawing evolved in an organic way. My father is an architect and I remember watching him sketching and marveling over beautiful architectural renderings, so I am sure that played a part as well. When it was time for me to go to college, there wasn’t a school that offered an Illustration major where I lived. I graduated with a degree in Industrial Design, which I enjoyed a lot and it had some classes that offered a good foundation for Illustration. I worked as a designer for a few years while I freelanced doing illustration projects. Eventually I circled back to become a full-time illustrator.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc.

A: I worked in a variety of analog media in the beginning of my career – acrylics, color pencils, printmaking;  but most often watercolor and pen and ink for black and white illustrations. When Photoshop came into the picture for me, it was a perfect way to integrate traditional media and digital art. My favorite artistic medium is mixed media, I used analog painted bits mixed with digital brushes. If I work on a book, the final art phase will usually last for about 3 months – when I finish it I usually take a few days off the computer by doing some analog-only projects on the side. Lately I have also enjoyed immensely doing sidewalk chalk art around my neighborhood and also plein-air painting with watercolor whenever I travel. You can check all these side projects at my Instagram account, @lucianaillustration !

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

A: …they offer a merger of imagery and language that will be an essential building block for a child life-long love of reading!

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Raissa Figueroa

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the tenth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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 soon. 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!

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Raissa Figueroa

Raissa Figueroa is an illustrator and graphic designer based in San Diego, California. Her art graces such picture books as Princess, Unlimited, by Jacob Sager Weinstein, and Oona, by Kelly DiPucchio.

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Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: I recently stumbled on some journals I had written in the 3rd grade at my parent’s house and found these gems:

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But life happened and I was too scared to succumb to the “starving artist” motif. I continued to sketch in the margins of my notebooks in school, fiddled with Microsoft paint and took a life drawing class in college, but in the end, I switched my major to graphic design so that I’d have a better chance financially. I learned a lot of things that I was able to use in landing my position at the small business I ended up working at from right after I graduated college in 2012 up until March of 2020. But my spark for pursuing art returned to me a bit earlier, in 2016, following a suicide attempt that left me unable to move around very well for a stretch of months. It just so happened that I stumbled across a channel on YouTube that focused on concept art. I was thrilled that such a thing even existed, and I became OBSESSED.

I watched every art-related video I could find on YouTube, blew through self directed online classes, bought books, and sketched profusely. Coincidentally, in the summer of 2016, my friend began a weekly paint night, and that’s where I discovered a love of watercolor. Even after she moved away, I still continued to practice painting, slowly building my confidence from primarily sketches and drawings with pencils, to the wonderfully frightening and exciting world of color.

I began to post to Instagram, and through a series of strange events, too long to list here, I landed a literary agent who introduced me to the world of children’s books. Through an act of God, I landed several book deals within a very short time frame, and so began the pursuit of this life path: returning to my childhood self, who seemed to know me better than I do now.

Art was a literal life-saver for me, seeing me through some very intense ups and downs in my life. There’s something that happens when I’m “in the zone” so to speak that feeds my soul and makes time, to-do lists, wants and worries, fears and anxieties, heck, even life slip away. And if that wasn’t enough, just knowing that my art can be used to bring joy others makes my heart swell with happiness and purpose. I don’t mind starving, but I definitely need to be an artist!

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Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

A: When I began arting, I had cycled through a few mediums here, dabbled in a few mediums there, but ultimately when I had landed on watercolor in 2016, it was love at first brushstroke. Ironically, because I’ve spent so much time recently in the digital realm completing client work, I sort of stopped using it along with any kind of traditional media. I love how the colors blend and flow together so wonderfully! I hope to do more of it in the near future, and experiment with different mediums I’ve never tried before! Using my hands (and even my whole body sometimes) just gives you a whole different experience that really connects you with the process of creating something; at least for me I’ve been unable to achieve the same thing digitally, but I am *so* thankful for that Ctrl+Z…sometimes when I’m painting, I find myself tapping the page like I would my iPad.

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

A: Not only are they a work of art but they give kids a chance to fall in love with reading. My mom was extremely good about that and I remember bedtime very fondly because she always made us an offer. Another hour of cartoons, or a new story for that night. We always chose the latter! That love of reading stuck with me and has undoubtedly helped me in my journey from child to adult. Not to mention you don’t need to plug them in or access the internet to immerse yourself in another world.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Erika Meza

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the eleventh in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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 soon. 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!

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Erika Meza

Erika Meza is a Mexican Migrant: colorful, bubbly, and a taco connoisseur. After studying graphic design back home (and moving house nearly 30 times) she lived in a dungeon with a princess in Paris to attend the Illustration (Image Imprimée) program at ENSAD, which got her addicted to chocolate éclairs and 2 am bike rides by the river.

She now lives with a cat in the UK where she works with ink, gouaches, and watercolor pencils as an author and illustrator.

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Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: I remember vividly being four or five years old, and watching a making-of my parents had recorded for me on a Betamax cassette (for the younglings, that’s the grandfather of the VHS tape) about the ink-and-paint girls in the Disney studios. All those women having access to all of those paint colors, and creating all those beautiful and precise paint strokes, was for me the equivalent of a dream-world: it quickly became one of the most rewinded tapes of my childhood. Later on, becoming a children’s illustrator turned into the obvious choice: it meant I could write, design characters, and my own little universes: in short, to wear all of the creative hats I wanted.

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Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

A: Oh gosh, watercolor pencils and inks. I love drawing, I love sketching – the messier it is, the better. But when I paint, I have a tendency to go clean and precise. As a result, people often told me that my final artwork lacked the energy and the vibrancy I had in my sketches.

It took a lot of patience and confidence, but watercolor pencils solved that problem for me. I sketch in my usual way directly on the final watercolor paper, and then allow the splashes of watercolors and inks to flow and help me discover the illustration as I go. It means letting go of a certain amount of control, which is hard for my perfectionistic brain to accept (and probably nerve-wrecking to the art directors who have never seen me work, haha). But the end result keeps being a surprise, and retains all the joy I have in making it, even if I have to paint it again from scratch if something went wrong. And I very much think it shows in the final result.

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

 A:…because they establish the relationship we will have to books growing up, as well as start helping us understand the world we live in. They are the first window we have to other cultures, other stories, and to our own imagination.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Juliana Perdomo

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the ninth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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 soon. 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!

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Juliana Perdomo

Juliana Perdomo is a writer and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, surrounded by nature, bright colors, music, weird fruits, sunshine, animals, friends and a huge and loving family. She currently lives there with her wonderful son, Luca.

Having a background as a psychologist and art therapist, she discovered the positive effects that art and narrative had on the kids she worked with. She then found her passion in children’s literature, and being inspired by her culture, has been creating her own illustrations and stories ever since. Her work is very heartfelt and personal, folkish, a bit retro and joyful, with a Latin touch.

She has illustrated numerous books, including Somos lo que somos and Alcánzame una Pera for Penguin Random House Colombia, Rainbow Colours, What is Baby Going to Do? What is Mommy Going to Do? and What is Daddy Going to Do? for Quarto.

EL CUCUY IS SCARED TOO, written by Donna Barba Higuera, will publish with Abrams in 2021.

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Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: I remember having a feeling when I was a little kid. I got it every time I was in my uncle Ismael’s art studio. The smell of the oil paints, the colorful splatters on the floor, the ceiling painted like a sky, the jungle of plants that intertwined with a thousand little quirky objects that made no sense. I felt a fire, a spark inside my chest. Something that told me I wanted to live like that, be like him.

I had the same warm feeling when I saw my grandma’s hands sewing, I sat next to her and explored the piled tin boxes full of buttons, and threads and shiny sequins. I wanted to use them all, somehow blend with them. It amazed me that everything Carmen Rosita (grandma) touched became beautiful.

Later on, I realized I could tune into that feeling when I looked through art and picture books, when I drew and colored my own scenes and characters, when I built little sculptures with wild berries, mud, and sticks in nature. 

Art made me a joyful kid, then saved me as a sad teenager, and finally gave me the chance to find peace and my path as I became a kid’s illustrator.

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Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc.


A: Right now I work mainly digitally. I use a tablet and a drawing pen. I like it because I can carry it anywhere, use as many textures, brushes and colors and make all the mistakes I want. 

I transitioned into digital art when I worked as a graphic designer some years ago, but from time to time I also give myself a day for playing with other art mediums. 

Crayons, pastels, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, they are all so much fun! 

It’s like a regression to my childhood when I use them. I also love that they open up a chance for me to connect with my 8-year-old son. We collaborate in improvised art projects that end up being precious conversations without words.

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

A: They provide a space where the reader can approach the world through visualization. 

This is especially important for kids. As they flip through the pages, the pictures and the sound of spoken words combined with written ones, allow a wholeness in the communication experience. 

Verbal and non verbal information is given at the same time as an emotional connection is created with the art, the contexts, characters, stories and even the person who reads the book.

Picture books are a wonderful tool for imagination, language development, thought patterns, identity exploration, personality, social and cultural behavior, empathy, among other important traits of humanity. 

This is why I feel there is a huge responsibility for all of us in the children’s literature industry, to create a spectrum of content, rich in diversity.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

#LatinxPitch Second Chance Showcase

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AGENTS AND EDITORS: We know that some tweets can get “lost” during Twitter pitch events, so, working with the amazing people at #LatinxPitch, we are presenting some of the pitches that may have been overlooked and were not “liked.” If you want a creator to submit to you, please leave a comment for them, or you can contact them through Twitter (their Twitter handles are included). They are listed in no particular order. GOOD LUCK, LATINX CREATORS!

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Annabelle Estrada @AnnabelleMyBell

ENGLISH ANNA, SPANISH ANNA: Since Anna was born, she’s lived her life in English & Spanish, & wouldn’t want it any other way. Through verse, we follow Anna’s journey from before birth, to growing up, demonstrating that being bilingual is double the fun. #PB #Own

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Annabelle Estrada @AnnabelleMyBell

There are ZERO traditionally published board books about a COLLECTION of Latino leaders. Together, we can change that, along w/ Lin-Manuel, AOC, Santana, JLo, America Ferrera, Joan Baez, the Castro twins & more. A IS FOR AWESOME x DREAM BIG, LITTLE ONE. #PB #NF #Own

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Carisa Pineda @CarisaCPineda

Knuffle Bunny x Blueberries for Sal. 3 year old Cari is inspired to go to school by Sesame Street. The only problem? Papi, Mama, and Tia thought she was pretending. Cari learns about safety and the grownups learn to listen (hopefully) #PB

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Brittany Pomales @BrittanyPomales

When a shadow causes midnight mischief, Peyton becomes a flashlight-slinging, tip-toe creeping… SHADOW HUNTER! Peyton’s confidence fades when her shadow-busting flashlight fails. But there is more than 1 way to see in…PEYTON, THE SHADOW HUNTER. #PB #Bilingual

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Gabriella Aldeman @write_between

There’s nothing to do! Daddy is reading the paper and mommy, a book. Bored and restless, Gaby stares at the ceiling fan and let’s her thoughts wander… soon she sees an owl, a pirate llama, and, look—there’s her best friend Annie and her flamingo from Miami. #PB

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Selene Lacayo @LacayoSelene

Convincing in the most charming way, Nadia wants her abuela to know she’s proud of her mix-and-match outfit as much as of her mix-and-match American, Lebanese & Mexican cultures. Discover how a child can teach us about identity in this #Own #PB

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EmmePBooks @Emme18207098

Venezuelan grandparents super heroes, special powers include: flying with cars (above expectations), service, cooking and finding your own answers. 799 words. Inspire others to learn from grandparents no matter how far they are. #PB

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Lucho Silva @luchosilva

HELGA. NO ONE can leave the valley. Men receive swords to fight and women receive brooms to clean up the mess left by men’s battles. A 13-year-old girl uses in secret a magic broom to flight. So, a broom, a tool of oppression, becomes a tool for freedom #MG #GN

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Silvia Rodriguez @SilviaSePuede

Kati The Brave Butterfly and her family migrate north. As they arrive, evil birds and their leader Arpajaro detain her family. She must overcome her fears to fight for her family’s freedom by calling for support from all sky, land, and sea creatures #PB #NF #Bio

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Brenda Dominguez-Panella

Josie is an outspoken teen fed up with her cousins. But when her soul is zapped into a magical book, she discovers a fairy tale world where the Three Little Pigs are evil sisters that love to take what they want and eat people.THE THREE LITTLE PIGS meets GREMLINS #GN

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Mariana Llanos López de Castilla @marianallanos

#PB #agented in verse GRANDMA’S KITCHEN + DRUM DREAM GIRL

Making tamales with Abuela

Like my Great-great grandma

Who was a pregonera

In the streets of distant Lima.

It’s my turn to help Abuela

Show-off her tamalitos,

I sing “Tamales, casera!”

Like my tatarabuela.

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Aixa Perez-Prado @ProfessorAixa

STEPMUMMY is a silly/spooky twist on stepmother stereotypes told through the voice of a brujita stepdaughter. Creepy humor and genuine affection lead to love in this sweet multi-monster family. #agented #author/illustrator.

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Aixa Perez-Prado @ProfessorAixa

Long ago on the banks of the Parana, a Guarani princess loved the Sun god. In this retold folktale of revenge and transformation, the SUNFLOWER is born. #PB #agented #author/illustrator

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Nydia Armendia @Nydia_A_Sanchez

Paco’s found ‘el taco 🌮 perfecto! Now he’s on a quest to keep it safe from:🔸 himself 🔸 his Mom 🔸 a dog 🔸 a guinea pig. He may lose more than a meal if he fails to protect his tasty 🌮 sidekick! #PB #POC

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Nydia Armendia @Nydia_A_Sanchez

“Like Papá,

inmigrantes

have so much to offer

They are makers & cultivators

of change & inspiration

They have gifts & talents too

And so do you”

A mother’s storytelling moment w/her kids about Papá’s border crossing & finding strength from within. #OWN #PB

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Elena and Mama enjoy ice cream together through tears or smiles throughout the year, until one day Mama can’t afford it. Elena decides to put her hard-earned coins to good use, only to discover that their bond is what gets them through the rocky road of life. #PB

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

When a crack of Nothing appears on the wall, George slips—swish!—into an invisible world where he bumps into Jorge and learns that making a friend may mean sliding out of your comfort zone to land on common ground. #PB #Fantasy

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Darla loves fixing bad dreams, but when she jumps into Sassy Ana’s nightmare, she must overcome her own fears in order to work together and let her rival be a hero, too. #PB #Fantasy

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Rachel S. Hobbs Gunn @RachelHobbsGunn

Ronaldo wants a big, bushy beard like the other kids on the island, but Picture Day is here, and he can’t find his fake beard! He tries to solve his hairless dilemma before his turn in the spotlight but instead finds an unexpected “truth” that makes him shine. #PB #HA

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Alex Perez @ItzalNenetl

Gael Guitarita y Mariachi A lonely guitar named Gael yearns to be accepted by his fellow instruments. Bilingual #PB

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Alex Perez @ItzalNenetl

Anahit’s crystal ball breaks down and she summons her friends to help her. Bilingual #PB

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Ledys Villasmil Chemin @LChem1

Lullaby: Brahms’ Lullaby—Lullaby, and goodnight—had its start as a love song! Johannes Brahms was a man of few words. Instead, he let his music speak for him. Generations later, we continue to carry the melody of his love lost. #PB #Bio #NarrativeNF

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Something Serious @seriouslywrite

Struggling to care of her baby brother, 17yo Rheya accepts an impossible job for a needed price: kill a witch. But she gets cursed. She becomes a Ghoul. Seeking revenge, she must kill the 6 witches left for magic to end and save her humanity. #YA #Fantasy

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Laura Aguilar @VRUKALST

When Jasper attends a new school, all he cares about is fitting in. But the students can’t get over him being a zombie. Everyone thinks he’s weird, but when one of his classmates is in trouble, Jasper has to figure out a way to use his “weirdness” to save him or risk alienation. #PB

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Claudia Zenteno Walbom @WalbomZ

A host of women warriors. An artifact that links two realms. Dragons. Spells. Qi Magic. A fated friendship. And 11yo Matt didn’t want to move there? He can’t want what he didn’t know—now that he knows, can he ensure his friend’s safety & survive? #MG #fantasy

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez @RodriguezSoniaA

VALENTINA UNAFRAID Valentina (13) 8th grade class president explores crush for new girl while also figuring out what redadas are. Parents try to hide their statuses as undocumented due to rise of raids in the area bc of Obama’s Secure Communities program in 2012. #undocuqueer

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Robert Negron @talent212

When a boy makes contact with the spirit of a little girl, they hit it off without a hitch, but when Mom and Dad disapprove of his new playmate, it’s up to him to convince them not to take steps to remove the little girl from the home. #PB

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Robert Negron @talent212

When Julio invited Jean to his house for a playdate, he didn’t mean to leave his scrapbook out for Jean to find, but find it he did, and now Julio’s in a pickle because he can’t see a way out of telling Jean the story behind the creepy photos #PB

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Nelly @Lidolsmile

Ella can’t seem to get any relief. Until she is left in awe after her Abuelita’s chant: Sana, sana, colita de rana… entices all her senses and relieves her of her pain. #PB

A Studio Visit with Author-Illustrator Lulu Delacre, one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today

 

By Cecilia Cackley

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“I’ve decided that this is going to be my best decade!” declares Lulu Delacre. She has just turned sixty and after thirty-eight years in the publishing industry, she has written or illustrated over thirty different books for young readers, making her one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today. Her latest book, Turning Pages is an autobiographical picture book by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and arguably Delacre’s highest profile collaboration to date.

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Delacre was born in Puerto Rico to Argentine parents who encouraged her love of drawing. After beginning her college career in the Fine Arts department of the University of Puerto Rico, she transferred to L’Ecole Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques in Paris, France. Delacre says she was inspired to apply for the school after learning that a famous Puerto Rican artist had trained there. Her father was skeptical, telling her she wouldn’t get in because of the quality of work required, but she was accepted into the third year of the five year program and eventually received a full scholarship to finish her degree after her family ran into financial hardship. Delacre studied many different artistic disciplines at the school, including typography and print-making, and the course included real-world assignments such as designing a new currency that she remembers as challenging and fun. Some of the more traditional European assignments had amusing results for a student from the Caribbean, she says.

“[For] one of my first assignments we had to illustrate the four seasons, and of course, I was coming from Puerto Rico. So, winter—I did something in pastel pinks and blues and everyone laughed, but of course it was a matter of perspective! I came from an island, I had never witnessed winter before, never in my life.”

Delacre says that she had no idea at that point that you could become a children’s book illustrator. “Books that we got in Puerto Rico were mostly fairy tales from Spain, which didn’t speak to me. The concept of the picture book was entirely foreign to me.” She discovered picture book illustration at an American gallery in Paris which was showing art from the book In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. “That was a revelation. I had no idea before that moment what I wanted to do.” Delacre had been focusing on graphic arts because she wanted to earn a living and recognized, “I was not at the level of a Picasso,” but now she had found the work that would become her passion.

After finishing school, Delacre moved to San Francisco with her husband, who was in the military. She had no contacts, but started knocking on doors and found work doing textbook illustrations and commercial artwork. When her family moved to Massachusetts, she started giving to the children’s section of the public library and taught herself to create picture books by analyzing examples such as Where the Wild Things Are. With no connections in publishing, Delacre had to hustle to break into the industry.

“In order to get into the field, I went to New York. I created two identical portfolios and made twenty-two appointments in five days, stayed at the Y, and by that Friday, I had my first job illustrating for Sesame Street magazine. From there, [I moved to] Simon & Schuster when they had Little Simon. I started illustrating public domain material like these [nursery rhyme] board books.”

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Delacre’s first book to incorporate Latinx culture was inspired by the birth of her daughters, to whom she wanted to introduce to traditional Latin American children’s rhymes.  “I went to the library looking for a book of our folklore, from Latin America, our nursery rhymes, and I couldn’t find anything. Why do American kids get to have these books and kids that come from Spanish speaking countries don’t?” Delacre had recently published the Nathan and Nicholas Alexander books with Scholastic, so she went to her editor there and suggested the book of songs and rhymes that eventually became Arroz con leche, which turns thirty this year and is still in print.

Delacre’s first books with Simon and Scholastic were done in colored pencils, over a thin layer of watercolor to make the process go a little faster. In her home studio in Maryland, she has two large art tables surrounded by materials, including colored pencils, acrylics, watercolors and collage materials. “I do everything the old-fashioned way,” she says. “I like to touch materials. I try to do things that the computers cannot do yet. That’s why I use collage and the textures, pressed leaves—things that the computer doesn’t do or doesn’t do as well.”

Delacre pushes herself to try new art styles and materials for each project she takes on. Salsa Stories has linoleum cuts because the stories are being told by characters who would have been familiar with that style of art in Puerto Rico in the 1950’s. Her book US in Progress pairs short stories with illustrations created from collaged newspaper, pencil drawings on acetate and texture created from tiny holes in rice paper. Olinguito A to Z, a Spanish alphabet book, was based on scientific information about the different animals who live in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. The different species were painted in flat colors, a graphic version of each animal that reaches back to Delacre’s work as a graphic designer. The background paper for each spread was created from actual leaves from the cloud forest. She also created the typography for the letters that appear on each page. “I created the letters because I wanted them to fit in a square to mirror the shape of the book. I wanted to show the kids what the mist looked like. In the cloud forest, you would see everything through the mist, so to reveal the true colors of the species, I gathered the mist in the squares surrounding the letters.”

Delacre’s most exciting recent project is the picture book autobiography Turning Pages by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She explains that the process of getting the assignment was a bit unusual. “I got an email from [editor] Jill Santopolo asking if I had an agent, and I said not any more, and so she goes, “I need to talk to you, can I call you tomorrow?” and I said sure and gave her my number. I get a call the next day and she begins by saying, “I have a somewhat secret project that needs to be fast tracked and we want you for it.” And then she explains about the project and I pause, it’s sinking in and I said “Why me?” I had never worked for this publisher, and I had never worked with her. And she answers, “’Because she chose you,’ meaning the justice. This is very rare—this is the very first time that the author handpicks me.” Delacre goes on to explain that Sotomayor was given a stack of picture books to look at when selecting an illustrator and that one of the reasons she chose Delacre was because the justice wanted the illustrations to be lifelike. “I know that one thing that was very important to her was to portray her mamá and her abuelita as close as possible to reality.” Sotomayor also appreciated that Delacre has a strong relationship with the island of Puerto Rico. Although the book mostly takes place in urban settings such as the Bronx, Delacre began each oil wash with a layer of green sap oil, because Sotomayor wanted the island to be present in the illustrations. The original artwork from Turning Pages can be seen in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University through March 17, 2019.

Delacre says that her advice to Latinx illustrators trying to break into publishing is “Follow your heart. Tell the story that you really have within you and you really must tell. Don’t feel like you have to be like someone else. Just be yourself.” Delacre points out that unlike other children’s book illustrators such as Tomie DePaola, she doesn’t have a specific, recognizable art style. “In the beginning of my career, I thought it was a flaw because I understood if I didn’t have a certain style, I wasn’t as recognizable name wise. But I can’t be that way because I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. I have to push myself to try new things because each project is about learning for me. What can I do with this that I haven’t done before?” She is talking about using mono prints for her next project, in black and white, a major departure from her usual paint and colored pencils. “Now it’s like I don’t have to prove anything. You know, this is going to be my best decade and after that who knows? Maybe I’m not going to do another book. I’ll be creating, but something different. Every single project I do is really to reach a community that perhaps wasn’t finding their image in books. I’m always trying to create what is needed.”

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc