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The World in Multicolour

Ten Christmas Picture Books from Around the World

in: Children's books

With Christmas exactly a month away, here are ten Christmas picture books that help us reflect on some of the different ways that cultures celebrate Christmas around the world. From storks in baobab trees to origami cranes in fir trees, from fire dancers to parang bands – all of these stories are eye-opening and wonderfully festive! Perfect to get you in the mood for Christmas.

The Miracle of the First PoinsettiaThe Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story by Joanne Oppenheim (author) and Fabian Negrin (illustrator)

A book that explores the traditional Mexican tale of how the first poinsettia came to be, transporting readers to Old-World Mexico and a young girl who discovers a Christmas miracle.A Stork in a Baobab Tree

 

A Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African 12 Days of Christmas by Catherine House (author) and Polly Alakija (illustrator)

Told in verse inspired by the traditional carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, this is the story of a Christmas steeped in the atmosphere of African village life, where villagers prepare for a celebration – the birth of a child.

 

Two Cans of Corned Beef and a Manulele in a Mango Tree

 

Two Cans of Corned Beef and a Manulele in a Mango Tree by Sarona Aiono-Iosefa (author) and Steven Dunn (illustrator)

Also told in verse to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, this Pacific Island story by a Samoan author fills the pages with Christmas icons from tropical island life.

Federico and the Magi's Gift

 

Federico and the Magi’s Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story by Beatriz Vidal

It’s the eve of the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, and that means the Three Wise Men, or Magi, will ride through the night sky to deliver gifts to children. Four-year-old Federico has misbehaved…will the Magi leave him any presents? A heart-warming Latin American Christmas story.


An Ellis Island Christmas

 

An Ellis Island Christmas by Maxinne Rhea Leighton (author) and Dennis Nolan (illustrator)

A Polish family migrates to America on the eve of Christmas – a story that powerfully evokes the uncertainty, wonder, and hope of a young immigrant’s experience.

 

 

 

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree by Vashanti Rahaman (author) and Frané Lessac (illustrator)

Anslem longs for a traditional white Christmas and a ‘proper’ Christmas tree, but when it becomes apparent that these have no place in the Craibbean landscape, Anslem must learn to appreciate his own holiday traditions and the unique magic of a West Indian Christmas.

Tree of Cranes

 

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

As a young Japanese boy recovers from a bad chill, his mother busily folds origami paper into delicate silver cranes to decorate their Christmas tree, blending American and Japanese traditions in a joyous celebration of both cultures.

The Christmas Gift - El Regalo de Navidad

 

 

 

The Christmas Gift: El regalo de Navidad by Francisco Jiménez (author) and Claire B. Cotts (illustrator)

As Christmas approaches, Panchito can’t wait to see what present he gets. But on Christmas Day, he is disappointed…until he sees the gift his father gives his mother. A Hispanic Christmas story that shows us that gifts of the heart
are the most precious of all.

The Christmas Coat

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (author) and Ellen Butler (illustrator)

A Native American Christmas story based on a true story. Virginia’s coat is too small and hardly protects her from the frigid South Dakota winter. When the Christmas boxes arrive, Virginia spots a beautiful grey coat but holds back tears as it is claimed by one of her classmates…but little does she know what her mother has in store for her.

An Island Christmas by Lynn Joseph (author)An Island Christmas and Catherine Stock (illustrator)

Rosie’s preparations for Christmas on the island of Trinidad include picking red petals for the sorrel drink, and singing along with the parang band – a true Island Christmas, Caribbean style.

If you are interested in multicultural children’s books, please take a look at our picture book titles, perfect for Christmas gifts!

Alice

From Iranian art to Nollywood: an Interview with Mehrdokht Amini

in: Children's books

Mehrdokht Amini Chicken in the Kitchen Brixton Library

Today I caught up with Mehrdokht Amini, illustrator of Chicken in the Kitchen. She told me about her life growing up in Iran, about the need for versatility in art, and about the countries she would love to see represented more often in children’s books. Read on for a fascinating glimpse into the work of one of the most talented illustrators publishing today.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about Iran, where you grew up?

Hello, my name is Mehrdokht Amini and I am a UK-based Iranian children’s book illustrator. Iran is an ancient country in the Middle East with one of the richest art heritages in world history. It has been invaded over the centuries by many other nations including the Greeks, Arabs, Moguls, and Turks. The impact of these invasions and integrations is still visible in our culture, making Iran a very complex society. Usually things are not quite as Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Aministraightforward as they seem and need interpretation. This is particularly the case in our literature, cinema and even our cuisine. An Iranian dish is usually so complex it’s hard to guess its ingredients!

Do you think your cultural background has had an effect on your illustration style?

I might feel closer to a text that is connected to my cultural background but I think in this profession one has to be influenced by the text and not by one’s own background, just like an actor who has to interpret his or her role differently depending on the nature of the script. Having a style in this field, as in any other form of art, is somehow inevitable but you can also try to be a bit versatile in approaching each project, since you might be in danger of becoming stagnant if you stick strictly to one style.

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

I start by doing some research on the text. This is an important stage, because if it’s not done properly, it could result in misinterpreting the text. I then finish the sketches, and after approval of the sketches by the publisher, I start creating different textures for the illustrations or taking photos. I then transfer all of my material to Photoshop and do the necessary editing there.

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiDid you enjoy illustrating Chicken in the Kitchen? Who is your favourite character and what is your favourite scene in the book?

I enjoyed working on this book immensely. One of the main reasons was that it gave me a chance to study a rich culture that I knew very little about. My favourite character in the book is the Wood Wit, who is so whimsical and unpredictable, and my favourite scene is the last scene, which gives continuity to the story.

 

How did you approach illustrating a story set in Nigeria? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Nigerian culture in some way?

I tried to find as much material as I could on the internet, and in libraries. I even watched a few Nollywood films to become familiar with the lifestyle of Nigerian people! I was very excited about illustrating this book but not nervous because I had the support of the author and my publisher and was sure that I would be given the right advice if needs be.Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

What have you learnt about West Africa?

I learnt how culturally rich the countries of West Africa are and how little information is available to teach us more about Africa’s heritage.

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

Most definitely. We live in a time of globalisation and multiculturalism. People from different backgrounds come to live with each other in different situations, whether they like it or not. If they don’t have enough knowledge of each other’s cultural backgrounds it might lead to alienation and misunderstanding, which is dangerous in any society. It is best to start the process of understanding and integration from childhood when ideas are just taking shape.

Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiWhat countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

Personally, I would like to see countries like Iran represented more often in children books. Iran is largely misunderstood in the media today because of the political decisions taken by its government but the real Iran is not what we see in the media. We have a rich literary background, both classical and modern, which is widely unknown here and I hope one day there will be a chance for it to be introduced to the western world as it truly is.

Group wavingDo you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

I think being original and creative is crucial in this profession. The competition is fierce and the essential ingredient for an illustrator to survive – apart from talent – is hard work and an absolute love of children’s books.


Thanks Mehrdokht! You can find out more about Mehrdokht and her beautiful artwork on her website – www.myart2c.com – and you can buy a copy of
Chicken in the Kitchen here.

Alice

Blurring the lines between reality and dream: an Interview with Jérémy Pailler

in: Children's books

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

Today I caught up with the very talented French artist, Jérémy Pailler, illustrator of Dragon Dancer. He told me about his illustration techniques, the inspiration behind his artwork and his animated children’s films. I was blown away by his passion – read on to see for yourself!Jérémy Pailler France

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in France?

I’m an illustrator and animator. I love telling stories in various ways, and I especially like fantasy tales with colourful characters. The most important thing for me is to share these stories with children from all over the world as well as with grownups who haven’t forgotten that they were children once too. I have drawn for as long as I can remember. I started by studying graphic design but illustration has always been what I truly wanted to do. I also work on animated films from time to time. It allows me to translate my drawings into movement and sound, which I love because it intensifies the depth of the scenes I create. In terms of my life in France, I would say that I like the food, the cultural diversity and the fact it’s an old country with a long history. Most importantly, it’s where my true home is.

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

I don’t know if I have a French or European illustration identity. I think every artist is a combination of multiple sources of inspiration. I guess my drawing ‘style’ is definitely the result of my experiences in France, my childhood in the French countryside, and French artists that I know and admire. But I feed on so many things in my life, through my travels, my books, the films or the paintings I see – created by international artists – that I feel that my style is more the result of this variety than ‘French’ per se.

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

I mainly use ink on thick paper. I love the softness of ink and the sound it makes when it touches the paper, as weird as that may sound! I love the hazy effects it allows me to create as well as the wide palette of colours I’m able to explore. As for my creation process, I always research the theme of the story I have to illustrate: the time and place of the story, the costumes of the characters, their physique etc. I draw some sketches, very rough ones, then I start painting not long after. I think I trust myself when I draw the final illustration only because I think about it A LOT before I put anything down on paper. If the result is disappointing, I start from the beginning. It’s a long process and it mostly depends on my level of inspiration in the moment of creation.

Dragon Dancer Cover ImageDid you enjoy illustrating Dragon Dancer, written by Joyce Chng? What did you love about the story?

Illustrating Dragon Dancer was a gift. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have been part of this project. I think I just loved the simplicity of the story – how pure, poetic and positive its message is. Dragon Dancer, for me, mainly deals with blurring the lines that separate reality from dream. It’s about trusting yourself, and trusting in the unseen: the magic of the world. We don’t know if the dragon is real or not at the end of the story, or if he just lives in Yao’s imagination. I love that. Because whether the dragon is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is real for the boy. This is where the beauty of innocence lies. And this power gathers then spreads positive energy to everyone.

How did you approach illustrating a story set in Singapore? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Chinese New Year customs in some way?

I have never visited Singapore but I have travelled a lot in Asia. I actually had the chance to be in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year and had a taste of what this festival could feel and look like. It was so colourful and animated, and there was so much joy and respect at the same time. So I wouldn’t say I was nervous about illustrating Dragon Dancer. Even if the country the story takes place in is not the same, I felt that I was familiar with the spirit of the festival and the culture. I took the subject very seriously, researched it thoroughly and combined this with my own experiences in Asia to come up with these illustrations.

What have you learnt about Chinese New Year?Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

I learned a lot about the purpose of this event, how many people are involved in it, and what it means to them to take part in the celebration. It’s really about luck, hopes and dreams. And consequently, it’s about belief. This is an opportunity to wish for the best, for you as well as for your loved ones. This is why it is so beautiful and joyful!

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

These books are absolutely essential. They allow children to travel and learn, to open their minds by questioning their own habits. The educational purpose of these books is much greater than their apparent simplicity. They define a way of thinking and a way of living for generations to come.

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

I visited Cambodia and Lao three years ago. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful people and an extraordinary history. I am sure there are plenty of stories that could take place there and plenty of books that could draw attention to these unique cultures.

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

I mostly paint. I work on several projects at the same time. I’m really passionate so I can’t stop doing new things! For instance, I have been working on a painting series about the origins of villains in cinema for the past year. I love the idea that the darkest heroes have interesting back stories that make them appear more human. I also work on animated short films. My first short film was inspired by The Snow Queen by Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. It has been screened in several children’s film festivals around the world, which has made me very happy. I’ve also been working on a fine art PhD in Toulouse for the past three years, looking in depth at practices of illustration and animation. It’s a lot of work but all of these activities work together pretty well in the end!

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy PaillerDo you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

I am just starting my career as an illustrator so I don’t feel worthy to give advice to aspiring illustrators quite yet. However, I have learned that patience, passion and hard work can shine through, even in this very competitive field. Illustrating stories is the best thing in the world for me. Therefore, I persevere and won’t give up until I have illustrated dozens of books and shared them with people. I want to convey emotion and bring happiness. This is my main goal!

Thanks Jérémy! You can find out more about Jérémy and his fabulous artwork here, and to buy your copy of Dragon Dancer, please click here.

Alice