Thursday, June 2, 2016

Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon is the illustrator of the children's picture book One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Awards. The other books she has illustrated include Don't Call Me Grandma and Poems in the Attic. She grew up in the Ivory Coast and now lives in Albany, New York.

Q: How did you end up illustrating One Plastic Bag?

A: I received the manuscript through my agent and I was thrilled! A story about a crafter, in Africa, who is creating beautiful things and solving problems at the same time?! I immediately said yes. I wanted to contribute to telling Isatou Ceesay's story.

Q: What do you see as its message?

A: I see its message as two-fold: Women's empowerment and recycling through creative thinking!

Q: The book jacket says that you used your own collection of papers and bags to create collages for the book. How did you choose the colors and style for these illustrations?

A: Since this book takes place in the Gambia, West Africa, and I spent my childhood in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, I figured that, more than any other book I’ve illustrated, the people's clothing in the Gambia would be very similar to what I saw every day in the Ivory Coast.

For that reason, I used a lot of actual fabrics from items of clothing from my own childhood in the Ivory Coast. (I didn't actually cut up the fabrics themselves, but scanned them onto my computer and printed them onto paper which I cut up and glued onto the illustrations.)

I also used fabrics from the purses I made to sell at my very first craft fair in art school (and I've been making fabric purses to sell ever since!).

I really identified with Isatou making something with her bare hands, bringing it to market, setting up her purses at her table, and hoping people walking by would be interested enough to buy them and not ridicule her. It can be stressful!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I recently finished illustrating a book called The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford. I loved getting to know Lena through her movies, music and her work during the Civil Rights Movement. (I can't get her song “Stormy Weather” out of my head)

And of course illustrating this book gave me the opportunity to experiment more with collage! Look for the book in Spring of 2017.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes! After illustrating One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, I actually got to meet her! The real Isatou from the book!

The author Miranda Paul organized a book tour for One Plastic Bag last year, and Isatou came from the Gambia to share the book with people all over the United States!

I had never met any of the subjects of any of my books before, so when I heard that Miranda and Isatou were going to be in my part of the country, I seized the opportunity to invite them to Albany so we could meet!

It was so great to meet someone I thought I already knew so much about. Have you ever met someone you read about in a book? Well Isatou in real life is the woman in the book and so much more!

I loved sharing time with her and Miranda, seeing how they inspire others to want to recycle and solve problems in their own communities. It was really special.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Elizabeth Zunon, please click here.

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