Creative Mind - Room to Read

Creative Mind Episode 36: Illustrating Peace & Equality – Creating Diverse Children’s Books

On this episode of Creative Mind, we dive in the Room to Read book sprint that brought together diverse writers and illustrators from the United States to create 10 books in just four weeks.

How does a punk rock skunk end up the hero of the forest?  

How do you illustrate filling out a census form and make it fun? 

Did you know that the inventor of the one-handed ice cream scoop was African American? 

Well, if you read up on a few titles from the Peace and Equality Book Collection by the organization Room to Read, you would learn the answers to these questions and a whole lot more. 

The Peace and Equality Book Collection

The books, aimed at children ages 3-8, explore themes related to creating a more peaceful and just world, with the goal of recognizing the work we must continue to do as a society to create social, political, economic, and cultural systems grounded in peace and equality. 

 The call went out for authors and illustrators. For art advisor Julie Downing, knowing that some of her former Academy of Art University students applied would ensure the success of the project, alumni that included Kris Duran, Peili Huang, and Samantha Jo Phan.

Julie said, “I do think the Academy of Art students really shown in this project because just their professionalism really came out and their ability to be prepared and get stuff done on a deadline and produce really high-quality work.” Because, and it is important to state, the entire project was a 4-week book sprint, a process that normally takes 6 months to a year for a single book.

A Book Sprint Like No Other

For illustrator Kris Duran, tasked with illustrating a book about an African American family and the US Census, it was a double challenge in illustrating people of color and a book about filling out paperwork. For illustrator Samantha Jo Phan, her book was also about African American history and culture with an emphasis on inventors. In contrast, illustrator Peili Huang was tasked with bringing life to a forest of animals, but needing to convey the same respect for diversity.

Julie pointed out, “With Room to Read, diversity was such a big issue and, and how you honor diversity, you don’t stereotype.” Here is where the authors—Dr. Artika R. Tyner, Mon Trice, and Jocelyn Argueta—in a rare experience in the world of book publishing, were able to talk directly with the artists to advise and guide the process.

How do you tackle such an important and opinionated topics as diversity with grace, care, and honesty? Children’s books have a unique ability to take tough topics and make them accessible and, as Dr. Tyner explained, it is a simple windows and doors analogy.

“So, things have changed drastically that now we’re really creating those mirrors and windows. Mirrors where young people can see an accurate reflection of themselves is the main character or the protagonist and the windows for all children to see the possibilities, embrace global citizenship, and see the world more clearly.”

Dr. Atika R. Tyner



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