Did I have an idea of what Malaika's Costume could or might look like? Definitely. Words, music, and pictures were in my imagination as I tell this story. It is true that I am an aspiring illustrator and I did have some preliminary sketches going into the book. Essentially, although not easy at first, I let go of my Malaika's Costume manuscript to some extent with the trust that it was in good hands with my publisher Groundwood Books and that this story would need to become the illustrator's too. I know the Malaika story intimately. But Irene (and the Groundwood crew) would need to dream, connect with, and envision this book too. I had to allow that to happen. So as do most traditionally-published picture books the author and illustrators work on a book separately. The publisher works in the middle. Yet somehow it all works together to produce a beautiful book. Magic!
Do authors and illustrators of the same picture book ever meet? Typically a publisher does not set up a meeting between authors and illustrators. Often authors and illustrators of books never meet (ever) until they are on a stage somewhere doing a reading or accepting a prize or award for their book. #*$% that! WHY wait so long if distance is not issue? And if you live in the same city, WHY not meet beforehand? That's what I say. You already have been on different journeys to create the same story in words and pictures and bring it to print (independently of each other), so why not meet to discuss it? So that's what Irene and I did. We met for tea at a Toronto cafe. It was a nice time. We talked about our lives, imagination, immigration, inspirations, and of course illustrations. (This is reminding me of Jill Scott's song Long Walk where in the chorus she lists all of the things that she can talk about... conversation, verbal relations, stimulation, situation, temptation, hesitation, relaxation, elevation. Favourite karaoke song. Gosh! I can't believe it's already 9 years old.) We also talked about how we each emotionally-connected with Malaika, the character, and her story and the immigration experiences in both our families.
Irene is not only an illustrator but she is an accomplished painter and arts educator. I fell in love with her paintings which I describe as an intense use of colours and whimsy and imaginatio. She somehow captures light so it emits from a page and I feel it in my stomach (it's gutteral), it's emotional,... Each of her illustrated books are unique and do not resemble the next one. When Sheila Barry, my publisher at Groundwood, asked me if I knew any illustrators (other than myself LOL), I did my own search "high and low" for someone with who works in mixed media (art creation with a mix of different materials, e.g. paint, digital, papers, objects, textiles) at the top of the list and I did have one I really liked. When Sheila suggested Irene, it was another intuitive decision (and a feeling in my heart) that she was the one-- the artist to tell my story. I thought, if Irene could take the emotional intensity that I felt lookinig at her paintings and bring it to Malaika's Costume, this book would be quite special.
I am looking forward to the Malaika's Costume publication date on March 1st, 2016-- just a few short days away. The launch for Malaika's Costume will take place on Saturday, March 5, 2016 2-4pm-- in less than a week-- at A Different Booklist bookstore in Toronto. Come celebrate with us! I can't wait for more opportunities to work with Irene in our future presentations, as well as illustrations for the Malaika's Costume sequel out in Fall 2017.