By Jiao Fu
- Why do you choose children as your readers? And what keeps you focusing on children?
Well, I write children’s books because I love them. I think they are the best books out there; they are what I read in my spare time. It’s the books that I read as a child that have had the strongest influence on me, and it is those books to which I am most attached. Perhaps I write children’s books because my hope is that someone will love my book as much as I love the books I read as a child.
- What are the attractions and challenges of being a writer and illustrator for children?
Being an author and an illustrator comes with great challenges as well as rewards. The entire book becomes your vision, which is wonderful but also difficult as the complete responsibility of how it is received is placed on your shoulders. When you get a bad review or someone doesn’t like the book, there’s no one else to blame!
- What is your goal for creating art for children? What do you hope children to gain or learn from the work you do for them?
Well, first, I hope that they enjoy the book—the reading of it, the looking at the illustrations. I hope that they enjoy the book so much that they love it and want to read it again and again, and that it leaves a pleasant mark in their memories. After that, I hope they understand the book’s theme—be it Asian culture, friendship, or gratitude.
- As a descendant of Asian-born parents and as someone who grew up in the U.S., is there anything special that has influenced your life or your creative mind?
I think back when I was a child, differences were less tolerated. We lived in upstate New York where there were few minorities, especially Asian. My parents wanted us to blend; they wanted us to grow up really “American” and made the decision to speak to us in English in the house. So, my sisters and I grew up Americanized. There were always subtle differences, like Chinese food or red envelopes, but most of the time we glossed over them.
A lot of my books deal with my heritage because, in a way, I’m trying to find the culture I lost. When I was younger, I was ashamed or sometimes even angry about being Asian. It’s only now, after becoming an adult, that I realized there was something I lost, ignoring these parts of my heritage. There were a lot of things that we did, like eating ginger soup at a baby shower, that I never bothered to learn more about. So now, I research these kinds of things about my heritage. I find out why. I feel like these things are so important and nice for everyone to know about. That’s why I do many books about Asian culture featuring Asian-American families.
- Why do you choose to be an illustrator? And what made you want to draw and paint for children?
I think I always loves painting and drawing, which is why I went to art school for illustration. But I also loved reading and writing, which is why I wanted to make books for children.
- Different illustrators have different styles. What has shaped your drawing/painting style?
I began “my style” at the end of my senior year at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I loved bright colors and graphic shapes, but flat planes of color were not satisfying enough for me. I enjoyed adding intricate patterns on people’s clothes, so putting patterns on everything just kind of spilled over. When I do patterns, I like to tie it into the concept or idea of what I am painting—like in Lissy’s Friends, which is about origami, all the patterns in the book are inspired by origami paper. People have said my trademark is the painted swirls in the sky, which I do often. I did the swirls in the sky as a kind of Van Gogh “Starry Night” homage pattern and I liked how it gave a texture but still fell back. Later, I found out that swirls have symbolic meaning in Chinese culture—either clouds or an endless circle, both auspicious symbols. So, the swirls have stuck!
- When you make illustrations for your book, what matters most to you?
The most important part of making books is that the words and pictures go together. The things that matters most to me is that the illustrations not only support the words and stories, but enhances it. To me, the story and pictures should not really be able to stand well alone. It is only when they are together that the reader really experiences the book fully.