Friday, October 15, 2010

Children's Book Illustrators Take The First Exit To Brooklyn

By Nancy Mattoon

Never Take A Goat To The Library.
Illustration From:
Never take a shark to the dentist : (and other things not to do) ;
by Judi Barrett with art by John Nickle.
New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008
(All Images Courtesy Of Brooklyn Public Library.)

"Brooklyn's diverse, vibrant environment is home to the most remarkable concentration of children's book professionals on the planet," proclaims the slightly biased website of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). But the Library gets some backing from an independent Facebook page called Brooklyn Children's Book Authors. This page boasts: "It has become clear that if you write children's books and you live in NYC you are eventually going to move to Brooklyn."

The Eraserheads;
by Kate Banks; pictures by Boris Kulikov.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

If you're still not convinced that Brooklyn is the Mecca of writers for the younger set, check out Drawn In Brooklyn, an exhibition sponsored by BPL featuring original children's book illustrations by 34 artists who call New York City's most populous borough home. The exhibit was curated by Brooklynite John Bemelmans Marciano, grandson of of Ludwig Bemelmans, the famed creator of Madeline. Marciano began his career in children's literature by completing and illustrating one of his grandfather's unfinished manuscripts.

Madeline Loves Animals;
by John Bemelmans Marciano;
[based on the characters created by Ludwig Bemelmans]
New York: Viking, c2005.

BPL invited Marciano to create an exhibit made up of his own art, but he offered to present what he considered the pride of the Brooklyn book world instead. After working as both an author and an illustrator, Marciano discovered, "Writing children’s books isn’t so hard. It’s the illustrating that keeps you up for months on end." Despite this, he believes illustrators rarely get the respect they deserve. "Illustrators are the stepchildren of two industries: not taken seriously by the fine artist or gallery community and not part of the publishing world, which is so focused on the writing. His goal in creating Drawn In Brooklyn was "to bring attention to the artists."

My Chinatown: One Year In Poems;
[written and illustrated by] Kam Mak.
New York: Harper Collins, c2002.

The show he curated is more than just a gallery of amazingly varied picture book art. It also includes installations created by the illustrators containing sketches, models, tools and other objects which reveal the process behind the making of picture book art. The illustrators also gave brief interviews detailing the often surprising inspirations behind their work.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan;
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
New York, NY: Viking, 2010.

For example, Australian transplant Sophie Blackall became intrigued by "old scrapbooks from Victorian times though the 1950s...made of ephemera of little stories from people's lives." Her collage-like work incorporates Victorian trade cards, Indian sweet wrappers, industrial diagrams, faded wallpaper, microscope slides, and turn-of-the-century comic strips.

I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother;
[written and illustrated by] Selina Alko.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, c2009

By contrast, illustrator Selina Alko says, "Most of my work is autobiographical in some way. My Subway Ride and My Taxi Ride show my passion for New York. My work remains fresh thanks to my marriage to illustrator Sean Qualls, his emotionally textured work, and our cultural differences. I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother is about our children's blended heritage.

[written and illustrated by] Peter Brown
New York: Little, Brown, c2006

Peter Brown's work is influenced by the contrast between the country and the city. "One of my favorite childhood activities was simply sitting on the log that stretched across my favorite babbling brook and observing the forested landscape near my home. Since then, I've lived in Los Angeles, London and New York City, and I've discovered my love of urban landscapes. My fascination with those very different environments has inspired me to tell stories of seemingly opposite things coming together in surprising, funny and beautiful ways. "

Bad news for outlaws : the remarkable life of Bass Reeves, deputy U.S. marshal;
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrations by Gregory Christie.
Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, c2009.

And R. Gregory Christie has always felt compelled to express himself through images, "I began painting when I was 13, drawing even before I could speak. My art has naturally taken a leading role in my life, serving as an outlet for my emotions. I feel that a painting is only half done until it's viewed by others; it is a 'conversation' between the creator and viewer. Not an audible word needs to be uttered during this exchange, but in order for there to be a learning process or appreciation of an image, the two participants must speak the same visual language."

Skit-scat Raggedy Cat : Ella Fitzgerald;
Written by Roxane Orgill; illustrated by Sean Qualls.
Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2010.

Brooklyn Public Library Exhibitions Manager Barbara Wing takes great pride in giving a showcase to the "many talented and well known illustrators who reside in this great borough of Brooklyn." The exhibit is at Brooklyn's main branch, but curator John Bemelmans Marciano says, "All of the books have been ordered not only at the central library...but in all of the branches, so many of the illustrator's of the favorite books... will be available to take home." The show continues through January of 2011.


  1. A very interesting illustration of illustrators.

  2. Stay tune for the epic feature of: “Bass Reeves” US Deputy Marshal. In the mean time; Keep telling that history:

    Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, where Buffalo Bill Cody meets a Buffalo Soldier. A great story of Black military history…the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.

    How do you keep a people down? ‘Never’ let them ‘know’ their history.

    The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn’t for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.
    Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial…and visit the website

    I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry. The story shows the truism to the fullest of a PG-14 perspective...with a DVD release to show the fullest reality of warfare. Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

    The novel was taken from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn’t like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with…see at;

    When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for Wells Fargo in Montana, in the 1890’s, “spread the word”.



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