Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Hello, Vashti Harrison! Thank you for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences and to celebrate Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. I’m looking forward to sharing this beautiful book with many librarians, classroom teachers, and children.
Vashti Harrison: Hi Mr. Schu! It’s such a pleasure to connect with you and your readers!
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History is a celebration of the contributions black women have made to American history! The initial project began on Instagram; I was inspired by other monthly drawing challenges like “Mer-May” and “Ink-tober” so I created a challenge for myself to draw a woman every day for Black History Month 2017. When Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 he wanted to celebrate the stories that were often neglected. I felt inspired to use it as an opportunity to focus on black women specifically, whose stories have been doubly neglected through history. I wanted to learn more about famous and lesser-known figures and share their stories with others. I didn’t expect when I started the project how deeply connected I would feel to their stories—stories of hard work, dedication, courage through adversity, love for craft, and love for family. Many of these women didn’t have a choice but to be bold, and I just felt overwhelmingly thankful for them paving the way for others and for me.
I created the illustrations for Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History with some classic Illustrators in mind. I wanted to achieve this slightly vintage, totally classic look, while still keeping them distinct, modern characters. I looked to Mary Blair and Gyo Fujikawa, who masterfully painted children. I looked to Roger Hargreaves, who created iconic characters with only a few lines. I wanted the colors and pose to be sweet and Innocent. Particularly for this project, I was thinking a lot about recent studies that say little black girls are seen as more adult and less innocent than girls from other demographics in the same age range. That breaks my heart, so if I can do anything with my art to remind people that all kids are innocent, I will. Even in the case of “bold women,” I think it's important to show that boldness and bravery don’t always have to look a certain way—that they can also be little, quiet, or shy.
For me the pose with the eyes closed and slight smile is one of serenity. Look at Mr. Happy—he’s just the sweetest, unbothered thing on the cover of his book. I was hoping to achieve something similar; serene and sweet. All of the characters have the same face, because in a way, I wanted them to be interchangeable so viewers would be able to see themselves in any one of the figures. They’re positioned in the same place on the page so that you can achieve this flipbook effect when you flip through. It adds a little animation to this history by bringing you forward or backward through time.
On December 5, 2017, I was planning on being home and working. Why? Should I be somewhere? I’m still new to this Mr. Schu! I’ve only been in the kidlit world since April 2016! Little Leaders is my debut book. Even though Festival of Colors was the first book I illustrated, it won’t be out until January! I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I am very excited. The amount of love Little Leaders has gotten already is so encouraging. So, in that case maybe I should go to a bookstore. You may or may not see me sneaking around my local bookshop in those disguise glasses with the Groucho Marx eyebrows!
Festival of Colors tells the story of Chintoo and Mintoo, a brother and sister duo, who are preparing for Holi, which is the Indian festival of colors. Together they go through the process of making the colorful powder used in the festival by picking and drying flowers. They cannot wait to celebrate with their friends and family and cover the whole town in colors!
School libraries are magical. For me there was always this amazing, uncanny feeling of finding the exact book you didn’t know you were looking for. Magically, brand-new books are mixed in with classics before you even know it. I remember finding some of my favorite books by what felt like was on accident, but I know now it's all due to the thoughtfulness and hard work of the people that work there. #librarianswag #protectorsofthepage
Picture books are best when read over and over again. When the illustrations pull you in and when you discover new things every time you enter!
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I love most about picture books. It's the sound the pages make between your fingers—especially when being read to. As a kid, I always wanted to be the teacher or librarian, so I could be the one to turn the page and make that oh-so-sweet sound!
Look for Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History on December 5, 2017.