Elizabeth is a young mouse who wants to be a sailor like her father. Her father tells her a sailor must use the stars to find his way, but to Elizabeth, all stars look the same. Then her mother makes her a constellation quilt. When her father is lost at sea, Elizabeth is the one who sails to rescue him, armed with her quilt and her new knowledge of the stars.
I thought it might be fun to talk to the author/illustrator about the book, so here’s an interview with Olivia Fu.
Q: How did you come up with the characters? How did you come up with the name?
The characters in Elizabeth’s Constellation Quilt were inspired by my own family, but the relationships aren’t a direct reflection of mine. It is more of a fantastic creation of what the relationships could be, in this whimsical world. Elizabeth is my oldest sister’s name, and I dedicate the book to her because she has always been a strong force in my family. She is in many ways like Elizabeth in the book, strong willed, self-determining, and adventurous.
On the process of illustrating the book
The process happened very quickly. This is my first published children’s book, so I’m still working on my process. There is no exact formula quite yet but there is structure. I start out by writing the manuscript. This means scribbling notes on postets, sketch books, and in the margins of my agenda. Eventually, these notes get woven together into a coherent story.
I want to mention that I my editor, Barney, had given me some really helpful information before I began illustrating this book. He had sent me a blog by Mem Fox, where she provides advice for writers. She says when you write, you need to be in a COMPLETELY silent room. It is like creating music and you need to be able to hear the words in your head. I really latched onto this idea when creating the illustrations for this book. When I read the manuscript, it was in a completely silent room. The initial pictures just sort of came to me. I am more likely to get a successful picture the first time, if I have razor focus in a room where not even the buzz of a fly will distract me.
I am creating the images in my head, as though I’m recalling them in a film I’ve already created. Certain lines in the story naturally fit together. These become one page or a spread. Certain parts of the story start to separate, need a pause here and there, or need a page of no words for the story to escalate or de-escalate. Then I make ROUGH thumbnail sketches. When it comes time to make the finals, I need TONS of source images. I am the kind of artist that needs to look at something.
Q: Do you have pets?
I have a fish named Kitty. I had wanted a cat, but I am not allowed to have cats in my apartment, hence the name Kitty. I am very attached to Kitty and he is surprisingly needy and responsive. He has the personality of a very flirty corgi. Growing up, I also had a fish named, Phoebe, who lived for a long time, about 5 years. There are four kids in the family including me, so for my parents that was enough lives to take care of.
Q: What’s your favorite color?
At the moment green, but my favorite color changes all the time. It used to be blue, then red, then purple, now green.
Q: What kind of art do you do – media and subjects? Â
I’ve always been a painter and I have the most experience with it, but it is important to me to choose the media that best tells the story. Elizabeth’s Constellation Quilt is a story about a close father daughter relationship and it has ups and downs. It’s a rich story, which required a rich medium, so I chose paint.
I’ve done a lot of advocacy based artwork in mural painting, covering topics like traffic safety, immigration, and the history of Riverbank State Park and Water Treatment Plant. Before that I did large scale painting about current and historical events that are important to me, like the Rape of Nanking, and the creation of the atomic bomb.
Now I am focusing on children’s books about family relationships, unlikely friendships, and finding meaning in the world. The thing that ties my artwork together, is that I like to tell stories. Sometimes there is a clear message, and sometimes I just want to provide a different perspective. Stories provide just the right amount of structure and flexibility in my creative process. I enjoy creating the characters, the world they inhabit, and the events they will overcome and draw meaning out of. Creating a character is like getting to know a new person and discovering a new perspective. I escape into my stories.
Q: Where are your parents from/background?
My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from Taiwan. They met in graduate school in West Virginia. I’m really close to my parents.
Q: Why did you get into art?
This is going to sound clichÃ©, but I just need to create things. It is how I communicate myself and it has taken me a long time to realize home important it is to me.
Q: What age did you start drawing?
I started drawing when I was 5 years old. My mom signed me up for an after school art class that I attended every Friday, from age 5 to 18. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Camozzi and she was one of the most patient and kind teachers I’ve ever had. She gave me a lot of freedom.
Q: Is it hard to be an artist/teacher?
Most definitely. Both being an artist and a teacher take a lot out of me emotionally. I hold myself to a high standard. I feel very responsible for how I influence young people, both as a teacher and as a artist/writer. It is also a lot to juggle mentally. When I plan a lesson, I have to think of things in a very structured organized way. When I make illustrations, although I have my own system for that, I have to let go of some control and be able to trust my instincts.
Q: Where do you live?
I live in Harlem New York, but I plan on moving back to California very soon.
Q: What things do you like to do outside of art/writing/teaching?
That is a very good question. At the moment my career does somewhat take over my life, but when I do have free time, I see friends and family, eat good food, go to museums, watch many animated movies, and try to keep myself out of trouble. Like Elizabeth I am a risk taker and deep down am always seeking adventure.
I love how the little girl goes to rescue her father. It’s so sweet! Perfect book for Dads and their little ones, don’t ya think? This book can totally count toward your Diversity Reading Challenge, as it’s written by an author of color.
Enjoy it’s cuteness!