This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shadra Strickland, celebrated children’s book illustrator, for our Zoobean Experts on Air series. Ms. Strickland recently released Please, Louise in collaboration with Toni and Slade Morrison. I have long been a fan of Ms. Strickland’s unique voice and powerful imagery. She had wonderful insights on a variety of topics, and below are some that resonated most with me. Enjoy, and if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, please visit your local library to pick up Please, Louise, a wonderful story about the transformative power of books for one little girl.
1. Be brave enough to say, “I am an artist.” Despite her talent and desire to be an illustrator, Ms. Strickland initially went into the field of design, which she viewed as a safer choice. When she found herself missing drawing, painting, and storytelling, she pursued that path. As she says, it wasn’t until she graduated from school that she was brave enough to call herself an artist. Once she did, and focused on honing her craft (doggedly, I might add), she realized her vision of crafting stories through art.
2. Seeing your own story told in a children’s book can be life-changing. Ms. Strickland grew up in Atlanta, and her community was predominantly Black. As a child, she loved to draw, and cultivated her artistic talent. She was inspired by published stories that reflected her own reality. In seeing works by Kadir Nelson, Pat Cummings, and others, Ms. Strickland understood that to mean that her story was valuable. “Seeing other authors doing what I wanted to do was an entry point for me. I wanted to tell those slice of life stories…[seeing those types of stories] was a turning point for me. It made me feel like I had more options to use my own voice and personal experiences in creating picture books.”
2a. But...“It’s arrogant to only do stories about your one singular experience." While Ms. Strickland’s world may have been almost entirely Black as a child, she notes, “my mom was always good at showing me different realities.” Ms. Strickland made it a point to experience different cultures and places as she grew up, and now looks to tell stories that reflect the multicultural world in which we live. To do otherwise, as she notes, is arrogant. In Ms. Strickland’s words, “As bookmakers, it’s our job to tell these truths and to shed light on the world we live in now….[this world] is full of all different types of stories.”
3. Do good work, and the rest will follow. When I asked Ms. Strickland to tell us her mantra, this was her response. Do good work, and the rest will follow. As she noted, “it’s so easy to get hung up on what you’re not accomplishing, or what counterpoints are accomplishing.” Instead of doing this, Ms. Strickland focuses on what she is doing at present, always experimenting across mediums and building her craft. She knows that if she does that, “everything will fall into place.” Although, she did add that the road is long! You have to “have faith in yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight. There might be books on my shelf, but it took a long time to get here.” It’s clear Ms. Strickland focuses on her work, and we look forward to watching her portfolio and career unfold!