A Family Tree as Only Nelson and Qualls Can Bring It

h1 November 4th, 2009 by jules


“My papa is a car man. He makes dented doors and crumpled fenders look brand-new. His shop always smells like paint, and he has to wear a safety mask. When Papa comes home from work, he washes his hands with Lava soap, takes off his big work boots, and stretches out on the living room rug. His feet are a little stinky, but that’s okay. I curl up beside him, and we rest till Mama calls us for supper.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

Two weeks ago, I decided to check in with some of the Men of Children’s Lit (or, in one case, his publisher) Who Have Previously Visited the Blog and see if they’d let me showcase some of the illustrations from their latest titles. (No slight to the women; it just started out with a couple of men, and then it kept building. Let’s check in with the women next, shall we?) I kicked it off with Lane Smith and David Ezra Stein. Today, Sean Qualls stops by again. He was here in April, one of my favorite 7-Imp interviews, I confess — not only because his art makes me happy, but because he sent tons of illustrations and sketches to share in that post. It’s right up there in the Dave-McKean category for Most Art Sent for a Post. This is a good thing in my book.

And that interview included sketches from the book I’m featuring today, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s Who Will I Be, Lord? If you like the cool (in more ways than one — check out his blue palette) spreads you see here, then head on over to that interview to see some of his early sketches for the book.

Nelson’s book, released in October from Random House, is about a young girl, looking ahead to her future, wondering what she’ll be, by looking back at her own family tree.



(Click to enlarge spreads.)

What I love most about this book is the respect Nelson and Qualls have for each and every family member, past and present, no matter their occupation. The young girl is presented with varying opinions on what matters, too, whether stated explicitly by a family member or not, as is always the case in families: “Nothin’s more important than family,” the girl’s Great-Grandpap used to say; “Just treat other people the way you want to be treated,” her Grampa, the preacher, says; “If you’re gonna be a ditchdigger, learn to dig the best ditches on this earth,” her uncle, the pool shark, tells her; dreaming and believing, says her cousin, the jazzman, is what got him halfway to where he is; help your neighbors and a “handshake {is} enough,” believes her father, the car man; and talent has more to do with workin’ hard than with what comes natural, says the girl’s Mama (“God gives us each some seeds to sow. The rest is up to us”). “Nelson’s rhythmic and colloquial first-person narrative introduces the characters not only in terms of the jobs they hold, but also the kind of people they are,” writes the School Library Journal review.

And, as Kirkus points out, it’s a “substantive yet never heavy offering,” the book almost as much a celebration of loving families as of a girl’s searching identity. The repeated refrain, “and what will I be, Lord?” is met in the end with “I guess like Mama says, it’s up to me.”

Well, now. That’s just lovely. It’s a winner, this book is.

I’ve already mentioned Sean’s cool palette, lots of blues, purples, and muted reds. I don’t think a more fitting illustrator could have been chosen for this one. The familial affection shines in Sean’s detailed, textured illustrations, and his art to me always has a very distinct rhythm, a perfect match for Nelson’s lyrical, smooth-as-silk words.

Here are some more spreads. You can click each to enlarge and see more closely. Enjoy. (And I’ll check in again soon with more of the Men of Children’s Literature Featured Previously at 7-Imp — or whatever the hey it was I named this unofficial, impromptu series.)


“My grandma is a teacher. You have to be real smart to be one. When I don’t want to go to school, Grandma shakes her head and says, ‘It’s a shame.’ Then she starts tellin’ her old stories about slavery, when people were whipped or killed for learning to read. Grandma says it ain’t right. (But she doesn’t say ‘aint.’)”

* * * * * * *

WHO WILL I BE, LORD? Copyright © 2009 by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrations © 2009 by Sean Qualls. Published by Random House, New York, NY. Illustrations used with permission of Sean Qualls. All rights reserved.

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10 comments to “A Family Tree as Only Nelson and Qualls Can Bring It”

  1. Wow, oh, WOW, Jules. What a beautiful way to end my day. Thanks so much.


  2. That looks simply lovely.


  3. *dancing impatiently for the mail to come*

    I. CANNOT. WAIT.
    This one just might be my favorite book of the year. THANK YOU for checking back with the Hot Illustrator Man and for feeding my preoccupation with Sean Qualls. Can’t wait to pay that forward!


  4. Amazing illustrations. Smart, beautiful, audacious. They make me happy.


  5. Thanks, you all. Yes, Tanita gets my extra copy of this book. It screamed her name.

    Paul, “audacious”=the perfect way to describe it.


  6. Lovely, as always. It is not easy to draw Music, but that last picture is a perfect interpretation.


  7. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing it – made me smile.


  8. Inspiring. And yes, so very happy.


  9. […] Lit Who Have Previously Visited 7-Imp and showcase what they’re up to now. (See Sean Qualls here and Lane Smith and David Ezra Stein here.) Adam is one of my top-five, y’all — as in, […]


  10. I love this book. My 6yr old grand daughter read it to me and it gives a clear picture of who we could be and God still loves us and that we can be whatever we want to be. We love family.


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