Nina Crews tagged me in a Writing Process Blog Tour–– Thank you, Nina! A fellow Brooklynite and children's book maker, Nina has a keen eye for multicultural city living. I really resonate with her themesand am honored to follow her on this tour. As the task to answer four simple questions loomed, it dawned on me that I may very well be the Lamest. Blogger. Ever. Blogging is time-consuming! It's so much easier to promote by instant gratification–– a quick pic on Instagram here, a post on Facebook there.
But, it's also good to spend the time putting more thought into what I put online. Especially when talking about this Thing We Do; Writing and illustrating children's books. After all, to make a book can take about a zillion years. In the scheme of things, what's a few days putting together a blog post? What am I working on? For the past few years I've been collaborating on two books with my husband, author/illustrator, Sean Qualls.
Our first book, The Case for Loving (Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic), debuts this January. I wrote (and Sean & I illustrated together) the love story of Mildred & Richard LOVING. Could they have a more perfect last name? The Lovings were an interracial couple living in Virginiain the 1950's who were arrested for... being married. How crazy is that? After years of battling the system, they took their case to the Supreme Court and won the right to live happily (& legally!) ever after.
Mildred & Richard Loving (photo by Grey Villet)
Currently we are working on a book called, Two Friends (also with Scholastic), about the little known friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas.
sketch from Two Friends (Scholastic)
It's been a really interesting journey working with Sean. I definitely feel my work is growing. Sean uses a lot more texture when he paints, which makes the work so lush and rich. I've been integrating more texture myself, having fun with sand paper and using even more collage and lettering in new and different ways.
sketch from Two Friends (Scholastic)
We've been pleased with the results of our collaborations so far. And happily (and most importantly!) we're still married! How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think what makes my work unique is perhaps the themes I'm drawn to (ie/ urban environments, cultural diversity), combined with the way I use mixed-media, collage and hand-lettering. This is a recent illustration I did for SCBWI's Bulletin.
Why do I write what I do? To help broaden how young people think. If I can write a book about a family that celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas with joy, then maybe - just maybe - families who read my book will feel they have the permission to celebrate both holidays with joy too. I don't see why blending cultural traditions needs to be a source of tension, although it often is! I grew up thinking that it was somewhat 'taboo' to mix outside my cultural group, especially when thinking about marriage and starting a family of my own. While I definitely think there's something nice about maintaining a sense of tradition, my belief in bringing people together across cultural boundaries is perhaps even stronger. I refuse to be cynical about human nature and I try hard to maintain a sense of optimism which - naturally - permeates my work.
Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama (Knopf)
How does my writing process work?
The hardest part is coming up with ideas. But once I have something I think is okay, I attempt to write. This can take a few days or many, many months (and many, many revisions!). Sometimes I do thumbnail sketches to help me visualize the character(s) as I'm writing.
character sketches for a project I'm currently developing. (Her name is Maple.)
Next up is the CRAZY talented, relatively new on-the-scene, Abby Hanlon. Abby has a master's degree in childhood education from the City College of New York and a bachelor's from Barnard College. Abby has taught creative writing and first grade in the New York City public school system. Inspired by her students' storytelling and drawings, Abby began to write her own stories for children. Determined to illustrate her stories, Abby taught herself to draw after not having drawn since childhood. Her first book, Ralph Tells a Story, was published in 2012. The book is widely used by elementary school teachers who follow the writing workshop curriculum. Her subsequent book, Dory Fantasmagory, a chapter book for ages 6-8 comes outOct. 9. Abby also lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two children. See more of Abby Hanlon's work here: Abby's website. Abby - tag, you're it!
Did you know that in Alabama it was illegal to marry someone of another race in just 2000?
Richard & Mildred Loving were arrested for "Unlawful Cohabitation" in 1958 in Virginia. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court... and won!, helping pave the way to legalize interracial marriage across America.
THE CASE FOR LOVING (Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic) is a picture book I wrote telling the story of The Lovings. The art was done by me & my husband, Sean Qualls. It's our first artistic collaboration–– debuting this December.
This study of Richard and Mildred Loving will be up for silent auction at BEA on Wednesday, May 28 at the Jacob Javits Center. All proceeds benefit American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFFE).
I look forward to seeing many friends and colleagues this week!
Recently I was invited to tell a story at an evening call The Gnat (a spin-off of The Moth, NPR's True Stories Told Live show). Divali; from Darkness to Light was the evening's theme. I decided to recall some of our kitchen renovation drama, and, in the spirit of sharing something that's been going on in my life other than making books, I've posted it here on my blog.
My dad loved cooking and he
loved eating. He was a large,
eccentric man, larger than life, really.
He lived in an eclectic home awash with light, art and antiques. When my
father died over a year ago it was the darkest period of my life.
However there was small a
silver lining, if ever there could be one. He left me a bit of money. I wanted to do
something concrete with it, something that I could remember him by. So in his honor, my husband and I
decided to re-do our dark and narrow kitchen. We chose all sorts of unusual materials, things my dad would
surely have appreciated, such as reclaimed wood, zinc, concrete, exposed brick
and Moroccan tiles (reminiscent of his Turkish heritage). We also decided to add a huge window in the
kitchen’s rear letting in a flood of light.
First we hired an architect
to come up with a smart design. He
didn’t last long because his vision was too conservative. He kept saying there was only ONE
solution to our space. As artist’s
we intuitively knew he was wrong. I mean, come
on, when we get an illustration assignment we do like 50 sketches, why
shouldn’t he do at least two?
Anyway, we wanted something
more creative and more artsy, more reflective of 'chef Henri', my vivacious father. By the way, 'creative' and 'artsy' also happen
to be some of the same qualities that my practical mom accuses me of
having. But, never mind.
So we found another
architect. He had a bold idea. He suggested building a long dining
table that would swoop up into an island; The whole thing made of
concrete. We loved the
concept! Not only was it totally
original, but it would also make clever use of our narrow space. We decided to plunge forward.
Keep in mind we have 2 young
kids. We envisioned the raised
portion of the island would be where they would eat breakfast, the sun gently
streaming through the adjacent window, while we would do adult-type kitchen things like food prep, paperwork, coffee-drinking, wine-sipping, etc.
Some months later the concrete
island/table arrived. It was 1000
(that's one thousand!) pounds. The concrete guy brought ten men and a giant truck to
deliver the absurdly heavy, fragile object.
The truck had to be inched up onto our sidewalk with a plank leading
directly to our front door.
Because of the waterfall curve on one end it couldn’t be turned on its
side and, even so, it was slightly too wide so our contractors had to rip out our front door to fit it
It was hard to get a sense of
its scale outside of our kitchen. It
looked pretty awesome making its way into our home, we loved the industrial finish. I started snapping photos away. The men labored and
maneuvered and somehow miraculously got the enormous object into
our narrow space. I was so busy taking pictures
that it wasn’t until the structure was upright and centered that I noticed how
tall the island was, 4 FEET tall!
All the color drained from my
face. It must have
been a mistake! But no, the architect had
actually designed an oversized ‘bar’/table, he just somehow failed to
communicate the exaggerated part of his vision to us. The strangest thing about the design (especially if it really was intentional) was that it blocked the light from the large window.
When our 5 year old daughter
first saw it, she thought we’d installed a playground. She instantly began sliding down the
concrete slope. My husband and I
started having visions of the kids tossing down half eaten plates of food, rolling empty glasses, toys, anything they could get their
Suddenly I realized that this oversized island had become symbolic of my mother’s image of me: Impractical! Spontaneous! Artistic!
This was the darkest period in the renovation by far. It seemed like there was no good solution to this one thousand pound 'problem'. Meanwhile, we were stuck looking at the concrete monstrosity in our kitchen for week after dusty week.
We finally fixed the
island/table. It has been
shortened and narrowed by a foot, eliminating 12 inches of the curve. It’s now the proper proportions and, at
last, it looks right. Our kitchen is not yet done––
because renovations (for anyone who has ever done them knows)
are never really ever finished.
But, I am delighted to say
that now, at
least, you can see the light outside
The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour for authors and illustrators, started by social media wizards in the land down under. I was tagged for the tour by Monica Wellington, a wonderful author and illustrator and the teacher of an amazing children’s book class at SVA. I’ll be passing the baton on to two other great illustrators to keep the tour going, so stay tuned . . .
Here's my interview:
What is the working title of your next book?
A Case for Loving; The Fight for Interracial Marriage
Who is publishing your book?
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic
In what genre does your book fall?
Non-fiction picture book
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving; An interracial couple who fought to have their marriage legally recognized in the United States in the 1960's
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have been interested in their story, their struggle for many years. I felt an immediate connection to the Lovings, being half of an interracial couple myself. My husband, Sean Qualls, is illustrating the book with me
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I had a desire to write something in the non-fiction genre, and the Loving's story was a perfect 'marriage' for me. Their story mirrored some of the personal struggles I've experienced (though not nearly as extreme!) being in an interracial couple
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Kerry Washington and Leonardo Dicaprio (ha!)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
6 months to a year
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Everything by Shana Corey. I love her non-fiction 'voice'–– she makes history come alive with both humor and heart
What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
The illustrations will be vibrant and emotionally accessible. They strive to show the LOVE between Mildred and Richard–- as well as their intense struggle
My daughter 'stepped-up' to Kindergarden today. There will never be another pre-K year for my children. It feels like a punch in the gut. I will miss being privy to the abundant creativity and pure JOY of discovery and learning that happens with 4 and 5 year olds.
My daughter was extremely lucky to have landed a wonderful teacher - perhaps the best at her school - for her pre-K year. Ms. M embodied the philosophy of inquiry–– she literally turned every experience into a 'teachable moment'. Ms. M knew how to find what was unique in each child and she went above and beyond in nurturing their strengths.
Ms. M was also able to cull the talents of various parents. For example, she asked an architect mom to design 'blue prints' with the students, she arranged a marine biologist parent teach the class about sharks, and she had a journalist father make a newspaper with the children.
When she found out about my book, B is for BROOKLYN, Ms. M suggested we collaborate on a pre-K alphabet book. Since every day she took the kids out of the class (rain or shine!) on neighborhood 'journey's', we decided to call the book, "J is for JOURNEY". I worked together with the kids to illustrate the "J" cover, all of the letters, and various things they learned about and places they journeyed to.
The final book is a combination of collage, photographs, children's art and typography. The kids did most of the work, I just put it all together. It was so much fun–– it made me feel like I was experiencing pre-K all over again!
And perhaps most importantly, it reminded me why I love writing and illustrating children's books. It's a journey that I am happy to continue throughout my adult life.
When my son was invited to a birthday party at HiHo Batik, I was a little skeptical. Batik, the ancient art of wax and dye on fabric (from my hippie days at summer camp), awesome but sooo messy and a little dangerous, too. How could this be? Well, this cool new boutique has really brought the hip back in hippie.
As I browsed around the store, I thought that B is for BROOKLYN would be perfect amongst the lemonade and unicycle printed wear. It seemed like we should partner-up somehow.
The owners of the boutique came up with some amazing ideas. First, they asked me to custom design "initials" from B is for BROOKLYN for kids (and adults!) to batik onto t-shirts. They also suggested I design an original Brooklyn t-shirt, which will be unveiled at an "opening party" (June 22).
But the best part for me is that they asked me to chose a charity to donate 10% of t-shirt sales to.
I chose TEAM CALEB and Kid's Walk for Kids with Cancer.
Caleb's mom, Ellen Hollander-Sande, was in my original mother's group 8 years ago. She was one of the first moms I met. I was instantly taken by her knowledge as a nurse and her confidence as a new mother. Motherhood was scary to me. It was a big deal for me to venture out of the house to meet up with other new moms, I felt timid and insecure. Any bits of knowledge and help others could offer me were like little gems. Ellen was very wise and generous.
Now, Ellen and I each have two children. Our kids all go to the same wonderful school: PS10 in South Slope, Brooklyn. Ellen's second born, Caleb, was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphona this year. He is responding really well to treatment–– which is the good news so far, but of course, it's an ongoing battle.
Creating a custom batik Brooklyn t-shirt and having this special 'event' is my small contribution to helping Ellen, Caleb and their family. Please come out and show your support, too! If nothing else, you'll come away with a cool, new Brooklyn t. H is for Hip, indeed.
June 22, 2013
10:30am - 12:30pm
refreshments served HiHo Batik
5th Avenue & Berkeley
For those who don't know, 7 Imp is the most comprehensive picture book blog out there. I am incredibly thrilled - and honored - to have been interviewed.
2) At the beginning of April I was the Key Note speaker at SCBWI's Poconos conference. My designer at Knopf, Jinna Shin, and I ran picture book making workshops with a lovely group of dedicated illustrators. Also, it was the best food at a conference EVER.
3) I will be appearing at the TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. It's a new thing to include books at this super cool film fest. On April 27, join me at the Duane Street Stage (Hudson & Greenwich) at 3pm.
4) I will be running one of my Transportation Workshops for kids (making trains based on MY SUBWAY RIDE) on May 11. Location: Sunset Park's Brooklyn Public Library at 2pm.
5) It's CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK! On May 18, I'll be at Barnes & Nobles on 7th Avenue (Park Slope) at 12:30 for Story Time... and, then (double whammy!), at 3pm I'll be doing a draw-off at Greenlight Bookstore with some other illustrators.
6) The always wonderful FIFTH AVENUE STREET FAIR in Park Slope is coming up! On May 19, Sean Qualls will be there selling books + prints.
* buy a book and get a free egg cream! if you missed my book release party in september (or if you had such a good time you want to come back for more!) this is a repeat signing event - especially for the holidays - in the cutest old school soda shoppe in town!
Reviewed in the NY Times this weekend: DADDY CHRISTMAS AND HANUKKAH MAMA Written and illustrated by Selina Alko. 32 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4-8) ––--–-–---–-––--–--–--–-––-––-–-––-––-–– Doesn't this describe half of Brooklyn? Perhaps not strictly speaking; but the subject of interfaith families is a welcome one. No arguments over Israel or "the war on Christmas" here. In the narrator's wholehearted and seamlessly interwoven celebration, Daddy Christmas gamely cooks latkes, and Hanukkah Mama is happy to hang stockings. Together they "carol to the neighbors about Maccabees and the manger." Alko's charming mixed media illustrations provide lots of bells and holly. Next up, Eastover. My heart is full. Thank you, New York Times!
My 4 year old daughter has a bad case of princess fever. And it happens to be running especially high this time of year––Halloween being just around the corner and all.
Happily, I discovered Ian Falconer's Olivia and the Fairy Princesses; A brilliant book about a precocious girl (pig) who, while in the middle of an identity crisis, rejects the popular pink princess phenomena.
Olivia asks these questions: "Why is it always a pink princess? Why not an Indian princess or a princess from Thailand or an African princess or a princess from China?"
"There are alternatives." She declares.
I love this. After all, questioning the princess plague was the subject of my own book, Every-Day Dress-Up. (Out this time last year.)
Fortunately, my daughter loves Falconer's new book too.
Upon first read, she was especially drawn to the image of Olivia as an African princess. By her own volition she decided that was the type of princess she wanted to be for Halloween. Phew. Dodged that fuchsia bullet.
Now, the fun part. Helping her make the costume!
We found most of the raw ingredients at the dollar store. My daughter said we should use aluminum foil to build the neck rings. Bingo.
Then we looked for African kente cloth, which was no easy task. We decided to buy a green scarf on the street. My son suggested using a sharpie to immitate the African-style designs in Ian Falconer's illustration. It worked well (thanks, Isaiah!)
And voila! Here's Ginger - as Olivia - as an African princess.
I am a Brooklyn-based children's book author and illustrator. Some of my books include: My Subway Ride, My Taxi Ride, I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, Every-Day Dress-Up, B is for BROOKLYN, and Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama.