Readers of this blog know that I love to write about books and do so regularly. But it’s not often that I get a chance to interview a children’s book writer and illustrator! Well, exciting things happen when the English Teachers Association of Israel, aka ETAI, celebrates its 40th anniversary with an exciting international conference! So, I now have the pleasure of introducing plenary speaker Anne Sibley O’Brien. from Maine, U.S.A., a children’s book writer, and an illustrator who has published 37 books featuring diverse children and cultures. (see details about the conference here).
Naomi: I was once ” the new kid’. My first reaction to the illustration was – “Oh, the teacher on the left is introducing the new student as someone who has something to offer in a relationship by saying that the new student likes to write stories! He’s not someone who simply needs to be pitied and will be totally dependant on others”.
Annie: Yes, exactly. The driving purpose of these two books is to portray the richness and fullness of the lives of people who become immigrants and refugees. They’re not blank slates who come with nothing and need to be filled up. I want people in receiving communities to recognize that new arrivals are already whole people, with a family, a language (often more than one), a history, a culture, interests, talents… and that they have so much to offer. They bring gifts.
Annie: When I was seven years old, my parents moved my three siblings and me from rural New Hampshire in the States, to Seoul, South Korea. Working in Korea (my dad was a doctor) was a dream come true for them. I went from always blending in to suddenly standing out, feeling as if someone had turned a spotlight on me. I became fascinated by differences as a result of being “the different one” — but uniquely in a position of high status and extreme privilege, not the standard experience of being the Other!
Annie: I’ve illustrated 33 picture books, about half of which I also wrote, half by other authors. Recently I also wrote a couple of picture books that were illustrated by someone else — that was fun! When it’s someone else’s book, then the illustrations usually come second to a completed manuscript.
Naomi: And the final question I ask all the speakers I interview;