Author-Illustrator Evan Turk

Did you have an eventful week? Did you read a book that you could not wait to recommend to someone? Did you ask questions that allowed your students to look at the world differently? Did you do something that allowed you to step outside of your comfort zone? Did you do something that makes you truly happy? I hope so! 

Are you ready for me to stop asking you questions and get on with the main attraction? Yes? I thought so.  Author-illustrator Evan Turk dropped by to chat with me about Grandfather Gandhi, reading, picture books, and a lizard. I wrote the words in red, and he wrote the words in black. Thank you, Evan! 

Arun Gandi and Bethany Hegedus are wonderful collaborators! It was such an honor to work with both of them on my first book, and to be able to see what each of us brought to the final product. I feel like the book kind of came out of a magical intersection between the beauty and poignancy of Arun’s lessons and memories from his grandfather, the emotional heart of Bethany’s writing, and my illustrations.

The illustrations for Grandfather Gandhi were inspired from many different sources. It was important to me for the illustrations to not be the austere portrait of Gandhi that is usually portrayed. This story is really about the emotional turmoil of a young boy and his relationship with anger, so I wanted that to take center stage. I looked a lot of surrealist art, like Giorgio de Chirico and RenĂ© Magritte, and that influenced the way the shadows take on a life of their own in showing Arun’s anger. I also looked at a lot of Indian art, textiles, and shadow puppets to give the book the intensity of emotion and the feeling and texture of India. The bright colors, patterns, and graphic shapes became a way to show Arun’s transformation throughout the book and his struggle between light and dark.

When I was in elementary school I loved writing and illustrating picture books. I guess not much has changed in that aspect! I had one about a baby spoonbill and its father, one about my stuffed baby sloth Speedy and his journey to get a job in Costa Rica, and one about a poison dart frog who ended up in a bunch of escapades with hyenas, I think. They usually revolved around an obscure animal species, and some horribly traumatic (and random) event. My love of The Lion King and other Disney movies had convinced me that all good stories have some very tragic death or missing parents.

Reading is a great way to learn how much you don’t know about the world and other people.

Illustration credit: Evan Turk 
The people of Marrakech are the inspiration for my next book, called The Storyteller! It will be my first book as both author and illustrator, so I am very excited to be working on it now. The book is a story, within a story, within a story about a young boy who inadvertently becomes an apprentice to a master storyteller and learns the power of stories and passing them onto others. Morocco has a nearly 1000 year old tradition of public storytellers, who hold hundreds of stories in their minds and perform them in public squares as a living oral history. This tradition, though, is dying out in the modern age. I had the opportunity this fall to go and hear one of the last master storytellers in Marrakech, as well as his young Moroccan apprentices who have created a program to preserve this piece of global heritage.

Reading is a great way to learn how much you don’t know about the world and other people.

Picture books are a perfect combination of art, storytelling, and an audience that is receptive to learning.

Illustration credit: Evan Turk 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me, “What job did Speedy the sloth go to Costa Rica for?” He worked as a cashier in a snack shack run by a lizard. His best friend was a (human) boy who also worked there, but as I said, there was often a tragic event

Borrow Grandfather Gandhi from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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