Let’s Talk Illustrators #222: Kristen Balouch

I am so excited to present my chat with Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award winner Kristen Balouch about her picture book Mystery Bottle. Kristen’s book is sweet and evergreen in message: love has no borders! Enjoy our conversation.

About the book:

A boy in Brooklyn receives a package from Iran. When he opens up the mysterious bottle that lies within, a great wind transports him over the oceans and mountains, straight into the arms of his grandfather. Despite being separated by politics and geography, the boy and his Baba Bazorg can share an extraordinary gift, the bond of their love.

Let’s talk Kristen Balouch!

LTPB: For those who haven’t read the book and seen the Author’s Note in the back, can you tell us where you got the idea for Mystery Bottle?

KB: When our son Bailey was born, it became obvious that we were on our own in Brooklyn, New York. Our families were far away—mine in different states and Omid’s in Iran. There weren’t cell phones or zoom then. We talked on the land line phone occasionally—Omid’s family in limited English and me in even more limited Farsi. Omid’s father gathered every word and lessened the distance between us. He collected things that reminded him of us and found perches for those things around his home.

As our children grew I realized there was this whole world that was part of them, but wasn’t accessible to them. I learned to cook Ghormeh Sabzi and other Iranian dishes so that they might experience pieces of Iran that could make their way here. Mystery Bottle was created out of the desire to bridge that distance.

Mystery Bottle is specific in its message, but purposely general In the story. So the family is my family, but the family is also many families.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

KB: It was difficult to witness stories of families being separated by circumstance and to experience our own. It is still heartbreaking to see borders and politics have such a negative impact on peoples lives. The process of creating Mystery Bottle felt more like sewing isolated pieces back together. It became a story that transcends borders, politics, and distance.

Seeing readers embrace and identify with this book has been incredibly rewarding.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

KB: I think of each book as an object in the world and wonder what objects make sense to include in the illustration? I searched and searched for a bottle to be the Mystery Bottle. I photographed the bottle and used it as a layer in the cover of the book. I decided to use maps in the illustrations. I thought maps would be interesting conceptually to show the boy where he is going. l collected maps and layered them into the illustrations digitally. I also illustrated a bird to accompany the boy along the way. It’s kind of fun to look for the bird in each illustration.

I usually digitally layer textures or images into the illustrations. I like the added depth the textures create—both visually and conceptually.

LTPB: It looks like you do a lot of commissioned work and side projects! Can you tell me what else you do in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books?

KB: I want to design everything! I have been working on quilting fabric and designing fabric collections and panels to make projects like these puppets. They coordinate with one of my picture books. If You Are the Dreamer. I’ve also designed furniture, toys, baby clothes, umbrellas, and even repurposed salvage finds (and designed a soapstone sink) to renovate our apartment in Brooklyn. Here is fun project I did for a German fabric company. It’s a silk scarf with an illustrated life size fox. I think of it as the alternative to a fox stole.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

KB: Absolutely! This book is coming out in September! It’s called Story House. It’s a book, but it also opens up into a stand alone playhouse. It comes with reusable clings of characters and words. Kids can create their own story.

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?

KB: What an interesting question. Grandma Moses! I love how much storytelling there is in her landscapes. There are so many narrative details that many stories can be told at the same time.

A million thanks to Anna for taking time to answers some questions! Mystery Bottle published last month from Crocodile Books!

Special thanks to Kristen and Crocodile Books for use of these images!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my policies & disclosures page

August 23, 2022 at 10:59AM noreply@blogger.com (Mel Schuit)