The World in Multicolour

From sunny Naples to tropical Malaysia: an interview with Martina Peluso

in: Children's books

Martina Peluso ItalyToday I caught up with Martina Peluso, the enormously
talented illustrator of Phoenix Song. I asked her about life in Italy, her thoughts on illustrating a Malaysian story, and her tips for aspiring illustrators. I also discovered her next holiday destination…

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello everyone! My name is Martina Peluso and I am an illustrator of children’s books. I am Italian. I was born in Naples – a beautiful city where the sun always shines and the people are very friendly and welcoming. I always wanted to draw and, above all, I wanted to illustrate books for children. I consider myself a very lucky person because I was able to realise my dream.

Do you think you have a particularly Italian or European illustration style?

I do not consider my style purely Italian. I studied with some Spanish and Croat masters, and I’ve always loved illustrations from all over the world, so I think my style is more European if anything.Phoenix Song Cover Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

First of all, I read the text. Then I go for long walks to try to imagine the characters, settings and colours – walking always helps me concentrate. After I design the sketches, my table and everything around me is taken over by paper! But the moment I love best is when I start to colour the sketches. I mainly use acrylic colours, but sometimes I also like to use inks and oils.

Did you enjoy illustrating Phoenix Song, written by Tutu Dutta? What did you like about the story?

I loved illustrating Phoenix Song! The most interesting part for me was working out how to illustrate a different culture, so that I could imagine and draw different landscapes, buildings and dresses from those I usually draw. The part of the story I like best is the message of respect for nature that it conveys to the readers.

Phoenix Song p. 5 Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoHow did you approach illustrating a story set in Malaysia? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Malaysian culture in some way?

Yes, I was a bit nervous. It is not always easy representing a different culture. Fortunately, the publisher and the author were very patient with me and helped me on this path. But in the end, the colours of Malaysia are so beautiful that they gave me a great head start!

Have you learnt anything about Malaysia that you didn’t know before?

I have certainly learned this: I absolutely must take a trip to Malaysia! Unfortunately I haven’t yet visited it, but I’m sure it must be a wonderful country with wonderful people.Phoenix Song Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely yes! I think it helps increase our respect for all peoples. Indeed, I believe that children should read many books from cultures other than their own.

What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

At this historic moment, I would be very happy if children could read more books about Syria and about all of the countries that are at war. This would help to create new generations that are more supportive and ready to help the children of the countries in difficulty.

When you are not illustrating picturebooks, what other type of artwork do you create?

Phoenix Song Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoI always try to create something every day! I love creating objects: jewellery, ceramics, three-dimensional pictures. I also love to cook – it is a delicious art form!

Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

My most valuable advice would be to always draw. You should have paper and pencils with you at all times! The second advice would be to not get disheartened – it is not an easy job, but it can be full of great satisfaction.

Thanks Martina! You can find out more about Martina’s wonderful illustrations on her website: To buy your copy of Phoenix Song, please click here.


A New Wave of African Children’s Literature

in: Children's books

Brittle Paper logoToday we were excited to receive word that a new review of Nnedi Okorafor’s and Mehrdokht Amini’s Chicken in the Kitchen has been published on the popular US African literature blog, Brittle Paper. A good review is always something to celebrate, but this one makes me particularly proud because it sheds light on something I have been thinking about for some time, namely, whether there is a ‘right’ way to integrate diversity into children’s publishing.

Einehi Edoro, the creative mind behind Brittle Paper, is a PhD student at Duke University in North Carolina, majoring in African literature. She envisaged Brittle Paper, the online African literary blog, as a ‘virtual space/station’ in which to ‘play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture’.

Reinvention, play and experimentation lie at the heart of Edoro’s feature articles, reviews, literary commentaries, interviews and the new writing she publishes. According to Edoro, such literary reinvention reflects a wider shift in the African literary consciousness. Past generations of African writers, she notes, have felt compelled to address the burden of colonialism in their writing. Current generations of African readers, however, ‘are driven more by their tastes and passions than by allegiance to some abstract political idea’.

This shift away from the customary role of the African writer as ‘teacher’ and towards a freer, more experimental and taste-based African literary scene has led to a widening of the genres available to African readers – from speculative fiction to pulp fiction to experimental, offbeat narratives. At the same time, a social media and technology savvy generation has ensured that a plethora of new channels have opened up to allow stories to reach their intended readers.Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

Brittle Paper, then, monitors the tastes and styles of a new wave of African literature – a literature that is increasingly willing to throw off the shackles of responsibility felt by previous generations of African writers and instead claim a right to the breath and diversity of literary styles that have been available to western writers and readers for so long.

And this is where my question finds its context – is there a ‘right’ way to integrate diversity into children’s publishing? A ‘right’ way would presuppose a ‘wrong’ way, and – for me – a ‘wrong’ way might be to place a book’s diversity over and above its literary merit. This would have the effect of ghettoising diversity as a ‘theme’ or a ‘virtue’ without recognising the bearing it has on the worth or quality of a text.

A ‘right’ way, on the other hand, might be to consider a book’s diversity in the same light as one might judge its characterisation or its plotting – as a necessary element in the making of a good and satisfying read. If Edoro is right in thinking that the African literary scene is becoming more taste-based and exploratory, it would seem likely that books that do not appeal to the ‘tastes and passions’ of a new generation of African readers will therefore increasingly fail to make the cut.

Edoro has this to say about Chicken in the Kitchen:


‘Okorafor has crafted a charming story around aspects of daily Igbo life—Masquerades, new yam festivals, ancestral spirits, and so on. The implication of this is far reaching. For one thing, it shows us the right way to integrate diversity into children’s storytelling. Chicken in the Kitchen is a story featuring a West African girl in a middle class West African household. But the value and beauty of the story doesn’t lie entirely in its being West African, but instead in its being a truly enjoyable read.’


We’re thrilled that our aim to treat diversity not as a theme but as a mainstay has been recognised by Brittle Paper in its role as a spokesperson for a changing African literary scene. Edoro puts it brilliantly, in fact, when she writes of the exciting ways in which ‘African literature intersects with local and global cultural currents’. All books are a product of the culture or cultures in which they are written, published and consumed – and in this case, even more than most, of the subtle intersections between the local and the global. To be at the forefront of this movement is an honour and we hope that by publishing children’s books that are resonant of these many intersections we can do justice to the incredibly talented authors and illustrators we publish.

To read the full review of Chicken in the Kitchen in Brittle Paper, please click here.