Kristen Balouch is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book One Million Trees. Her other books include Mystery Bottle. Also a fabric designer and a literary agent, she lives in Brooklyn.
Q: Why did you decide to create One Million Trees, a picture book about your family's experience planting trees when you were a child?
A: It’s important to know that our actions make a difference. We were a small group and together we planted one million trees!
Planting trees strategically (meaning the right species of tree in the right location) is beneficial for our environment. If we look through an environmental lens we can make conscientious choices about the way we live. What if we buy organic, compost table scraps, only use the water we need, upcycle, stop using plastics, speak up for policy changes?
Also, how many parents pull their kids out of school to go on an adventure like this? It's interesting to see different parenting styles.
Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?
A: I worked on both the text and illustration at the same time. I had so many memories that I wanted to include. I put everything I could remember on paper (both words and sketches) and made a book dummy (a mockup of the book). The book dummy helps to experience page turns, rhythm and flow.
This book was a little different to create because the process was more taking away to uncover the story than building to create it.
Some details became part of the illustrations, one example—the tree planters from the crew collected antlers that they found. Moose antlers were coveted.
One planter saw a pair of moose antlers walking by behind a clothes line. He was jealous that he didn’t find those moose antlers first. A moment later he saw the antlers were attached to the moose! If you look closely you can find that moment in the book.
Q: How did you create your artistic style?
A: I’ve developed my illustration style over the last 30 years. I have always loved pattern and textures. I look at forms in relation to each other and see both the positive and negative spaces as equally important. I like to make sure that all the objects in my work are comfortably spaced.
I make lots of sketches on paper and then use a computer to create my final illustrations. The computer makes it easy to continually fidget with color until I am happy with the combinations. I am inspired by folk art and self-taught artists such as Bill Traylor and Grandma Moses.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “An intriguing tale that will plant seeds of environmental consciousness in the upcoming generation.” What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: Isn’t this earth we live on magnificent? I love to see different landscapes and sunsets; smell the air and feel wind blow across my face; swim in rivers, lakes, and oceans; and look up at night to see a bright moon or tons of stars.
I hope kids stay curious and learn more about our earth and know our actions are powerful and make a difference. Maybe they will even pursue studies and careers in environmental sciences?
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Currently, I am in Italy researching my family lineage in Puglia, eating pasta, and waiting for a story to emerge—let’s see what happens!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes! One thing that keeps this earth healthy is old growth forests. Old growth forests around the world need to be preserved, but they are still being logged. They are irreplaceable.
We can speak out to save old growth forests, write to newspapers and politicians, join local environmental organizations, and find out what is going on in our communities.
Also composting makes sense. Studies show organic waste makes up 30 percent of our landfills. Composting turns organic waste into nutrients for gardens or house plants.
Composting can be as simple as collecting vegetable and fruit matter, egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea and burying them in the garden, or as complex as maintaining a bin with a balanced environment for worms to consume the waste.
Visit me at www.kristenbalouch.com for more environmental action.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb