I feel super lucky to catch Gracey Zhang on her first children’s book Lala’s Words: A Story of Planting Kindness because it’s clear from her debut that she’s going places! Getting to peek behind the curtain to see Gracey’s process was an absolute privilege, and I’m excited to share what I learned with you today!
Oh, there goes Lala! She carries a pot of water around the corner, down the block, and over the fence, to a patch of dirt and concrete where tiny weeds sprout. Hello, hello, friends! she whispers. Lala waters the plants every day, but it is her kind words that make them sway and nod.
Peek underneath the dust jacket:
Let’s talk Gracey Zhang!
LTPB: Where did the idea for Lala’s Words: A Story of Planting Kindness come from? Who is the inspiration behind the energetic and optimistic Lala?
GZ: Lala’s Words sprouted from the stubborn repeated head butting that happened for a period between my mother and I. We had reached a certain point where I found myself at a bit of a loss at how to communicate in a way that was open, honest and respectful. I couldn’t help but think back to early childhood and how our relationships with our parents will always fall back into one of adult and child in one way or another. Then I thought about what it would take to make a parent change their mind about their child. Lala’s Words came from that thought. I had initially based Lala on a much more “optimistic” version of myself but in completion I realized that my mother was Lala truly.
LTPB: How did you choose your color palette, and why did you keep it so limited for this book?
GZ: I gravitate towards and feel most at home working in black and white inks, it seemed fitting to represent the city I love the most, ‘the concrete jungle’ with all different hues of grey and blacks. Living in such a densely populated city, you take notice of nature when it takes over the urban environment.
The greens and yellows were an easy choice to reflect the fountain of greenery and warmth.
LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of Lala and her world? As you got to know Lala, her mother, and Lala’s world, how did your illustrations evolve?
GZ: The core of the illustrations have always remained the same. Much of the evolution came in trying to figure out how exactly color would play a role in the illustrations.
I had initially been looking at a lot older screen printed work where color was blocked off in large chunks, working with the negative space of the page. At the end I went with what felt most honest to me and that was in keeping the color to the yellow of Lala’s warmth and the green of the plants.
LTPB: How did you create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?
GZ: I work in pencils, inks, gouache, and watercolor paints. The process is usually consistent but sometimes there is some experimentation to get to the final results which can be very fun.
LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?
GZ: Working on a second book with Scholastic that hopefully I can share bits and pieces of very, very soon!
LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?
GZ: I’ve always been in awe of Anna May Wong and how she was able to create her legacy during a time when there was no one else who looked like her in the industry. Her life seemed to span so many different eras, times, overcoming obstacles, all while being true to herself and looking impeccably dressed.
A million thanks to Gracey for taking time to answer questions about her children’s book debut! Lala’s Words: A Story of Planting Kindness published earlier this month from Scholastic, Inc.!
Special thanks to Gracey and Scholastic for use of these images!
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July 27, 2021 at 10:33AM firstname.lastname@example.org (Mel Schuit)