A Conversation with Michaela Goade

Photo credit: Sydney Akagi.

Michaela Goade is the illustrator of We Are Water Protectors (written by Carole Lindstrom, and published by Roaring Brook), the winner of the 2021 Randolph Caldecott Medal. Julie Danielson interviewed Michaela via email for Calling Caldecott. 

Calling Caldecott: What was your first conversation with Carole Lindstrom like after having found out you won the Caldecott Award for We Are Water Protectors?

Michaela Goade: After we ended the initial Zoom call with the Caldecott Committee, the Roaring Brook team and I called Carole to deliver the incredible news. It was so fun to see her excitement and joy “in person.” I was still very much in shock, but watching her celebrate helped me begin to process what had just happened. It was a thrilling, loving time!

Calling Caldecott: You mention in your Caldecott speech that you fretted over “this most public of acceptances,” but you nailed it. What an eloquent speech! Any acceptance speech-writing advice for the 2022 winner?

Michaela Goade: Thank you so much for saying that. It was a daunting, nerve-wracking (and exhilarating!) experience, especially for an introvert like me. There were so many things I wanted to talk about. It was quite challenging to distill all the ideas down, balancing my personal journey with the bigger picture.

As for advice, I found it helpful to read and listen to a wide variety of past Caldecott speeches. There’s no wrong way to approach it, really. Each speech — just like the artist — was unique. However, I was personally drawn to the speeches that pulled from the themes and messages of their books, spoke to a wider community, and centered children. Also, ask for guidance if you need it! I relied on a few trusted friends who have editing experience to help me shape and refine the speech.

Calling Caldecott: Perhaps you’ve been asked this a skerjillion times, but it’s no small feat to be the first BIPOC woman to win the Caldecott Award in its 83-year history. What does this mean to you?

Michaela Goade: I think it’s sometimes a bit hard to wrap my head around. On one hand, I am heartened by the recognition and what it represents, and at the same time, I wish it had happened before 2021. I like to focus on the future with the hope that it helps create additional opportunities for underrepresented artists. I definitely won’t be the last BIPOC woman artist, and that’s exciting to think about!

Calling Caldecott: What have been some of the highlights of your Caldecott year? 

Michaela Goade: It’s been a surreal Caldecott year, to be honest. I feel like in an earlier time, the highlights would have been the travel and the in-person events (like ALA); classroom visits and bookshop gatherings; visiting with children and making new book friends, while connecting with old ones. I can’t wait to give everyone giant hugs, especially Carole and the committee!

This year it’s been wonderful to watch We Are Water Protectors reach new heights from afar. I haven’t left this island in Southeast Alaska in over a year. However, I’ve had a great time visiting virtually with schools and organizations, and we had a wonderful virtual event with the committee and Caldecott awardees. I also finished my author-illustrator debut, Berry Song, which felt like quite the feat with my jam-packed schedule!

Calling Caldecott: How do you balance 1) what we assume is many more demands on your time (including those virtual school visits) and 2) continuing to make picture books?

Michaela Goade: Hmmm, you may need to get back to me on this one! I haven’t found the balance — not yet at least. Several past Caldecott Medalists told me to prepare mentally for the fact that I may not get as much work done this year as I’d like. I’m glad they mentioned that to me, or else I might’ve been a lot harder on myself, as things continuously slipped through the cracks.

For me, I’ve really worked on getting more comfortable saying no to projects and opportunities. As much as I’d like to, I can’t do it all. Protecting my time and focusing on the things that really align with my long-term goals is vital. While I still pull the occasional all-nighter to make deadlines, I’m working on it. If I don’t have time for the things that light me up, like spending time in nature and being with loved ones, then at the end of the day I have nothing to give to the art. Making time for life and whatever fills your cup is essential.

Calling Caldecott: What is a way that winning the Caldecott Award has changed you, your work, or the way you approach your work that might surprise people?

Michaela Goade: There are so many threads I could follow here. The Caldecott Medal has truly been an amazing gift. I’m able to keep doing what I love and learning with every book. It still feels so wild to me! And it’s something I never even dared to dream about two years ago when I was working on We Are Water Protectors. At that time, I enjoyed a much larger degree of anonymity. My income came through many different channels — mainly graphic design work, small illustration jobs, online art sales, in-person art markets, and picture book contracts. The book projects were one (smaller) slice of my creative career pie.

Now I’m able to dedicate most of my work hours to picture books. I don’t experience the same sort of anxiety when wondering if there will even be a next book. It feels like a huge rush of fresh air. Due to artist imposter syndrome, I’ll always waffle between feeling confident and unworthy with regard to this award. That’s a daily dance I know well! However, in general I’ve found my way to greater confidence, a clearer purpose, and the gift of more time.

Calling Caldecott: It’s been nearly a year and a half now of living with the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you find inspiration during these difficult, socially isolated times?

Michaela Goade: Most of the  inspiration for my work came from spending time on the land before these pandemic days. Not much has changed in that sense, so I feel fortunate. I’m lucky and grateful to live where I do, where there are many opportunities to explore by land and sea. For me, there is a lot of joy and medicine through activities like berry picking, fishing, hiking, and adventures with my family and a few friends.

Calling Caldecott: Is there anything post-Caldecott you would like to tell pre-Caldecott you?

Michaela Goade: Buckle up! It’s going to be an intense and exciting and sometimes unbelievable whirlwind of a year. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and remember to make your health a priority!

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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