Illustrators Mike Curato and Isabel Roxas explain why children’s books are more important than ever

The children’s book as an art form seriously doesn’t get enough love. Those are the books that form the foundation of our literacy and early sense of empathy, and we carry their lessons for the rest of our lives. But it’s not often that we treat the people behind them with the same reverence as, say, Pulitzer prize-winning writers, or our favorite YA authors.

One thing’s for sure: it takes a special kind of mind, a special kind of person, to write books for kids. I recently spoke with two of these authors.

Mike Curato is known for his series of Little Elliot books, which he writes and draws. Isabel Roxas has made a name for herself as an illustrator both here and in New York, having gotten her start in the collective Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (INK). When I sit down to talk to them at the Writers Bar in Raffles, Makati, I couldn’t help imagining them as pre-school teachers — the way they open themselves up, reflect on their work with joy, and complement each other’s insights. They talk to Young STAR about the various things that make their line of work so fulfilling.

YOUNG STAR: What’s the fun thing about children’s books? What drew you to the genre of children’s literature?
MIKE CURATO: The interesting thing about children’s books (is) that we call them “children’s books,” but they’re really books that are accessible to everyone. They are made for children but can still speak to adults, or teenagers, or people of any age. Another interesting thing about making a children’s book is that it’s so condensed, so compact. You have all this information and emotion, but in very few words and in just a few pictures.

ISABEL ROXAS: Mo Willems says that a book is your best friend when you’re a child, and I think that’s so true, especially when you’re lonely or, like, you’re picked on or whatever. It’s a refuge.

Thinking of all the books that have moved you, how would you like to make people feel through your books?
MIKE: Sad. (Laughs) No, but I mean, some of my books can kind of tug the heartstrings. But I think if your book can elicit emotion in someone, that’s what makes it a memorable experience. If you can make someone shed a tear or laugh out loud, or get really angry, they’re going to remember that experience and hopefully take away the message that you’re trying to send out. But the other side of that coin is, people can take the book that you made and take it somewhere else.

ISABEL: I just want people to get lost in them. I want them to be immersed and completely in there. However they react to it, whatever emotions they pull out of it, that’s on them. But the important thing is they get lost.

For Mike Curato and Isabel Roxas, making books for kids means creatively keeping your inner child alive.

Have you guys had any experiences of children coming up to you and asking about your work?
MIKE: I do school visits, so when I’m going to schools, there will be kids that have read my books, and they’ll talk about if they like it, or what they don’t like about it? Kids can be tenacious. They’ll be like, “Why did you do this?”

ISABEL: “Y’know, I think you should have ended it this way!”

MIKE: And it’s like, “Okay, great! That’s really great! You should write that story! Why don’t you go do that?”

ISABEL: Also, I’ve been in it so long that some of my fans have grown! I have people in college learning to be illustrators and they’re like, “I read your work in ‘Junior Inquirer’” and I’m like, “Whoa!” (Laughs) But it’s nice, you’re obviously touching people! To me that’s a really big deal.

From the perspective of children’s book authors and illustrators, why is it important to expose kids to reading at an early age?
ISABEL: Because it opens up your world. It shows you that the world is bigger than just this small corner that you live in. It shows you how other people build their houses, it shows you that other people worship in a different way… it just gives you so much perspective. It can also tell you that you’re not alone, y’know? There’s so much to reading that can enrich your life.

MIKE: What she said. (Laughs) I’ve said this before — I think if everyone were to share their story, and everyone understood where the other is coming from, there’d be more compassion in the world, more understanding, more problems getting solved. And also, what Isabel was saying about seeing yourself in a book, knowing there are other people like yourself, that’s very powerful because it gives you self-confidence, it reminds you that you are worthy…

ISABEL: That you matter.

MIKE: Yeah, that you matter! That you exist in the world, and you’re a part of it.

The books of Mike Curato and Isabel Roxas are available at National Book Store branches nationwide.

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#books #literature

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