Holding On by Sophia N. Lee and Isabel Roxas

Hello, Sophia N. Lee! Hello, Isabel Roxas! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate Holding On, your beautiful picture book that celebrates the bond between a grandparent and a grandchild. My grandma was my best friend for many years, so I always have a soft spot for picture books that feature grandmothers. Sophia, what planted the seed for Holding On?

Sophia N. Lee: Holding On is inspired by summers I spent with my grandparents, and by the time I spent with my grandmother in New York later on, after she migrated to the US and got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

I was born and raised in Manila, but both my parents grew up in Tarlac, which is a provincial town about 2-3 hours away from where we lived. I was a very sickly child, and so in the summers I would get sent to the province to be with my grandparents so I could get nurtured back to health not just by my Lola, but by her siblings, many of whom lived close by. I loved the slowness of that place and the tenderness of those summers – driving with my Lolo in his jeep during early mornings, dancing while he sang and played his ukulele in the afternoons, waking up to the smells of my Lola’s cooking, and having the best sleep ever because I knew I was somewhere safe.

My Lolo died after I turned five, but the magic of those summers continued with each year I returned. It was what I held on to when my grandmother found it hard to remember. I wrote the book so that I wouldn’t forget.

Isabel, what materials did you use to create the gorgeous art?

Isabel Roxas: Hello Mr. Schu! I worked with hand-painted paper, colored pencils and ephemera (envelopes, song sheets etc..). I then photographed the final collages. Some pages I left as is, but others I fiddled with in Photoshop in order to add extra layers of texture and effects.

Sophia, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Isabel Roxas’ illustrations take me to a happy place. Looking at her work in this book, I can almost smell the sweetness of just-ripened mangoes in the air and hear the sounds of karaoke ballads sung with so much feeling. I love too how she draws her characters’ expressions – they’re distinctive but also incredibly familiar, almost as if you’ve known them all your life. I’m such a fan of Isabel and of her work!

Ella Fitzgerald and Dean Martin are staples in our house, along with my Lolo’s favorite and mine – Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. I play standards when I miss my Lolo, which is to say I play them all the time.

Isabel, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Holding On is a portal to summers spent in the Philippine Countryside: where carabaos roam, and the hot sun blazes or the rain falls in sheets; where one is awash in fresh mangos, people, music and hugs. It is a melancholy story about loss, but it is also a stirring story about collective memory and the stories/songs we pass on.

Music plays a big role in my creative process. Sometimes I like to play music that corresponds with the page that I am working on—like a movie soundtrack. For Holding On, that meant a lot of folk songs, woodwind instruments, songs that evoked monsoons and lots of Jazz.

Photo credit: Faith Santiago-Paz

Sophia N. Lee grew up in the Philippines. She wanted to be many things growing up: doctor, teacher, ballerina, ninja, crime-fighting international spy, wizard, time traveler, journalist, and lawyer. She likes to think she can be all these things and more through writing. She looks a lot like her lola Benita, but she inherited her love for writing from her lola Josefina, who worked as a principal and an English teacher. She is the author of Soaring Saturdays; What Things Mean, which won a Scholastic Asian Book Award’s grand prize; and Holding On.

Isabel Roxas is the author-illustrator of The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens. She was born in the Philippines and raised on luscious mangoes, old wives’ tales, and monsoon moons. She learned so much from her lolas Fe and Venancia: how to shine the floor with a coconut, navigate a palengke (wet market), and make a scrumptious bowl of ginataan.

Look for Holding On on August 30, 2022. Pre-order here.

A young girl in the Philippines uses music to connect with her grandmother as her memory fades in this warm and moving picture book perfect for fans of Pixar’s Coco.

There is always singing in Lola’s house. Sammy Davis Jr. in the morning, Dean Martin in the afternoon, and all throughout the evening, old Tagalog love songs from Nora Aunor, Basil Valdez, and more. Lola always says: “If you want to hold on, you gotta sing your songs.”

Her granddaughter tucks these sounds and Lola’s wisdom deep within her heart. And when Lola starts slipping into silence and stillness, she helps Lola hold on, piece by piece, with the joy and music that Lola taught her.


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