Friday, May 17, 2019

Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family. She has illustrated a variety of books, including I Am Farmer and Martha and the Slave Catchers. She lives in Albany, New York.

Q: You note that your new book was inspired by your own family history. Can you say more about that? 

A: The book was inspired by the life of my grandfather, whom I never met, and our family's love for chocolate! My grandfather owed a cacao plantation in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, where my father remembers accompanying him to the cacao farm and witnessing all of the work that my grandfather and others in the community did to get cacao beans ready to be shipped off to factories where they are turned into chocolate.

Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Yes, I had to do a lot of research to write this book, as well as interview my father and ask him tons of questions. I spent my childhood in the Ivory Coast, but have never been to a cacao plantation, so I needed to learn as much as I could. One piece of information that was surprising to learn was how little money farmers earn from their backbreaking work.

Q: You used two different artistic styles in the book. How did you choose which style to use for the girl's story and which for the grandfather's?

A: I decided to use a more realistic style for the girl's story (oil paint and collage), and a more dreamy style for the grandfather's story (silk-screen). Since the images of the grandfather are coming from the girl's imagination, I wanted him to have a less real, more mythical appearance. I was thinking of the grandfather as a John Henry, heroic type of figure.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

A: I hope kids take away from the book that chocolate comes from cacao fruits that grow in faraway places! And that farmers who work very hard to prepare these fruits go give us chocolate, don't often get to eat chocolate themselves! According to Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation, most cacao farmers in the Ivory Coast and Ghana make less than $1.90 per day.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've just finished illustrating Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes, and I'm working on the illustrations for As Big as the Sky by Carolyn Rose.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Buy chocolate! Cheap chocolate, expensive chocolate, craft chocolate, chocolate made from cacao from Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia... enjoy it all! Cacao farmers and chocolate makers work very hard to bring it to us.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon. 

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