Jules: Author/Illustrator Selina Alko is visiting today, and I just have to open with her illustration of Tennessee from Sheila Keenan’s nonfiction title, Greetings from the 50 States (Scholastic). And that’s because Eisha and I are both from Tennessee (well, okay, I was really born in Kentucky but consider Tennessee home), even though I returned after a bit of time away from it but Eisha up and moved to Massachusetts and then settled in New York. (I think, however, that she’ll always be a Southern girl at heart, y’all. She can correct me if I’m wrong, but once you’ve lived in the shadow of those Great Smoky Mountains, as we both did for quite a while, the state quite firmly settles itself into a cozy corner of your heart. One with fiddles playing on the radio and a stash of MoonPies and Jack Daniel’s nearby.)
In fact, speaking of New York and Massachusetts, Selina also sent her illustrations for those states, too, since she currently lives in New York—Brooklyn, to be precise—and since she figured we book-lovers would appreciate Massachusett’s border of books (which, indeed, we do). She even threw in her groovy Brooklyn image for us, made “for a travelling exhibit of illustrators’ work entitled, NY: Real or Imagined,” she told me. “This piece is indicative of my current style and pretty autobiographical in content”:
But that was then—Greetings From the 50 States was published last September—and this is now:
strawberry cream Mama’s milk.”
Selina’s newest title, her debut title as both author and illustrator, is I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, just released from Knopf Books for Young Readers. “Baby brother or sister, will you look like me?” asks a young boy, as he touches his mama’s very pregnant belly. “Starry night sky and lemon meringue sunshine, Daddy and Mommy blend a mocha cloud”:
Here’s the thing about this title, all about a young boy awaiting the arrival of a new sibling: I guess I didn’t know what to expect, though I knew enough to know it was about a multiracial child whose family was about to get bigger. And I guess that I assumed that it would only be about that, but it doesn’t just hit that one note, which it could have easily done: It’s a book that truly celebrates family and the thrill and mystery of an impending birth, especially for a young child, as well as the extra-added and lovely in-utero riddle of multiracial children — will the child be “my vanilla bean ice cream sibling or super-rich double chocolate fudge?”
And the writing is lyrical, possessing its own very jazzy rhythm: “Baby, will your lips shape like mine? My soft rose petals smack sugar on Mommy’s jelly-bean smile. Mmwaa! Will Daddy plant a big one on your candy heart kiss?”
As the School Library Journal review noted, “the loving and anticipatory atmosphere may connect with any expectant family wondering who the new baby will take after.” Yes, the best part, in my opinion, of being pregnant — the very expecting of expecting.
And, as this article in Time Out New York Kids states, the family in Selina’s story bears a strong resemblance to her own: her husband, illustrator Sean Qualls (who recently received the Coretta Scott King Award Honor for Before John Was A Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford and who will soon be joining me for a breakfast interview); their son, Isaiah (four-years-old); and their daughter, Ginger, who just turned one on Valentine’s Day.
Selina’s website has very recently been updated, so head on over there for some more of her art work (and to keep up with her books in-the-works), and you can also keep up with her at her blog. Over there, she writes that she and Sean will be doing their first-ever joint show at the end of March at the Hootenanny Art House in Brooklyn, and boy howdy do I wish I could see that.
We’ll close with one of Selina’s portraits from her days of doing a weekly portrait for Showbiz Weekly, a Las Vegas publication. This is Macy Gray. I love closing with this, because who doesn’t INSTANTLY get into a great mood when listening to this?
As a reminder, our 7-kicks are our weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. So, let’s kick it up. Absolutely anyone is welcome to list kicks — even if, or especially if, you’ve never done so before.
1). My funny and clever and complex and big-hearted first-born turned five this week, and we partied down. Even the rain didn’t stop us. Remember the forget-me-not doll that Farida made her? She loves her. Her name is Flora.
2). Jama sent me a wonderful, happy, and perfect surprise in the mail this week.
3). I watched this Peter Pan again, this time with my girls. Anyone else seen this? It’s fabulous. I saw it on the big screen when it first came out in 2003, when I was all child-free, and I remember thinking, I can’t wait to watch this with my own children one day. It’s so STINKIN’ well-done and perfectly captures the book, and Jason Isaacs is wonderful in it.
4). My husband and I watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Remember what Eisha said about it in January? She was right.
5). I finally read James Rumford’s Silent Music. Jama posted about it here back in January, and I immediately looked for a library copy and found one. It sat around my house—without me reading it—until the very day I had to turn it in and could no longer renew it (this is how it goes at my house sometimes, because we have a whole heapin’ lot of books sitting around). The day I absolutely had to turn it in, I sat there during the children’s story time hour at the library and stole glances at it during yet another rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and suddenly I couldn’t hear anything else around me, as I was so absorbed in the book. It’s beautiful (another in the powerful art-as-healer motif), and I love the art work. I saw at A Year of Reading this week that it was awarded a 2009 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts by the Children’s Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English.
7). My favorite is number three:
1* Hey! Macy Gray! That IS a good album – I’m gonna go dig it up and give it a listen.
3* And I got the new album from M. Ward, Hold Time. I haven’t listened to it as much as Neko yet, but I do dig it.
4* While I was buying them at my local music store, they were playing a CD by Jim White. I’d never heard him before, but I want to hear more.
I could list more… but I’d rather hear about yours. So… any good stuff happen to you this week? Do tell!