AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW: Raven Howell & Yeng Yang
The pair have just released their lovely picture book My Community, which is published by Maclaren-Cochrane in the United States, in both standard and dyslexic-font editions. Let’s find out more…
Raven (R): Kellie, thanks for this super opportunity to share My Community, my picture book with illustrator Yeng Yang releasing September 2018 for children ages 5 and older. Plus, it’s fun that Yeng and I can conduct this interview together!
Yeng (Y): Hey Kellie! First of all, thank you for giving Raven and I this awesome opportunity to talk about our upcoming book!
Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issue it explores?
R: Our book follows a child as she awakens, and guides us through a day of diversity in her community where we meet relatable and memorable friends. Yeng’s artwork reflects variety in ethnic backgrounds, age, and gender of everyone from the mailman and school bus driver to the pizza chef and firemen in town. It’s releasing this fall and published by MacLaren-Cochrane Books.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story?
R: The inspiration was exploring and presenting acceptance and diversity to children in a kind and simple manner. I’m a big supporter of We Need Diverse Books and knew there would come a day when I would be participating as an author. I’m so excited about My Community coming to fruition!
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of your book that you could share with regards to working with the publisher and illustrator?
R: Sure! Because the book’s text was specifically geared toward a more specialized theme of diversity/social inclusiveness and MacLaren-Cochrane publishes books that (“dare to dream!”) have loving and gentle messages geared toward a more healing children’s environment on some level, it caught the eye of my editor not long after I submitted my manuscript. The publishing process has been a creative dance between editor’s input, illustrator’s talent, and my own vision, and there were no particular or difficult challenges.
The experience with placing this book with my publisher is a good example of my spending time beforehand researching and reading publishers’ books in their catalogs to see where my own manuscript would be befitting. My story fit MacLaren-Cochrane’s specific needs in many ways, and I was thrilled when I received an acceptance one wintry Saturday evening! Ha- it caught me by surprise!
As far as finding Yeng as my publishing/book partner, I first had to decline several talented illustrators my editor had considered whose work just appeared a little too traditional for the likes of our theme. But I was in love with Yeng’s illustrations in her book with author Lois Lunsford and knew she had a feel for a more present day, cutting edge type of sensibility for images befitting My Community.
Yeng, how did you approach creating the visual atmosphere for My Community's main theme?
Y: The first time that I read the manuscript for My Community, my mind overflowed with excitement and busy detailed scenes. I was so excited, yet overwhelmed when thinking about it until Raven presented me her idea and thoughts for the book. I love drawing characters – and that was the first thing that I had created. Although the story of My Community was filled with joy to begin with, I wanted to show happiness in each illustration and demonstrate the feelings of being alive and active in a neighborhood community.
The previous book that I had illustrated, A New Book for Jack, was illustrated with cleaned lines and is rendered in more detail. With My Community I wanted to remove the clean lines style and use lines to design some of the objects and shapes in the book. I’ve wanted to focus on a less rendered illustration with mainly one shadow in place, if needed.
What or who has influenced your artwork?
Y: I love Animated TV and Films. The storyline and artwork itself have impacted me in many positive ways. I was also honored to have been around talented artists in college, and was exposed to different styles. Thanks to being exposed toward other art styles, I was introduced to three of my now favorite types of illustrations: animation, game, and children’s illustration.
What were the biggest challenges in illustrating My Community?
Y: My Community was done digitally. As a digital artist, some artists like to define their line work before they color. Some prefer to paint on top of their drafts because their draft is understandable in their own eyes. The biggest challenge for me when illustrating My Community was finalizing the line drawings into understandable drawings for Raven to critique, knowing that I will not be keeping the lines in the illustrations.
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
R: Yes! The idea of writing about a whole community sprouted from visiting classrooms and teachers’ requests. Every year in the elementary schools, most classes do a segment regarding their communities. It can involve writing, social skills, history and even math. Depending on the grade, I will have several worksheets available based on our book. Activities will also be conducive to students learning about careers and jobs.
Where do you write and illustrate and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
R: I don’t have rituals with my writing process, however, these days I do try to keep my iPhone on me somewhere so that I can just quickly type in my poetry or story line or idea when it pops up! That inspiration could come while driving to the supermarket or dog walking or on a dawn hike up the mountainside. In general though, I have an office in a peaceful healing space I work from on the upstairs level in my home, or I type up administrative and social media work on my Mac laptop right at the kitchen counter!
Y: I work from home. Most of the work is done in my room. Otherwise, it will be in the kitchen. Ha! Without a schedule, I prefer to work around mid-day and at night. My weekdays are scheduled to babysit my nieces, so I spend the early half of the day babysitting and the later half in freelance.
Yeng, do you have some tips for other illustrators starting out?
Y: For new illustrators, I would recommend to use and to experience all of the tools that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to try something new and be judged. Your biggest critic is yourself anyway! Although you may have your own unique style, keep yourself up to date with the current illustration trends as well.
Do you have any favorite children’s books you can’t get enough of?
R: Too many to list, but I’ll say Bicycle Riding and Other Poems by Sandra Olsen Liatsos and The Great Frog Race by Kristine O’Connell George. And here’s a photo of some special ones close to my heart!
Y: I have a long list! Below are the first that come to mind:
1. Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk
2. Nobunny’s Perfect by Anna Dewdney
3. My No, No, No, Day! by Rebecca Patterson
4. Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
Can you tell us something a lot of people don’t know about you?
R: Well, nobody yet knows that recently I mixed some plain yogurt in with my bowl of buttered angel hair noodles and loved it! I haven’t told my husband – he will cringe no doubt! Ha!
Y: Some people know this, but for those who don’t - I am a huge introvert and like to stay focused when I travel or just go out. This causes me to have a hard time in recognizing people. I can easily recognize people in the same room but out in crowds or in random places, rarely will I notice these familiar faces. Please don’t get me wrong if I appear as someone who ignores you- ha-ha!
(Kellie’s aside - Yeng, I do the exact same thing! I could walk right by family members and not notice. I’m glad I’m not the only one, lol!)
Raven’s website: www.ravenhowell.com
Yeng’s website: http://www.scribbleyeng.com
Raven’s FB author page: https://www.facebook.com/dozypoems/
Yeng’s FB: https://www.facebook.com/yyeev