Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Shadra Strickland

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Jump In! to this celebration of outdoor fun in Shadra Strickland’s author/illustrator debut.

1. In a note, you credit Italian Futurism for your aesthetic inspiration. Where and when did you discover it?

I remember seeing Fortunato Depero’s Skyscrapers and Tunnels (1930) in elementary school. The scene was so playful and energetic, and the colors glowed! As an illustrator, it’s important to convey feeling and emotion in support of storytelling and not try to perfect reality on the page. The futurists certainly did this in their art (though their politics sucked).

2. Is it a particular neighborhood you depict?

It’s a mash-up of different neighborhoods I’ve lived in. Before living in New York, I romanticized the fire escapes, brownstones, and neighborhood parks of Brooklyn. I added elements of greenery and light to make the neighborhood feel more Southern without placing it in any specific city.

3. How do you approach the challenge of depicting movement in a static medium?

By “painting” on top of my scanned pencil sketches on my iPad. I made loose gestures of the bodies in motion and massaged the blobs until they felt anatomically believable. I then “dressed” the blobs by adding a clothing layer and then facial features. I looked to the futurists in adding “echoes” of moving limbs and ropes.

4. And how did you talk your editor into those four (spectacular) foldouts?

When making the dummy, I couldn’t fit everything comfortably in thirty-two pages. I sent a mockup with gatefolds to my editor, Mary Kate Castellani. It didn’t occur to me that I might be rejected until she applauded me for taking the extra step to help her say yes. As in all things picture books, “Show. Don’t tell.” I’m grateful to designer John Candell for helping me get all those pages aligned.

5. What’s the secret to jumping in without tripping? Feel free to take this as a metaphor or not.

The secret for me is to close my eyes, trust the turners, and bunny hop into the ropes. I haven’t fallen on my face yet but would get right back up even if I did!

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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