With children’s and YA books capturing 16 positions on Nielsen’s top 20 ranking for the year so far, the industry heads into fall with strong sales and high hopes for the holiday season. New books from the likes of Jeff Kinney, Patricia MacLachlan, Oliver Jeffers, Chris Van Allsburg, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld, as well as a number of noteworthy debuts, should earn cheers from booksellers and young readers alike. Happy reading!The Piracy ProblemMiddle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line?Yuyi MoralesSubway StoriesFall 2014 Children's Announcements: Publishers A-DFall 2014 Children's Announcements: Publishers E-LFall 2014 Children's Announcements: Publishers M-RFall 2014 Children's Announcements: Publishers S-ZSpring 2015 Sneak Previews
About Our Cover Artist
In the two short years since Christian Robinson’s picture book debut, Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renée Watson, the illustrator has done artwork for four additional picture books, the second of which, Rain! by Linda Blackman, earned him the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. His fifth book, The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, is due out this fall. But despite the accolades and the steady work, his career path was hardly a foregone conclusion.
Robinson grew up in Los Angeles and studied animation at CalArts in Valencia, Calif. After graduating in 2008, he moved to San Francisco to intern with Pixar, where he says his internship mentor, Ben Butcher, encouraged him to draw characters in his own style and “explore different ways of illustrating things.” One day, Butcher suggested he post some of his art on a board and bring it to a meeting with executives on the studio’s forthcoming film Up. “I came to this meeting,” Robinson says, “and I was in a little dark corner, really overwhelmed. Halfway through, the director [Pete Docter] looks at the work and says ‘Oh, who did this? We should have him do a book.’ It was pretty crazy.”
A retelling of Up with Robinson’s illustrations, Beware of Dug, came out in 2009. After the Pixar internship, he says, “I thought the world would open up and life would just be sunshine and rainbows, but it really wasn’t. I’d say for a year and a half I was just wandering, not really doing anything in animation or illustration.” Among several “safety jobs,” he worked as a shoe salesman at a Croc’s kiosk, a parking attendant at the Hollywood Bowl, and a store greeter at Ikea.
In the meantime, he sought illustration work the homegrown San Francisco way—via Craigslist—leading to an illustration project for Zest Books, 2011’s Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke. He also taught art to kids after school, and posted his own work on his blog. “One day,” Robinson says, “I got an email from a guy asking if I have an agent, and if so, just consider this fan mail.” The message was from Steven Malk at Writers House, who helped the illustrator put together his portfolio and get his start in picture books.
Robinson’s busy pace shows no signs of letting up. His forthcoming books include a collaboration with Mac Barnett, author of the Caldecott Honor book Extra Yarn, and he continues to make animated short films on the side, including the recent “What Is Music?,” in which his trademark mixed-media collage art brings interviews with kids to life. (Sample Q&A: “What kinds of music do your parents listen to? “Classical music, like Madonna.”)
Speaking with children, he says, is “the other great thing that I get to do as an illustrator of books. I get to go to schools and share the work and do readings in libraries and in classrooms. I feel very involved in the Bay Area with the different school districts here.” In his illustrator bio for The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, about the diminutive Sally who finally finds her voice, he shared in the jacket copy that he had been “the thinnest, shiest boy in the smallest grade.” “I just wanted to let kids know that we all have things we have to overcome.”
When asked what other historical figures he might like to illustrate—in addition to Harlem’s Little Blackbird, about cabaret singer Florence Mills, he also did the art for Josephine, Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture book about Josephine Baker—Robinson mulls it over for a bit, then responds, “I’d love to work on a picture book bio about Bayard Rustin. He was a civil rights activist, advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and organizer of the march on Washington. Rustin was openly gay, and was oftentimes disassociated or asked to take a less visible position with the movement because of prejudices at the time—as you could imagine—but his contributions to human rights efforts around the world were immense. Brother Outsider is the title of a wonderful documentary about his life. It’s on Netflix!”
Clearly, when Robinson feels passionate about a subject, he’s eager to share it with others. His illustrations to date have been for books written by other people; does he have any stories in his head that he’d like to tell? “I have several in my head!” he says, laughing. “I feel like I’m in a very fortunate space right now. To a certain degree I’m happy with where I’m at and what I’m doing. Of course I aspire to write as well. I’m still trying to find my voice. It’s important to me to really believe in whatever it is I say. I’m willing to take the time that it takes to create something that I really believe in.” And fans will be willing to wait to see what he comes up with.—Carolyn Juris