Whenever I am starting a new story or illustration, my first thought is: Who will the characters be? An animal? A creature? A person? And my second thought is: Where do the characters come from? What do they look like? Then I have a list of personality traits in my head that I check off, such as:
Why? Because diversity is all around us. It's the world we live in.
At least it's the world I've always lived in.
As mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in New Jersey in a suburban area that had a mix of races. I was two hours away from New York, the diversity capital of the world. I've taught in urban and suburban areas and have seen children from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and races learn and play together. So in my mind, I always think of ways to make my stories and illustrations diverse because that's what I see - that's what most kids nowadays see every day. And the literature they read should reflect such diversity.
Recently I entered the SCBWI Tomie de Paola illustration contest where the task was to illustrate an except from "Little Red Riding Hood." Tomie was looking for "something different", for us to "think outside the box" and not to make the characters look too typical. The idea that popped into my mind was to make Red from India. I don't know why but I just felt like setting the story in a different place than I had seen with this story before.
I wanted to be sure to portray Red in the correct clothing and scene, though. So I turned to a friend of mine who is from India. She asked me great questions, starting with "Where do you want Red to come from, the city or the village?"
Why? Because girls wear different clothing or garb, depending on where they live in India.
We decided most likely Red would live in the village, especially if she were coming from her home and traveling through the woods. So I researched photo references of girls who might live in an Indian village, as well as the different types of trees (banyan) that might exist in a wood near a village.
And "What will Red be carrying to Grandma's (I mean, "Dadima's) home?" she asked. My friend explained to me what a typical village girl might have in such a basket (a jar of pickles, and a potli bag for example). She provided me with so much information, I felt like I was not only creating a new piece but learning about a culture.
Although I didn't win the contest, I was very happy with the finished piece. I feel like it fits in with the rest of my diverse portfolio of characters and illustrations. It also allowed me to continue experimenting with my new crayon batik/Photoshop style, which provides a lot of textures and interesting patterns in the finished piece. And of course, it allows me to add another diverse piece to my portfolio.
So whether you are writing a story, developing a new character, or illustrating a spread, try to keep diversity in mind. You never know what you might learn!
Angela Padron is a published illustrator of two books, including "The Hero in You" by Ellis Paul, as well as a Star Wars geek and chocolate chip cookie connoisseur. She also writes and illustrates her own picture books, board books, and chapter books. When she's not teaching, Angela works as a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers and spends weekends enjoying walks along the beach with her family. View her online portfolio at www.angelapadron.com. You can also "like" her facebook page, follow her on Twitter @angela_padron, and follow her own blog called "Show and Tell" with weekly posts about teaching, writing and illustrating books for children.
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