I occasionally share an illustrator who has caught my eye. See the above “picture book list” for other illustrators highlighted on this blog. For ’30 Days of Picture Books’,“Day Six” features three books and an Illustrator’s Spotlight!
Day Six: Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin; A Place where Sunflowers Grow; and Sora and the Cloud.
“Felicia Hoshino was born in San Francisco, California where she continues to live with her family. As a student at CCSF, she enrolled in as many art classes as she could find, from figure drawing and ceramics to illustration and graphic design. Upon deciding to make art her career, she continued her education at California College of the Arts, where she earned a BFA in Illustration. Felicia’s prize-winning illustrations can now be seen in children’s magazines Cricket, Spider and Ladybug and in children’s books such as Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, the Jane Addams Peace Award winning A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, and My Dog Teny, all accepted into the Society of Illustrator’s The Original Art exhibitions.”* She has illustrated her first book cover for readers with Susan Austin’s The Bamboo Garden (Song Tree Books 2012).
“In addition to creating mixed-media images for children’s books and magazines, she enjoys illustrating children’s portraiture, cooking with her husband and decorating the walls at home with art created by her son and daughter.”*
From the 2008 interview w/ Paper Tigers:
What does your heritage mean to you and what role does it play in your work as an illustrator?
Being a fourth generation Japanese American, I grew up quite “Americanized,” with none of the language and very few Japanese customs – which perhaps is natural, being that my family has been so far removed from Japan.
“However, as an adult I’ve been drawn towards Japanese culture more and more, as if to fill a small void. My husband was born and raised in Japan, so together we hope to bring up our children with the best of both worlds. Living in America and especially the Bay Area, I feel we have the luxury of picking and choosing customs that mean the most to us and of creating new ones along the way.”
In a video linked to the Sora and the Cloud review as well as the review itself, you’ll see Hoshino talking about her desire to create a picture book that will share Japanese culture with Japanese families as well as non-Japanese families. Hoshino, with Michelle Lord, draws from the cultures of Cambodian Dance and a French Sculptor in Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. In a Book Talk about Little Sap w/ Lee & Low, Hoshino says that she hopes “children of all ages will be inspired to seek out the arts by visiting local museums, seeing live performances, or even better, traveling the world and immersing themselves in different cultures.”
Hoshino’s desire to explore and represent culture in historical, contemporary or fantastical ways is appealing–that she is able to translate story into such marvelous images is enviable. There is a texture to her work that warms and deepens, it reminds me of James Ransome or Kadir Nelson, Emily Winfield Martin, Jen Corace or Freya Blackwood, with the sensibilities of Sean Qualls or Shaun Tan. I could go on, and the names that are surfacing for me are not because Hoshino’s work is by any means derivative. The loveliness of her aesthetic brings to mind the best of other such beloved illustrators. I would love to see not only more of her illustrative work, but to see it on your shelves with aforementioned artists.
“Most illustrations are created using some kind of combination of pen & ink, water color, acrylic and collaged tissue paper on cold press watercolor paper.”* I love her color palettes, as you’ll no doubt hear again and again in the following reviews.
Felicia Hoshino’s website: here. *a lot of the biographical information will look familiar.
Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin by Michelle Lord, Illus. Felicia Hoshino (Lee & Low, 2006). Grades 1-5.
Before I say much more I am just going to recommend that instead of buying that umpteenth ballet book for your darling, purchase Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin. Two, this is not just a book for girls.
Okay, lets begin.
“It’s 1906 and the court dancers in the Cambodian royal palace are abuzz with news of a trip to France for the Colonial Exhibition. Little Sap, a poor country girl who joined the dance troupe to give her family a better life, is apprehensive about traveling to a faraway land.
With grace and imagination, this touching story relives the historical encounter between Rodin and Little Sap, weaving together the hopes and aspirations of a young girl and the beauty of artistic expression.—publisher’s comments.
Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin is the first picture book for both Michelle Lord and Felicia Hoshino and the partnership proves successful. While rich in description, Hoshino renders what will be for many, not only a foreign place, but a never-before-seen form of dance.
The story introduces us to Sap at the auditions for the Royal Palace’s dance troupe. Having read the “foreword,” we have a cursory understanding of Cambodian history leading up to when “one little dancer’s story begins behind the walls of the Royal Palace in the early 1900s.” We’ve no idea at this point that there was a Little Sap, that comes with the educational item after the close. Meanwhile, we quickly come to understand that Sap didn’t arrive in a SUV of one size or another for dance class, nor is she dreaming of achieving a tutu to sport about town—a spot in the troupe “would raise the family’s status in their village.”
Another concern would arrive after she begins to advance in her disciplines, they’ve been invited to an exhibition in France! It is in France where Sap and two other dancers would be culled from the troupe to meet Auguste Rodin. It has been a hushed building of strength, confidence, and ownership of her art. The story progresses through the limitations of notice, Sap transcending each, finding notice on a village, then national, and now global scale. The humble child, chosen for her strength ascends with courage and not a little determination and discipline. If you do not know of Rodin’s own history, Lord provides a poetry in Little Sap’s meeting with the famous artist. Rodin, too, had to overcome a meager childhood.
Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin is an inspiring picture book, that presents a great deal of wonder, beauty and grace. Hoshino’s work is beautiful, delving into the deep warm hues for Little Sap, as well as gilding edges with metallic glow. Nothing is left too exotic so as to recognize a frightened and determined little girl who is selfless in her pursuit of her art and a better future for her own.
Of note: “A portion of the royalties from this book will be donated to Cambodian art and education.”
Mari wonders if anything can bloom at Topaz, where her family is interned along with thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II. The summer is blazingly hot, Mari’s art class has begun. But it’s hard to think of anything to draw in a place where nothing beautiful grows. Somehow, glimmers of hope begin to surface under the harsh sun—in the eyes of a kindly art teacher, in the tender words of Mari’s parents, and in the smile of a new friend. […] Amy Lee-Tai’s sensitive prose and Felicia Hoshino’s stunning mixed-media images show that hope can survive even the harshest injustice.—Jacket copy
Amy Lee-Tai introduces her inspiration for this picture book: her family and the events of 1942: “The United States government sent 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans to live in internment camps. […] My mother’s family was given tend days to leave their home. They were allowed to bring with them only what they could carry. […] Life in the camps was full of hardships and injustice, yet the internees did their best to maintain their human dignity. My grandparents turned to what they knew and loved best: art.”
The story itself quietly introduces the day-to-day experiences of the internment camp—all of it stained under the heat of the sun: the dust storms, the mess hall, the barracks, the single room accommodations for a family, the latrine, the military presence. I should rearrange the listed examples, because the juxtaposition of the image of home and the image of the camp cannot be ignored. Pages 6-7, the barracks are a diminutive line dividing English and Japanese text on page 6; page 7 is the memory of the yard back home in California, “Her parents, who were artists, would paint while Mari and her older brother Kenji played alongside them in their flower-filled backyard” (6). It is awash with colors. Turn the page to 8-9, and the colors are reduced to tufts of green locating small trees in planters and variously tinted clothing. Mari and her Papa are tiny figures walking along the rows of barracks. “They passed beneath watchtowers where military police pointed guns at anyone they feared might escape. Mari clutched Papa’s hand.” Dominating the scene is bottom left (p8) is the soldier in the watchtower holding a rifle. You can see two more towers as you follow barbed wire fences toward a naked yellow orb.
Throughout, A Place where Sunflowers Grow maintains a hopeful tone. Lee-Tai translates “the internees did their best to maintain their human dignity” well. She and Hoshino render the “courage and grace” Lee-Tai praises in her book “dedication.” Mari tries to find joy despite the harsh circumstances. And the sunflowers do in fact grow—a true story Lee-Tai draws from her mother’s experience. Mari finds possibility and discovers the means to thrive through family, friendship, and art in an otherwise unforgiving landscape.
While Lee-Tai draws inspiration from her mother’s stories, Felicia Hoshino bases “some compositions on artwork by Hisako Hibi, grandmother of author and a prominent Japanese American painter.” It is worth looking up Hibi’s work and finding the connections with A Place where Sunflowers Grow.
Up in a tree a friendly cloud awaits! Hopping aboard, Sora and the Cloud share a breathtaking adventure in the sky. […] The wonderful flight of fancy is created in Hoshino’s evocative style of mixed media. Plus the bilingual Japanese translation highlights the empowering themes of self-discover and cultural exchange.—publisher’s comments.
Not only is the book include line translations, Sora and the Cloud a “Glossary,” four clips of images throughout the book with added explication under “Japanese Cultural Inspirations” and the translations for the “Japanese Short Expressions” found throughout. The information isn’t extensive: it fits on a single page, but it is awesome. Felicia Hoshino goes further than most bilingual picture books, and the reasons are explained in her “Note to Readers:”
“I wanted Sora and the Cloud to be bilingual, simply so that both my husband and I could enjoy reading it to our children in each of our native languages; for myself in English and for my husband in Japanese. I also wanted to include the following notes to introduce English readers, (myself included) to Japanese expressions and cultural elements that were inspirational to the storyline and illustrations.”
I assumed after just flipping through the pages that the pretty, soft color-palette would make for a quiet, fairly subdued read. It didn’t scream adventure, but more a sleepy daydream. It is daydream-y, but Sora and the Cloud is not sleepy.
As he grows, so, too, does Sora’s awareness of the world. He moves from a crawl to a climb, growing in stature as he moves across the pages until he pauses to consider a tree. He climbs even higher, but where can he go now? Cue the friendly cloud who carries the daring to new heights.
At such a height as to make creatures below look like insects, the creatures below become insects instead of humans in activity. The construction workers not only look like they use building blocks to construct skyscrapers, they literally are. And these aren’t the only toys to appear in the scene. (Love the cloud making faces in the reflective window in this sequence. And, huh, is that a female construction worker?!) “From way up in the sky, rides spin and whirl in a kaleidoscope of motion!” and if your child has yet to experience a kaleidoscope, have one on hand, and remark upon just how successful Hoshino’s effect.
The transition into waking, the continuance, yet more obvious surreality of the adventure begins to takes shape as Sora drifts back to earth. But it hasn’t all been a dream—whew! But he is ready to land to tell of his adventures to his little sister. As the story closes, the sister looks up to the cloud smiling down at her, “(konnichiwa) hello!”
As Sora explores the world around him, he encourages a new perspective and an expansion of our imaginations. It is a small picture book that invites the imagination of the reader/listener with its own. Multi-lingual or monoglot, this is one to seek out and read to the young adventurer-dreamer in your life—which should be every young person you know.