Saturday, February 4, 2023

Q&A with Kim Taylor



Kim Taylor is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book A Flag for Juneteenth. Also a quilter and a speech-language pathologist, she lives in Baldwin, New York.


Q: You write that you first learned about Juneteenth in 2014. What led you to create this book?


A: I created a large story quilt about Juneteenth after attending a celebration in honor of the holiday in 2014. Until then, I had never heard of Juneteenth. I was asked to show my quilt at some festivals and a few local schools. Many of the students did not know about Juneteenth and it was not part of their curriculum.


I wrote a short story based on my quilt to help students get a better understanding of this significant historic event. In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I decided to tweak my story and send it out to Serendipity Literary Agency. My agents Regina Brooks and Charles Kim loved my story and encouraged me to illustrate the book with quilts.


I did not think that I could do it and refused at first. They saw something in me that I did not. Eventually I recognized that quilted illustrations made sense and would add so much to my story. When I signed with Neal Porter at Holiday House Books, I knew that I had something very special indeed.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book says, in part, “Created with fabric collage, the art in this work from quilter Taylor is stunning. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are breathtaking...” How do you create your quilts, and what was the process for incorporating them into a book?


A: Most of my story quilts are large wall hangings that are based on some significant event that stirs my emotions. I begin by imagining what I want the quilt to say, and then build the quilt top by piecing together fabrics of various sizes, colors, and shapes until a picture comes together.


Sometimes the finished quilt looks like what I imagined. Sometimes it takes on a life of its own and I am surprised by the end result.


I created 26 individual quilted panels for A Flag for Juneteenth. It takes quite a bit of time to make even one small quilt. It took 14 months to make all 26. Unlike other quilts that I have created, each block is a separate quilted illustration. They are not sewn together to form a larger quilt.


When planning the illustrations, I tried to keep the text in mind, and made decisions about what aspects of the text I thought needed to be enhanced. For example, the first page describes tea cakes, a type of traditional cookie that enslaved people made using simple pantry ingredients.

I thought that it was important to help my readers visualize a teacake, so I set out to create them using one of the brown fabrics from my stash that had some color variations. Teacakes were not fancy back then, but they were delicious and smelled amazing, so I used hand embroidered lettering to show the movement of the scent wafting through the air.


I do not stitch by hand, although this is something that I would like to teach myself for a future project. I use a regular Juki sewing machine and lower the feed dog for free motion quilting.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I devoured everything I could read about Juneteenth, but that was only the beginning! I was curious about what life was like for enslaved people when they were not laboring, and to learn how they connected with their immediate and extended families. I was very interested in understanding how they built a sense of community despite such oppressive circumstances.


I Googled, listened to podcasts, and read books about that time. I also looked at pictures of enslaved people which helped me to imagine their personalities and lives. One picture of a little girl that I found on the Library of Congress website seemed to embody the spirit of my Huldah and I kept her image in mind as I developed the character.


During my research, I was pleasantly surprised by how these resilient, smart people found both active and passive ways to resist their enslavement.


Q: What do you hope kids learn from the book, particularly about Juneteenth?


A: I am very proud to tell the story of Juneteenth in a way that I hope will encourage children to want to learn more about this historic event. I felt it critical to highlight the beauty and resilience of African and African American people during their enslavement, as well as to showcase the importance of strong family and community ties.


The characters in my book are purposefully faceless. I am hoping that my young readers will see themselves in my main character and will deeply connect and empathize with her.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: When I finished writing A Flag for Juneteenth, I realized that the last scene felt like a beginning rather than an end to me. I have been seriously considering a sequel, perhaps even more than one. I have often imagined what happened to this family after that momentous day. I am hoping that my readers are curious too!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am incredibly proud to have illustrated this book with an art form that was used by my ancestors to tell their own stories.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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