Author and illustrator LeUyen Pham, who lives in L.A., has a busy few days planned while she’s in town, starting with tonight’s ABC/CBC Children’s Book Art Silent Auction, where she will serve as honorary host. While she’s here, Pham will promote the sequels to two books she illustrated: Grace Goes to Washington (Disney-Hyperion, Sept.), Kelly DiPucchio’s follow-up to Grace for President; and the graphic memoir Best Friends (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, Aug.), after Real Friends, which she cocreated with Shannon Hale.
Working on Grace Goes to Washington and Best Friends were more like homecomings of sorts for Pham, who welcomed the chance to re-enter Grace’s world. “I was able to find an old friend and harken back to a time when people in our country felt so hopeful rather than so filled with anxiety,” she says. “It was wonderful to revisit that safe space and tap into that energy again.”
As for Hale, Pham regards her as “some kind of twin of mine who grew up in a different part of the world.” The two are the same age and were raised in similarly close, religious families. Though Real Friends and Best Friends reflect Hale’s experiences, Pham says, “In many ways they parallel mine. Illustrating these memoirs, I felt as though I had crawled into Shannon’s head. They were not easy stories to work on, since I had to draw honest and sometimes difficult childhood moments, which I found emotionally wrenching. The graphic novel format is a really tough but moving way of telling a story.”
On Friday, Pham will sign last year’s The Itchy Book!, an Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! title that she cocreated with Mo Willems. “I have always revered Mo Willems and appreciated his work,” says Pham, “but one thing I never realized is that he operates creatively in very strict confines. But within that realm, he comes up with out-of-the-box ideas, which speaks to his success. After I defined my creativity within his world, I discovered that he understood my process and was able to challenge me. Mo brings out the best of me and of others.”
But those aren’t Pham’s only new books. She illustrated Richard T. Morris’s Bear Came Along (Little, Brown, June) in a new way that she’s never done before by portraying the world in black-and-white and later, as the animals come together, in color.