I'm Emily Reynolds.
Fumi, when did you first realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
Probably when I had to decide on which major to focus on in College.
I was trying to choose between either culinary arts or fine arts. I thought I will always be cooking and baking on my own anyway, but art was a skill I thought I could only learn from school. One of the professors at the college had a major influence on me, and he recommended studying illustration first before pursuing a fine arts career.
As a child, was there anything else you dreamed of becoming?
There was a big bread factory near my house, and it always smelled so good when I passed by. So for a long time, I wanted to be a baker!
How did being raised in Japan influence your creative work?
The schools in Japan always have art classes. Although the classes were not necessarily always taught by an art teacher, they still gave me many opportunities to experiment with different mediums and variety of ideas. We also learned to write calligraphy with pencils and with ink and brush, and I think that writing trains kids with precise motor skills and design sense skills. As I learned about other cultures, I realized that Japan is a much more art and design oriented culture compared to others.
Japanese people are very conscious of what makes something beautiful, and one can see and feel that in everything there, including how food is made and presented, the ways that gifs are wrapped, and the way people dress, etc.
What’s your secret to balancing mothering, teaching, and illustrating?
Of the three roles, being a mom is my most important. So I have been making that my first priority especially when my kids were very young. I was blessed because I didn’t have to work when they were little. Although I understand some moms have to work. As my kids got older, I started teaching and getting back into illustrating a little at a time.
Everyone’s situation is different, and for me, I have been receiving many promptings to get back into this again. So I’ve been doing the best I could to follow them. I pray every morning so that I will know what I should focus on, and what to work on first. I don’t get everything done on my list at the end of the day, but that’s OK because I know I’m accomplishing what’s most important for me at this time in my life.
What’s your favorite snack to snitch while painting?
Whatever I have on hand - usually dried fruits, nuts, dark chocolate, etc. Herbal tea and Pero are my favorite drinks during the cold months.
What music do you listen to for inspiration?
I love classical music, and of course, jazz!
What’s the one thing you’re always telling your students at Brigham Young University to do (or not to do)?
Use your talents to do good - create artwork to inspire and uplift others! Not the other way around.
What do you like best, and least, about teaching college students?
Best: When I can feel the goodness and commitment of a student.
Least: When I notice some students trying to get away with less effort.
Which professor had the greatest impact on you at BYU-IDAHO or BYU, and why?
Ricks: Leon Parson. Although I didn’t fully comprehend what he taught because my English skills were very limited at the time, but I could feel his enthusiasm for art. He taught me how having faith in God affects everything we do in life, including creative work.
BYU: Richard Hull & Robert Barrett. They are the ones who gave me the specific guidance and the drive I needed to succeed. I had no desire to go to NY after college, and they are the ones who insisted that I go, and everything changed after that.
Share with us your job description at Harper Collins back in the day. What was the greatest lesson you picked up from working there?
I was the assistant to Harriet Barton, the head art director in the Children’s Design Department. Answering her calls, going through her mails, scanning original art work, making copies, welcoming & directing visitors, ordering materials, keeping track of everyone’s sick days, etc. Later on, I did work on some design projects.
Harriett was the best boss anyone could ask for. She taught me so much about picture books; their history, influential artists, how the publishing companies work, etc. Most importantly, she taught me about life!
Which authors/illustrators did you most enjoy meeting at Harper Collins?
The illustrator I remember that most was Marc Simont (he won a Caldecott with the book The Happy Day back in the 1940s). I was surprised to see this grey-haired fellow arrive by bicycle to deliver his original paintings for the book we were working on. I was thrilled to have him sign some books in my collection that he has illustrated. I wish I would have known what to say or how to ask better questions than I did back then!
What do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time now? (If you have any?)
Yeah, if any, I’ve always enjoyed sewing and knitting. I also love to work in the garden. Weeding actually is a very calming and peaceful activity for me!
What is your favorite picture book, chapter book, adult novel, and movie?
That’s a hard one to answer. There are so many good ones - Story-wise: Ox-cart Man, Only Opal, The Man Who Planted Trees (there is a short video of this last story on youtube, you should watch it, it will leave a very deep impression on you!). Japanese ones: Hanasaki-yama, Kitsune no Okyaku-sama, Mahou no Enogu are my favorite. Illustration-wise: The Orange Book, The Happy Hocky Family, any of Kinuko Kraft’s princess books. There are so much more, but these are what came to my mind!
Fumi and Emily as roommates with buddies (including illustrator, Brigida Magro, center--check out Brigida's work on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/sweetbeyond/)
most likely riding the N/R subway line from Queens into Manhattan. Fun fun! Oh, the days!
What were your three favorite activities to do while living as a starving young artist in NYC (besides teaching me how to cook Japanese curry, eat soba noodles for breakfast, and pronounce baking powder in Japanese (“bakingu-powdah”)?
Having a friend like you there was one of the best things about living in NY. Everyone needs a good friend to help ease the transition of learning to live in the big city!
Walking around different neighborhoods and feeling the city’s energy, going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for only a quarter(!), taking a stroll in Central Park especially during spring and early summer when everything was in bloom.
How does your husband’s (Tim Davis) background/vocational expertise influence you in your work? Does he critique your paintings for you? Do your kids give you their two cents as well when you paint?
Tim is a wonderful husband and a father, and is amazed with anything I create! So he’s not so good with critiquing my work. But my kids are honest and eager, and they have a good sense of what makes good art, so I often show them my work to get some good feedback.
What are your creative plans for 2020?
Create many new pieces for my portfolio, and finish my own book project!
Do you still sew, and work in origami, or fiber arts or textiles?
Yes, I’ve been making clothing and toys for my kids whenever I get a chance. I love creating with my own hands with raw materials!
How many books have you illustrated? Which is your favorite?
10 books. My favorite one will be the next one—hopefully!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Over the years, I’ve met and talked with many people who have read my books not realizing that I was the one who illustrated them. When they find out, I get looks of surprise and admiration, along with kind words.
Who was your creative inspiration as a young girl? And as an adult now, who are your favorite current artists or illustrators?
When I was very little, my mom had a mother goose book illustrated by Gyo Fujijkawa who was a Japanese American. I think that was the only English picture book we had in our house. The book had so many illustrations, and I used to look at them over and over. We used to get some books from the mobile Library Truck every week, and I used to love to look through all the illustrations in the picture books and chapter books. Ken Kuroi is an illustrator I really admired at the time. He has very soft warm touch to his color pencil work, and I loved it. Besides regular illustration, I used to buy this magazine called Ribbon which was a manga series for girls. I would copy many of the drawings from it.
I love simplified well designed art. My favorites right now are: Shizuko Wakayama, Mary Blair, Ingela Parrhenius, Leo Espinosa, Kenard Pak, and many more!
Do you have any advice for children’s book enthusiasts who’d like to write or illustrate their own stories?
Although I can’t provide much help to the writers, for artists, the best advice I can give is to get good training by either going to art school or a professional online school—now there are many affordable options. There is a big difference between an amateur and a professional illustrator, and you really need to be one of the best if you want your work published by major publishing companies. Publishers usually like to choose their own authors and illustrators, so if you are new, it is very unlikely they will publish a story which you have both written and illustrated. I would work on getting some illustration work published first to get some experience and connections, then introduce your own illustrated story to either your agent or publisher. If you just want to self-publish, that’s a whole different story. I don’t have experience with that.
Tell us about your most recent book release from 2019…
This is a sequel book to the book I illustrated over 15 years ago. The first book Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed has sold many copies over the years, and the publisher wanted to make another book. I think the story in the sequel is better than the first one although it’s a bit complicated. I had to paint 17 unique characters from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and that was not easy. It’s called Ordinary Mary’s Positively Extra Ordinary Day. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures as well as reading the story!
Thank for humoring me with all of these questions, dear Fumi! It was a delight to hear what you’re up to and it will be a pleasure for all of your readers to see your latest book!
To peruse more of Fumi’s cheery and uplifting illustration work, and to watch her new style unfold over the next year, check out Fumi’s portfolio on Instagram!
Can't wait to see what Fumi's up to next! Happy Valentine's Day, Sweet Readers!
We all know that the real purpose of Valentine’s Day isn’t to give or get flowers or sea salt caramels from a romantic interest. It’s to give books, or course! (Are you reading this Matt? Ha ha! Just kidding. Kind of.)
February 14th around here, means cutting and pasting construction paper cards, crunching conversation hearts and exclaiming over their latest -isms (like "Text me"), and decorating sugar cookies--iced with the names of those we can't get along without. (You thought I was going to say, "icing the names of those we can't get along with," didn't you? Well that too....) At least that's how it goes at our house. What about yours? Any fun Valentine's Day traditions? Spill them in the comments below...
Not to mention celebrating the friends that text us goofy commentaries about life's awkward or miserable moments--to make us laugh out loud even when the sun is not shining inside, and it's twelve degrees outside. Because as we all know...uncomfortable experiences can always be related after the fact, to a trusted friend for shared glee in hindsight!
A true friend is someone who’s seen your best and worst, and still loves you regardless.
So this month’s book review will share six books about FRIENDSHIP, and the real meaning of the word LOVE. (And you can hum Nat King Cole's lyrics to "L-O-V-E" in your head all the while...)
1) If You’ll Be My Valentine, written by
Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka
With Valentine's Day next week, I'll be posting an interview with my long-time friend from college, and former roommate (from our “starving-artist-days-in-New-York-City"), Fumi Kosaka. You'll hear the scoop about her latest book release, and the inspirations behind her bright and cheery style.
But right now, I'll share with you my all-time favorite Valentine's Day books, Fumi's If You’ll Be Valentine. This tender tale is written by everyone’s picture book sweetheart and Newbery medalist, Cynthia Rylant. But combining this duo of author and illustrator, is like what Mr. Reese must have felt when he first paired peanut butter with chocolate—cups of sweet and salty bliss! Going along with the topic of “salty,” how could anyone not enjoy a book that has text such as the following:
“If you’ll be my valentine
I’ll give you extra treaties.
I’ll give you two,
and maybe three,
and let you lick my feeties.”
My childhood mutt (part terrier/pekingese/poodle/chihuahua), Taffy, really would crawl down under my covers at night and lick the salt from between my toes. EEEK! Fumi actually captures this tickly sensation in her darling and tidy illustrations! You'll find that her pictures are are sweet simplicity. The faces of my dear Fumichan's characters depict what is best in life—the innocence and joy of friend and family relationships experienced during childhood.
From parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and animals...to the trees outside our windows, this short picture book shows kids how to connect with others through small acts of kindness.
2) Jake’s Thumb, written by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Claudio Munoz.
Spoiler ahead (!):Though quiet for a little thumb-sucker, Jake, can maneuver all sorts of tasks while sucking, like riding his bike, walking the dog, mastering the remote, (such skill!) etc. But Jake’s family doesn’t understand the joy he derives from his “best thumb,” and they continually pester him to stop sucking, because as everybody knows…big boys don’t do it.
But when Jake starts kindergarten, and sucks his thumb in public, he’s teased by a bully in his class, Cliff. Jake is threatened and lonely, until he meets a sympathetic friend who also finds security through a crutch—her stuffed animal. But the climax peaks when the bully Cliff, jeers at Jake by calling him, “Thumb-sucker" loudly on the playground--just at the moment when a piece of much- stroked “blankie” drops from his pocket, mid-ridiculing.
Instead of turning the tables on Cliff, and calling him “Blankie Baby,” or drawing the attention of the entire studentbody to Cliff’s weakness (as Cliff did to Jake), Jake does something magnanimous--he forgives and lets go, to stop the cycle of hurt. We readers are forced to pause and consider ourselves...wondering what we would do in such a situation. I hope we can follow Jake’s path.
Bravo to Ilene Cooper for writing a character so endearing and so full of compassion and forgiveness, and to Claudio Munoz for making the story come so alive with emotion and detail.
The golden rule trumps all, thanks to the big-heartedness of one fictional yummy-thumbed boy.
3) The Great Sandwich Swap, written by
Rania Al-Abdullah, Kelly DiPucchio,
and illustrated by Tricia Tusa.
The story starts out, “It all began with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…and it ended with a hummus sandwich.” When two best friends, Salma and Lily, (who have done everything together at school), finally admit to being grossed-out by each other’s unfamiliar lunch choices, a school-wide food fight ensues. But as the two girls realize how lonely it is when they let their cultural differences come between them, they brave trying the other’s sandwich, and are in for a wildly-happy surprise.
This funny story pricks at our consciences, reminding us that no one has the market on deliciousness in life—the good in every culture can be shared when we let down our guards of fear, judgement, and blind repulsion, and try something new! Who knows, we might say, “Hey, this is delicious! And…this is heavenly!” just like Salma and Lily.
4) Dahlia, written and illustrated by
If you love an old-world feel, but haven't seen Barbara McClintock’s fresh takes on classic subjects, go straight to the library and enter her name in the catalogue's search window! Dahlia is the tale of an earthy little girl, Charlotte, who receives a delicate doll from her prissy Great Aunt Edme. Charlotte does not “do” dolls. As said in the story,
“In Charlotte’s room, among the dragonflies and boxes of beetles and found birds’ nests, the doll looks out of place. ‘We like digging in dirt and climbing trees…no tea parties, no being pushed around in frilly prams. You’ll just have to get used to the way we do things.’” Charlotte instructs. And Dahlia the doll does.
The illustrations, of the said bedroom, are fantastic! Bird nests are settled in tree branches behind the bed frame, sketch books lay open on the floor with drawings of mushroom specimens poised on the carpet, a woven basket holds a stash of walking sticks, a dragonfly collection is mounted on the wall, a snake in a cage lives on the dresser, an arrangement of cattails in a vase resides next to the seashells. Not to mention robin’s eggs, pet birds, pinecones—every sensible parent’s nightmare! KOOKA-BURRA! Craziness to a mom, I tell you!
No, I would not want to be Charlotte’s mother. But at times I guess I am that mom, when my kids ravage the woods here in Maine, and sneak walking sticks under their beds, robin’s eggs into their drawers, and wintergreen berry potions concocted into jars on their dressers. But Charlotte’s character is like a compendium of all six of my kids, making one ultra explorative, clutter-collecting child. A naturalist hoarder!
Though finding these “natural treasures” in my own house drives me batty (when I remind the kids that, “nature doesn’t belong in the house—it wants to live outside”), I am glad in my heart, secretly, that children do have that innate sense of wonder and awe at the creation around them. I like to enjoy it with them—just in the woods, though.
As Charlotte takes her new doll outside to tag along in her adventures with her teddy bear, Bruno, she discovers that anyone can enjoy the wonders of nature.
The transformation in Charlotte's perceptions of others undergoes a change as well, by the end, as she’s called upon to show her doll to her prim Aunt Edme after a surprise visit for supper. With the now-sullied and tattered Dahlia, Charlotte's afraid to face her aunt with the dirty doll in her hnads. But Aunt Edme gives her the stamp of approval when she says,
“When I saw your doll in a shop window, I thought she needed to be out in the sunshine, and played with, and loved. I knew that is just what you would do for her; I only wish I could make mud pies and be tossed in the air; but I’m too old.”
When you’re done reading Dahlia with your kids, if you’re still craving more naturalists' adventures—without having to bring the snakes inside yourself, pick up the cool bio on Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma, entitled Charles and Emma.
You’ll get an insider’s view on how the Darwins raised their explorative children as real-life “Charlottes.” (Think ten kids—seven lived long lives into adulthood—climbing trees, welcoming wild animals right INTO their home, looking at everything under microscopes, experimenting and observing flora and fauna on a regular basis. The details, of Mr. Darwin taking his daily walks alongside the hedgerows near their home every day, are delightful!
Such a life sounds incredible. Incredibly messy for parents. Ha ha! (The Darwin’s must have had a maid or two…or ten!) Still...beautifully adventurous! And the Darwin bio is a treat for those of us who need to relax and embrace a little more creative chaos--perhaps for the sake of science, or higher yet, our children’s joy of discovery.
5) Dear Dragon, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.
Josh Funk’s witty storyline makes adults and children alike laugh and smile while pouring over every one of Rodolfo Montalvo’s vivaciously-ironic illustrations. Really, people, the humor in this situation is too delicious: a young dragon and a school boy corresponding as pen pals for a class assignment, without even knowing they aren’t of the same species!
Anyone who loves getting a letter in the mail will eat this tale up! Who didn’t thrive on having a pen pal as a kid? I still do love my occasional adult pen pals. I can’t get enough of sending and receiving snail mail to cherished friends and family. And in the case of George Slair (the human boy here), and Blaise Drogomir (the dragon child), the misperceptions are rife with charm.
Not to even mention that Josh Funk, the writer, went against what all editors advise (avoid rhyming like the plague!), and came out spectacularly well with a lyrical story that floats off the tongue, and into the hearts and minds of all kids who love dinosaurs, dragons, and imaginary worlds colliding with their own.
6) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, written by Kate DiCamillo, and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.
Okay...so you know how there are some books you pick up, and think to yourself, “Nah. This book is not for me. I can just tell by the cover!” Well, for shame, Self! I did this to all of Kate DiCamillo’s books for at least a decade (after watching the movie version of The Tale of Despereaux BEFORE reading the book—BLOOP! BLOOP! BLOOP!—bibliophile faux-pas alert!). And how much I’ve missed!
Thus, how much my older children missed—or at least didn’t get from me, because a poorly-made movie adaptation affected my ideas about a book. Ugh. I really didn't enjoy the movie rendition, and quite conversely, I really did revel in the depth and creativity of the book's strong prose in The Tale of Despereaux. Only because after a fellow writing friend (Julie--bless you!) mentioned, on several occasions, how much she appreciated Kate DiCamillo’s stories, I figured I’d better give them an actual chance. So my kids and I checked out a few audio books from the library, and listened to The Tale of Despereaux during dish-washing duty.
And our consensus? Ms. DiCamillo nails humanity in her quirky, relatable characters. And after the film adaptation's stilting and vapid portrayal of the story, I was delightfully surprised at the moral heft and meaning the book holds.
Which leads to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. After Despereaux, I wanted more! I needed more of Ms. DiCamillo’s insight. So we listened to the next book on our queue, and after disregarding Edward Tulane’s odd duck cover in second hand stores and book shops for years, I was sucked right in from the first chapter.
One must find out if Edward (a strangely-unique porcelain rabbit/doll/toy/thing) overcomes his own vanity and empty emotions. As he's hoisted into rough, ugly, and humble situations over the years, Edward gleans a shred of love here, and an appreciation for others there.
Soon, much like The Velveteen Rabbit, Edward's heart becomes real as he learns to love, and sacrifice his beauty and own comfort for the welfare of others. (I won’t give up the satisfying ending if you haven't read Edward Tulane's tale), but I will say this, there are parts in this book that may or may not make a driver quietly quake with tears and wipe them away while listening, among rapt children in the back of a twelve-passenger van.
Since hearing these audio reads, I’ve been ravenously looking up every interview I can find highlighting Ms. DiCamillo. Here’s the most remarkable one I’ve heard yet about her determination to overcome resistance and failure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcTgWWTD5lQ (regarding her experience in receiving 473 rejection letters before being published). There’s also another lovely acceptance speech for the Newbery Award on youtube, but if you watch the first interview from the link above, you’ll probably go on to see the subsequent offerings of Ms. DiCamillo’s goodness right there for your partaking. Just inspiring.
Enjoy these loverly books about true friendship. And Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you sweetheart reading buddies!
What's your own favorite book about friendship? Give us a recommendation in the comments below!