There were many children online for the live reading, which was followed by a discussion about the book Astro Girl. Many more will watch the recording of the event on the San Francisco Public Library YouTube page. All in all, it’s been a good few months for the book. It was also featured in the South African Festival of Children’s Literature and the insights section of Communication Arts Magazine.
If it were any other time, I would still be recovering from jet lag, but the pandemic meant harnessing the power of the internet.
Here’s a link to the recording on San Francisco Public Library’s YouTube channel:
I had the pleasure of working with poet and author Valerie Bloom on an anthology of poems for children called Stars With Flaming Tails. It was the first time I have illustrated poetry, and hopefully not the last.
A while back during a literary event we had talked about possibly working together, but either of us knew how exactly that might happen… the catalyst turned out to be our common publisher, Janetta Otter-Barry.
I worked in black and white digital paint, another first, and together with the team – Valerie Bloom, Ariana Osti (designer) and Janetta Otter-Barry (publisher and editor)- we’ve created a very powerful, meaningful book.
But don’t take my word for it, the reviews from Achuka and the blog of the live event hosted by the University of Manchester give a really good idea of what to expect if you get a chance to read any of the poems or buy the book.
Illustrating digitally meant that I could use the time-lapse feature to great effect during the live event. This was a great alternative to trying to do a live drawing in front of a camera!
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Early in 2020, Scoop Magazine asked if was interested in illustrating some stories in a comic strip style. I have secretly wanted to do something like this for quite some time so jumped at the chance. Furthermore, the strips were to be activist or historical, which is a space that I follow regularly. In fact, many of my books are inspired by some sort of activism.
I am looking forward to finding a digital style. That medium requires a slightly different way of thinking to paint and canvas. I chose to use a tablet, which meant taking a chance and buying one. So it's more expensive than working traditionally and more time-consuming learning how to make the digital tools do what you want.
The overall effect is that it feels like being a fresh new illustrator who is risking a lot to make this work. When there is a lot at stake it can be easier to focus and stay focused, which is a good thing. Still caught up in the excitement of each project I can see a bigger picture... a graphic novel one day, perhaps, or some other grand project involving telling a story frame by frame.
The work hasn't gone unnoticed. One of the assignments was to tell the story of John Blanke, an African in King Henry's court. It has led to a commission for the John Blanke Project. So on some level, the results are exactly as hoped. And it seems like Scoop readers are enjoying the stories too. Working with a team of people that have the same goal is always a pleasure ad they have been patiently supporting and fine-
tuning each story. Long may it continue
Astro Girl has just won an award- a science award. While I have been fairly consistent through the years I haven't won many awards. That isn't my aim, so perhaps that's why it has turned out that way. It always seemed way too obscure to come up with an award-winning idea. Sometimes just seeing a book in a shop window feels like an award, or seeing a child's face light up as they hear or read the story feels like a victory.
I had a strong feeling that Astro Girl's story would resonate with families, gender politics, aspiration, and race in a very natural way. We all have dreams. But exploring the WHY and the HOW behind those dreams was a revelation! The vision for the story opened up and I remember being very excited. All this thinking took time, of course, and I wonder if there will ever be that much time available again. There is a reason why a book should take as long as possible to complete...
There are many wonderful books for children and families out there. They inspire us to be better if we allow them to. So what not be inspired?
Astro Girl is a winner, just like its readers and the real people that inspired it.
In all Lenny books, this young man is finding out about life. His mum, dad and best friend make sure everyday brings something new. The books are for pre-school children and parents. You could see them as ways to talk about everyday life. Lenny books often show the special moments between Lenny and his family. The text is easy to read aloud, or repeat. Best of all, each book has a well known song or rhyme.
I enjoy creating books for the very young. Some people wonder if you have to think like a child to make the stories. But the answer is a lot more complicated and subtle. You need some empathy, for sure, but a mix of seeing what's in front of you and your memories will make a good story. The other part is about working carefully to reduce the number of words but keep the essence of the story. Or, sketching until you find a scene that shows the right feeling. Emotion is important for little ones. They will respond if words and pictures can show that. This takes some discipline and patience.