One Impossible Peek Behind
Yuyi Morales’s Artwork Before Breakfast

h1 April 13th, 2011 by jules

Just in case on Monday (with the visit from author/illustrator Philip C. Stead) we illustration fans—and I use “we” here to mean myself and 7-Imp’s wonderful readers—didn’t get enough of that fascinating process stuff, the peek into the making of our favorite picture books, I’ve got a bit more today with illustrator Yuyi Morales, who visited me in 2009. Yuyi’s latest illustrated title is called Ladder to the Moon (Candlewick, April 2011), written by Maya Soetoro-Ng (who, you will see at this link, is the maternal half-sister of President Obama, and who seems to be making talk show rounds this week to discuss this picture book — or so I’ve noticed when I’ve hit social media sites, though I’ve been too busy this week to watch any of the footage).

Maya’s story, inspired by her daughter’s questions about her late grandmother, opens with a young girl asking questions about her maternal grandmother: “What was Grandma Annie like?” to which the girl’s mother replies, “She was like the moon…Full, soft, and curious. Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.” Later that day, as the girl is trying to sleep yet too busy pondering what her mother had told her, a golden ladder appears at her window. And on the lowest rung of that ladder is her grandmother herself, asking the child if she’d like an adventure. After taking some time to listen to the moon’s songs and spend time together, they spot a fifty-foot wave on the earth below and invite the children who suffer the wave to join them. (“Come dance and get warm, babies…”) Tasting more troubles in the air, they also see other children suffering. Eventually, a “moon crew” forms; they see people on the earth praying: “I feel faith moving the air down there,” Grandma Annie says:

Looking past the golden ladder, she spotted people whose hands pointed upward from a synagogue, a temple, a mosque, and a steepled church. One by one, every person was finding his or her own path to the moon, each path connecting with the others in hope’s massive stream.

I don’t want to give away the entire plot here. The “moon crew”—made up of folks of various cultures and ways of believing—tells stories of their adventures on earth. Clearly, this is an ethereal, otherworldly tale, Publishers Weekly calling it “{n}ontraditional spiritual literature for children,” adding “Morales conjures these images with real power, painting worshippers of many races and faiths illuminated by candlelight, infants with wings, and softly padded women whose arms promise forgiveness.”

I’m going to stop jibber-jabbering now and let Yuyi show us the thumbnails, sketches, and final illustrations from three moments in the book. (The final spreads are text-less, and you may click on each image to enlarge and see it in more detail.) I thank Yuyi for visiting 7-Imp again.

* * * * * * *

“There, right on the lowest rung, stood Suhaila’s grandmother, her silver-bangled arms outstretched and tinkling. ‘Do you want an adventure, my dimpled child?’ Suhaila nodded twice, the second time more certainly. Then she tossed herself out of bed like a tumbleweed and ran to the window. Together, step-by-step,
they climbed that ladder in the path carved by the moon’s glow.”

“Sure enough, Suhaila watched the sisters weave a shimmering spiral and begin to climb. Grandma Annie embraced the young women at the landing.
Together they scrubbed themselves clean in falls of mist and
drank sweet moondew from silver teacups.”

“The moon crew was getting large now. Everyone sat and traded stories—stories about courage in canyons and discoveries in the desert. Stories about people who had lost their languages and stories about the poor and powerless. ‘All these people who need us are people just like you and me, do you see?’ asked Annie after the last tale was told. Suhaila washed her eyes and did see and, through seeing,
knew more than she had known before.”

* * * * * * *

LADDER TO THE MOON. Text copyright © 2011 by Maya Soetoro-Ng. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Yuyi Morales. All images from Ms. Morales and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

6 comments to “One Impossible Peek Behind
Yuyi Morales’s Artwork Before Breakfast”

  1. How lovely, thank you for sharing… I’d love to see how the paint (?) or digital colour (?) is added from the outline pencil images. They seem to sparkle with colour, so beautiful!

  2. Out here in UKland, all I heard was that the POTUS’s half-sister had a book out called Ladder to the Moon. I was HORRIFIED to see that Yuyi had a book out with the same title. I am so used to her both writing and illustrating her own books, I thought, “OH NO!!!! Poor Yuyi!”

    I’m so glad that I’m wrong, and that her signature sweet-faced illustrations grace this lovely book. It is SO beautiful, and if the story is even half as nice (or if the author is even a quarter as nice as the illustrator), this is a sure winner in every way.

  3. Jess, I should have mentioned (sorry!) —

    The final artwork was created with acrylics on paper and then manipulated digitally.

    Tanita, how about those blues and that night-time palette?

  4. Dreamy, just dreamy. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Beautiful!! Yuyi’s paintings are so rich and glowing. I’ll be on the lookout for this book!

  6. Blessings,

    I would love to incorporate your illustrations for “Ladder to the Moon” into a quilt. I am a quilt maker living in Chicago. I also host a radio show from Chicago State University; Cafe Yeye: Where Monday is the New Friday” I love the flow and colors in the book.
    Marian Hayes aka Yeye Lynvonne

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