05 Aug

“I’ve had to create my own education … I learned how to be subversive in picture books, to say more than meets a first read.” (2-question Q&A and giveaway for August 2019)

Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the August edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

My Q&A this month is with Las Vegas-based author and illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley, creator of the new picture book I Got Next. I Got Next was published last week by Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, which also published her ballet-focused 2018 debut, This Is It.

In one of several enthusiastic reviews that I Got Next has received, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books declared, “Peoples-Riley’s art is witty and superb … The sharp-edged, mixed-gender group of playground kids … are a highly individual, deeply plausible collection. Use this [book] to demonstrate how stories often have deeper meanings and to elicit discussion, but also just to revel in the city life made beautiful.”

I’m giving away a copy of I Got Next to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on August 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Daria Peoples-Riley.

Chris: I’ve read that This Is It was inspired by your family’s first trip to New York City, but what about the setting of I Got Next? It seems so specific and genuine. Did you base it on a particular real-life neighborhood, or did you incorporate elements from various places, including your imagination?

Daria Peoples-Riley (photo by Kelsey Arrington)

Daria: When I wrote This Is It and placed it in NYC, I knew then I wanted I Got Next to take place in Brooklyn mainly because it is where I romanticize street ball and street ball legends, so the art is definitely inspired by Brooklyn’s outdoor basketball courts.

However, I didn’t get a chance to go back to NYC to visit Brooklyn before final sketches or final art for I Got Next, but I did visit Washington, DC, for the first time, and sat at an outdoor basketball court, and observed the kids, the parents, and the natural elements of what playing basketball in an outdoor urban setting might feel and look like through a child’s eyes.

So, essentially, the art is specifically inspired by that court in Washington, DC. It was important to me that the art in I Got Next came from that same sense of childlike wonder that I experienced when I visited NYC for the first time.

What I noticed, and what I hope is conveyed in I Got Next, is that a child’s environment is often their adversary. Instead of the universe conspiring on the hero’s behalf (like it does for the heroine in This Is It), the environment conspires against the hero, as it often does for young people who come from marginalized, under-resourced communities.

Chris: On the endpapers of I Got Next, readers will find the text, “in loving memory of Sonia Lynn Sadler,” the illustrator of the 2010 picture book Seeds of Change. How have her life and work shaped your own?

Daria: I learned of Seeds Of Change and Sonia Lynn Sadler when I was chosen to receive an illustration award in her honor through the Salisbury Children’s Book Festival. After receiving the award, Sonia’s art and life became a mentor text for me, which was very influential for my work.

Because I have no formal art training, I’ve had to create my own education, and from Sonia’s work, I learned how to be subversive in picture books, to say more than meets a first read. I also learned to approach each project as its own entity, which gives me permission to trust myself and change media and art processes according to the heart of the story.

Also, Sonia’s entry into children’s literature came later in life, as a second career, as it did for me, and within a few weeks of her passing, I took my first portfolio to a Illustrator’s Day in LA, which I thought was very symbolic in my journey. Her art and work allows me to see myself in this industry, thriving and contributing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to imagine without her legacy.

I included a dedication in the endpapers, and Greenwillow added it to the jacket of the book to bring more awareness to Sonia’s work and hopefully more financial support for her award. Honestly, I was disappointed that I hadn’t known of her before receiving the honor, and I want young readers, librarians, parents, teachers, and aspiring artists to know her and celebrate her contribution to children’s literature.

New generations of writers and artists of color should know we are here because others paved the way, and began the breaking of barriers on our behalf long before we entered the arena.