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Read an Excerpt from Operatic by Kyo Maclear and Byron EggenSchwiler

It’s almost the end of middle school, and Charlie has to find her perfect song for a music class assignment. But it’s hard for Charlie to concentrate when she can’t stop noticing her classmate Emile, or wondering about Luka, who hasn’t been to school in weeks.

Then, the class learns about opera, and Charlie discovers the music of Maria Callas.       

The more she learns about Maria’s life, the more Charlie admires her passion for singing and her ability to express herself fully through her music. Can Charlie follow the example of the ultimate diva, Maria Callas, when it comes to her own life?

The following is an excerpt from the book:

Operatic written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler will be available on April 1, 2019.

22 Books That Celebrate the Power of Girls

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’ve put together a collection of books that feature smart, brave, and inspiring women and girls that have made their mark on the world around them.

Whether it be through making groundbreaking scientific discoveries, standing up for human rights or simply being kind to one another, these girls prove that they can do anything they put their minds to!

Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling and Melissa Castrillon

Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.

Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth.

Operatic by Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler.

A story of friendship, first crushes, opera and the high drama of middle school told by award-winning Kyo Maclear in her debut graphic novel.

How Emily Saved the Bridge by Frieda Wishinsky and Natalie Nelson 

The amazing story of Emily Warren Roebling, the woman who stepped in to oversee the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, Aircraft Pictures, Cartoon Saloon, Melusine and Nora Twomey

This beautiful graphic-novel adaptation of The Breadwinner animated film tells the story of eleven-year-old Parvana, who must disguise herself as a boy to support her family during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

What Milly Did by Elise Moser and Scot Ritchie

Milly Zantow wanted to solve the problem of her town’s full landfill and ended up creating a global recycling standard — the system of numbers you see inside the little triangle on plastics. This is the inspiring story of how she mobilized her community, creating sweeping change to help the environment.

Happy Birthday, Alice Babette by Monica Kulling and Qin Leng

It’s Alice’s birthday! But her friend Gertrude seems to have forgotten. No matter, Alice goes out and enjoys her day just the same.

While Alice spends the day walking around Paris — Gertrude turns her attention to the kitchen. She is determined to make a lavish dinner with all of Alice’s favorite things and write a poem to match the occasion.

Inspired by the lives of artist Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Monica Kulling’s warm and whimsical narration is perfectly balanced by Qin Leng’s bright and energetic illustrations. This is a sweetly joyful story of love, friendship and creative inspiration.

The King of the Birds by Acree Macam and Natalie Nelson

In this picture book, inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor, a young fan of fowl brings home a peacock to be the king of her collection, but he refuses to show off his colorful tail.

This delightful story, full of humor and heart, celebrates the legacy of a great American writer.

Jane, the Fox & Me by Isabelle Arsenault and Fanny Britt. Translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.

Leaving the outcasts’ tent one night, Hélène encounters a fox, a beautiful creature with whom she shares a moment of connection.

Lost Girl Found by Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca

In war-torn Sudan, a girl must make heart-rending choices as she fights for survival and a chance at a future. Available in paperback for the first time!

Flannery by Lisa Moore

A spellbinding story about chasing love, fighting family, losing friends and starting all over again, from the internationally acclaimed Lisa Moore.

Book Uncle and Me by Julianna Swaney and Uma Krishnaswami

Every day, nine-year-old Yasmin borrows a book from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has set up a free lending library next to her apartment building. But when the mayor tries to shut down the rickety bookstand, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something.

Aluta by Adwoa Badoe

For eighteen-year-old Charlotte, university life is better than she’d ever dreamed — a sophisticated and generous roommate, the camaraderie of dorm living, parties, clubs and boyfriends. Most of all, Charlotte is exposed to new ideas, and in 1981 Ghana, this may be the most exciting – and most dangerous — adventure of all.

Becca at Sea by Deidre Baker

Becca has often gone with her parents to visit Gran at her rustic cabin by the sea. But this year Becca’s mother is expecting a baby, and Becca visits her grandmother on her own. The prospect of spending time at Gran’s is hardly appealing to Becca.

But by the time her parents arrive with the new baby, she realizes that adventures, and even friends to share them with, may have been right under her nose the whole time.

Becca Fair and Foul by Deidre Baker

When eleven-year-old Becca returns to her grandmother’s rustic cottage for another summer, she finds herself seeing her beloved island in new ways.

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis

From award-winning author Sarah Ellis comes the story of an American draft dodger who turns up to stay with thirteen-year-old Charlotte and her family.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki

A picture-book biography of Viola Desmond, Canada’s Rosa Parks, who defied an order to sit in a segregated section of a movie theater and was arrested for doing so.

The Stella Series by Marie-Louise Gay

A collection of stories by Marie-Louise Gay about Stella and her little brother Sam as the explore the natural world. Stella is an adventurous, imaginative and curious child who is always excited to learn and go on a new adventure!

The Story Behind the Story

Written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam

I am often asked if my stories are based on personal experiences — perhaps that has something to do with my deliberate choice of first-person narration, or the similarity between the profiles of the characters in fiction and personal life.

The seeds are sown in reality, but the tales that spring from them are figments of my imagination — often nurtured over an exceedingly long period of time!

The idea for When I Found Grandma originated five years ago from my parallel piece of non-fiction writing titled “Between Five and Sixty-five.” While that essay recounted my personal observations as I tried to find middle ground between my visiting parent and growing progeny (born and raised in North America), the entertaining and animated dynamics between the two inspired me to expand and create an age-appropriate picture book.

From casual everyday behavior, I have observed that while social /communicational expressions can often be a differentiator or grounds for teasing, they can also really be a reminder of what we have in common. (You like Potayto/I like Pothato.)

When Grandma delights at spotting Maya near the “merry-go-round,” Maya promptly corrects her, saying “carousel.” While she is not wrong in doing so, the nuances in personal/conversational styles can have potential for unwarranted conflict.

As with many adults, Grandma is quite set in her ways and it is challenging for her to comprehend Maya’s preferences. But when the fear of losing sight of her grandchild sets in, she uses everything in her power to reconcile — holding up a baseball cap on her cane, calling Maya by the name she prefers, and setting off to walk in the direction of Maya’s favorite place on the island.

Nothing could be more reassuring to Maya than to find her “special” family when lost amongst a sea of scary strangers. Neither Grandma’s clothing nor her loud mannerisms really matter!

Girl and Grandma find each other in more ways than one.

While assimilated children of a certain age and racial heritage may relate better to the specifics, context and characters, the story arc and exploration of familial love will hold universal appeal.

Neither the narrative nor the events bear any resemblance to real life. The story arc sort of shaped itself over time and several rewrites — two years from conception to final draft and over three years from submission to publication.

The idiosyncrasies and charm of the characters are brilliantly brought to life by Qin’s illustrious illustrations.

When I Found Grandma written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam and illustrated by Qin Leng is now available wherever books are sold.

An Excerpt from Cold White Sun by Sue Farrell Holler

A teenage boy stands outside the Calgary bus station, alone, on a frigid night. He has no winter clothes, no identification, and he speaks little English. His name is Tesfaye, but who is he, and where did he come from?

Tesfaye’s story is true, told by Alberta writer Sue Farrell Holler after hundreds of hours of research and interviews with the real “Tesfaye,” who cannot be identified so as to protect his family. Cold White Sun has the full support and endorsement of “Tesfaye,” and he has provided a statement that serves as the novel’s frontispiece.

The following is the frontispiece from Cold White Sun.

When the author and I began work on this story, I was hurt, confused, and didn’t understand what had happened to me or why. I was angry, but I didn’t know why I was angry and I didn’t know where to direct it — my country, my family, the set of circumstances that caused me to flee Ethiopia, or a combination of all three. My underlying anxiety was senseless but I couldn’t let it go.

Sharing my story and watching it develop as a work of fiction helped me see my past in a different context. is perspective has changed my heart and my mind and brought me peace.

— Tesfaye

Cold White Sun, by Sue Farrell Holler will be available on March 1, 2019 wherever books are sold.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Stella!

Written by Marie-Louise Gay

It’s hard to believe but Stella, Star of the Sea was first published 20 years ago! I wrote and illustrated the simple story of a little girl who discovers the wonders of the sea with her tiny brother Sam. When I wrote the story, I wanted to focus on the child’s point of view. How a child would perceive, understand and discover the secrets of a place that he or she had never seen. I wanted to develop a dialogue between a younger sibling and his slightly older and more knowledgeable sister. I wrote dialogues peppered with questions and answers, at once serious and whimsical:

“Where do starfish come from?” asked Sam.

“Starfish are shooting stars that fell in love with the sea,” answered Stella.

My intention was to write only one story but after Stella, Star of the Sea was published in 1999, I missed my two small friends and I began to see the natural world through their eyes and their curiosity. So, one day, as I walked through a lovely snowstorm, I wondered how Stella and Sam would see the winter landscape, and Stella, Queen of the Snow was born.

I went on to write and illustrate six Stella books and three Sam books.

Since then… Stella and Sam have learned to speak many languages. The books have travelled around the world and were published in over twenty different languages…here are a few: in Chinese, Hebrew, Welsh, Korean, Portuguese and Slovenian.

Various Stella books have won awards over the years: the Mr Christie’s Book Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, the IBBY International Honor List, the Elizabeth Mrazik Cleaver Award, to name a few, while others were shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award.

Since then…Stella and Sam have become world travellers. They have travelled on letters, packages and postcards since two Stella illustrations were reproduced on postage stamps issued by Canada Post.

Since then…Stella and Sam have become international TV stars in an animated TV series created by Radical Sheep and based on the Stella books: The Stella and Sam Show, 52 episodes, some of which I wrote and worked on as a creative consultant.

Also, a play was created in Lisbon by the theater group Gato que Ladra with live actors playing Stella and Sam.

I feel very fortunate that my Stella and Sam stories are read and loved by children all over the world. I have been touched by the hundreds of letters and drawings that I have received from children and their parents who shared the stories of Stella and Sam. I have been inundated by letters from teachers and students who have read and studied my Stella books and have created art, new stories and fantastic projects inspired by my books. They have let their imagination run wild!

Thank you to all my readers and writers and artists!

Happy Anniversary Stella and Sam!

See all of Marie-Louise Gay’s Books and check out her website.

16 Books to Love This Valentine’s Day

Love comes in all shapes and sizes. Fall in love this Valentine’s Day with these books about first crushes, first loves, and the love shared between family and friends.

Grab your loved ones and snuggle up with one of these heart-warming tales.

Flannery by Lisa Moore

A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng

Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl Go to School by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Buddy and Earl Meet the Neighbours by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis

Friend or Foe by John Sobol and Dasha Tolstikova

I Was Cleopatra by Dennis Abrams

I’m Glad That You’re Happy by Nahid Kazemi

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Ophelia by Charlotte Gingras and Daniel Sylvestre

Prince of Pot by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

The Mosaic by Nina Berkhout

10 Books to Help Start a Conversation about Mental Health With Your Kids

In honour of Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 30th, we have put together a collection of books that explore the day-to-day struggles of being a kid.

These books highlight the importance of understanding one’s emotions, standing up for what you believe in and most important of all, that you are not alone.

Having a conversation about mental health or educating your kids (and yourself) about it is the perfect way to reduce the stigma associated with it. It is never too early to talk to your kids about mental health.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant

Morris is a little boy who loves using his imagination. He dreams about having space adventures, paints beautiful pictures and sings the loudest during circle time. But most of all, Morris loves his classroom’s dress-up centre — he loves wearing the tangerine dress.

A story about the courage and creativity it takes to be different.

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

In the town of Leamington, Ontario, a seventeen-year-old boy named Calvin is suddenly stricken by a schizophrenic episode and wakes up in hospital.

Martine Leavitt brings her inimitable gentle wit, humor and compassion to a story about a teenager struggling to gain control of his own mind and destiny.

Ophelia by Charlotte Gingras and Daniel Sylvestre

Two teenaged outsiders, Ophelia and Ulysses, establish an uneasy truce.

One night, intruders invade their sanctuary, and their shared bond and individual strength are sorely tested.

A visually arresting, one-of-a-kind collage-style novel.

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

In this powerful new graphic novel from Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, we meet Louis, a young boy who shuttles between his alcoholic dad and his worried mom, and who, with the help of his best friend, tries to summon up the courage to speak to his true love, Billie.

Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

The Mosaic by Nina Berkhout

Twyla Jane Lee has one goal. To finish senior year so she can get out of her military hometown of Halo, Montana. But to graduate, she needs to complete forty hours of community service, and that means helping out a rude and reclusive former Marine named Gabriel Finch, a young veteran of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Gradually the two misfits form a bond, and Twyla begins to unearth the secrets that have left the Marine battling ghosts.

A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

Rose and Michael are good students with bright futures and are very much in love. But when Rose gets pregnant she pulls away from her best friend, and from Michael, while she struggles to cope with her predicament.

Rose cannot admit that she is pregnant, moving from denial to ineptly trying to terminate her pregnancy, to believing that she has miscarried. She is on a mental and emotional downward spiral. Meanwhile, Michael sinks into his own kind of small madness.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

“Skim” is the story of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls’ school in Toronto in the early nineties.

Depression, love, sexual identity, crushes, manipulative peers –teen life in all its dramatic complexities is explored in this touching, pitch-perfect, literary graphic masterpiece.

Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser

After her older sister is murdered in a horrific incident of domestic abuse, Taylor begins a new life in a new town. She meets Lily, whose open, warm manner conceals a difficult personal life of her own, coping with her brain-injured mother. The two girls embark on a tentative friendship. But just when life seems to be smoothing out, Taylor’s abusive boyfriend, Devon, arrives on the scene, and before they know it, the girls find themselves in a situation that is both scary, and incredibly dangerous.

Broken Memory by Elizabeth Combres

Hiding behind an armchair, five-year-old Emma does not witness the murder of her mother, but she hears everything. And when the assassins finally leave, the young Tutsi girl somehow manages to escape.

When the country establishes courts to allow victims to face their tormenters in their villages, Emma is uneasy and afraid. But through her growing friendship with a young torture victim and the gentle encouragement of an old man charged with helping child survivors, Emma finds the courage to return to the house where her mother was killed and begin the journey to healing.


Interview by Laura Chapnick and Meaghen Seagrave
Photography by Laura Chapnick


Qin Leng draws at her desk

1) How did you become interested in illustration?

Growing up, I always loved to draw. My sister and I would spend our days doodling on old calendars, scraps of paper, and sometimes even on walls! My mother also enjoyed drawing in her spare time and my father, an artist, has been a huge influence on me. So, you could say that expressing myself through drawings has always been a part of my life and always felt very natural. However, I always imagined illustration as a hobby, something I could do whenever I had some spare time. Only after a few years working in the animation industry did I finally consider illustration as a possible career path.

Qin's paints

2) Why did you decide to illustrate children’s books over other art mediums?

Of all the various subjects I could be illustrating, I have always been particularly drawn towards children. They are fascinating to observe, so spontaneous, hiding very little of what they think or how they feel, their body language so expressive. I find it to be such an exciting challenge to try to capture all of that in a few simple brush strokes. For that reason, it was an obvious decision for me to illustrate children books over any other medium.

Away by Emily Sher and Qin Leng

3) What is the first thing you do when you sit down to create something?

When I am ready to start on a new book, I like to open my sketchbook and jump right into it. I think it’s important to empty my mind with all sorts of ideas onto paper, both the good and the bad, to get a feel of what I want to create. Once I have poured my creative juices out, I sift through everything that’s in front of me and slowly piece together what will become the world of my next project.

Qin's shelf

4) Where do you draw inspiration from?

I get inspiration from various places. I will get composition ideas from photography or movies. For characters, I get ideas by looking at people around me. I love people watching, and anyone I spot can become a potential character in my books. Someone walking on the street, someone standing in line in front of me at the grocery store, or sometimes even members of my family . . .

I also love to look at what other illustrators or painters do. I have an extensive collection of fabulous artists at home, and I always like to go through those books whenever I feel at a loss.

Qin's notebook

5) Describe your artistic process.

Usually, I will start by doing a lot of sketches to get a feel of my characters and the world they live in. Who are they, what’s their personality like, what kind of place do they live in? Once that’s sorted out, I start building the structure of the page and figure out what to illustrate on each page and the various compositions and pacing.

I like to keep the rough pass very quick and dirty, so that I have only a very loose template to work from once I am ready to go to final. At that stage, when I am ready to ink, I like to go straight ahead with very little planning. I find that the more I plan, the stiffer my drawing becomes . . . So, I prefer to jump right in and to some extent ‘improvise,’ so that my pieces feel as spontaneous as possible.

Qin draws a character from her book

6)  What are some of your favourite tools?

Over the years, I have tried many different drawing tools. To this day, I bounce back and forth between nib (a very fine one, size 102, so sharp it’s like drawing with a needle) and brush, and paint with watercolour. I used to colour picture books digitally, but I have recently made the jump and decided to do everything traditionally, from inking to painting. Watercolour is a medium I am still learning to control, but I love how it sometimes has a mind of its own and I welcome the happy mistakes.

Qin's painting supplies

7) Your next illustration project, the book When I Found Grandma, written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, publishes this Spring. How was illustrating this book different from others you’ve worked on?

When Sheila Barry presented me with the manuscript two years ago, it instantly struck a chord with me. It brought me back twenty years to when I was a young teenager and my own grandmother came to visit for the first time from China. I remember feeling so excited at the prospect of finally reconnecting with such a big part of my life, and yet, at the same time, it was a real culture shock. The teenage girl I was was sometimes annoyed, short and impatient with my grandmother whom I didn’t always understand and who was bringing with her parts of China I had become completely disconnected from. Her visit was a memorable experience, which I relived while working on When I Found Grandma.

A sketch from When I Found Grandma

8) If readers could take one lesson from When I Found Grandma, what do you hope it will be?

Treasure your elders and treasure your culture. Often times we want to fit in so desperately that we forget that being different is what makes us valuable as human beings. So, hold onto those traditions and make sure that they live on in each passing generation.




Behind the Book: Nancy Vo Shares Her Artistic Process For “The Outlaw”

Nancy Vo, author and illustrator of The Outlaw, gives us an inside look into her artistic process and her notebook. 

It’s hot and dry as I write this. Hot and dry are not adjectives typically used to describe Vancouver or the Northwest Coast.

Westerns, however, are often set in hot and dry places. When I look back on the notebook that I kept while making, The Outlaw, I can see that I was trying to capture a sense of place for the story.


Since The Sisters Brothers inspired my story, I began my research where that story took place – Oregon City in the 1850s. This image of Willamette River, Portland, Oregon helped to anchor the story’s beginning and ending:


UO562 3 of 3 Panoramic stumpscape of 1870 Portland Willamette River Oregon USA photos historic
Carleton Watkins copy horizontal bw SW SE


These quick sketches were made in the notebook, followed by a rough ink, and a finished spread:






The finished spread does not have a lot of colour, and this decision to limit the colour palette was decided early – indigo, quinacridone gold, burnt umber. At this point, I was also looking at typeface and fabric patterns. I did not use the typeface shown in the sketchbook but settled on Clarendon for body text.



For the title, Michael Solomon (Art Director of Groundwood Books) suggested a deboss through letterpress – a fancy way of saying that you can feel the imprint of the type on the paper. I found a local print shop, Black Stone Press, and they found old wood letters that were perfect for the job.



The original cover on my dummy was rather minimalist and Michael suggested having a person on the cover. I went away and made a couple of versions with the Outlaw on the cover. His advice was spot on and I am much happier with the final cover.


Original cover:


Final cover:


I did a lot of things in this picture book that I wouldn’t recommend as far as process. For example, most people have rough thumbnails before they start work on their dummy. I decided that I wanted to see how the spreads looked all on one page after I had finished the dummy. So, I printed these to have a look. Seeing it like this I’ll say that the scene with villagers could have been varied.




The Outlaw by Nancy Vo:

In this spare and powerful story set in the Old West, people in a small town live in constant worry of another visit from the Outlaw. Then the Outlaw suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Time passes, and one day a stranger rides into town. He takes it upon himself to fix everything that is in disrepair — the clapboard schoolhouse, the train station platform. He even builds a horse trough. But when someone recognizes him as the Outlaw, the crowd turns on him. It takes the courage of a small boy to change the course of events …

The subtle, beautiful mixed-media art with its nineteenth-century textural references perfectly complements this original story from debut author and illustrator Nancy Vo.

In the studio with Matt James

Matt James

How did you first become interested in illustration?

I can’t remember a specific moment when I started thinking about illustration, it was definitely part of my childhood, though, and it probably started with comic books. Someone bought me this little yellow light box that came with sheets of character designs from DC Comics — I would spend hours tracing Wonder Woman and Shazam. That light table made me look more closely: it drew me in — made me look intently at the quality of lines and think about how to make mine look the same way. I also remember that the “Y” in Woodstock offered a cartooning course, which I took. I was in grade four or five, and the guy who taught it was really impressive: he had made a comic strip that he was trying to get syndicated in the newspapers. The amount of work he’d put into it left me awestruck — I think he had three or four months’ worth of daily comic strips all ready to go, hundreds of perfect pages all hand drawn and inked, neatly collected in these beautiful presentation boxes with tissue paper between each of the pages.


Why did you decide to get into picture books as opposed to another art form?

My high school had a really cool art department with printing presses, an enormous process camera, a darkroom, pottery wheels — basically every kind of art equipment you could think of.  When you got to grade eleven, you could drop gym class and take “double art”, spending an entire morning or afternoon trying your hand at printmaking, photography, pottery, etc. A lot of the teachers there had been commercial artists in the 50s and 60s. They sorta guided us towards graphic design and illustration and that was fine by me. There was less fluidity between “fine art” and “commercial art” back then, which was a drag for everyone and made it tricky to figure out how to move forward on a path towards making a living as an artist.

I still do a lot of painting outside of the world of book illustration, and I take a lot of photographs. Picture books have always excited me though, I love puzzling out the pacing and the storytelling and I love being able to slowly expand upon ideas over the course of 32 (or however many) pages. I really love the experience of holding a book in my hands. I like the smell of the ink on the paper and the feel of turning the pages. I guess I really like print in general.

art from The Funeral

What is the first thing you do when you sit down to create something?

I’m not really what you would call a creature of habit — I probably should pay more attention to what works and what doesn’t, but truthfully it’s a different ballgame every time I sit down. It’s more of a feeling out process — just keep drawing, painting, writing or whatever until this feeling takes over. Sometimes it happens when my studio is a crazy mess, other times I feel overwhelmed and need everything to be orderly and neat. I think I thrive on change. Though I will say that I spend an awful lot of time at work. I should probably get up and go for a walk more often!

Matt James painting

You work out of a studio in Parkdale that you share with two other artists. Tell us about the space.

That’s right! Greg Smith, Glen Halsey and I have been here for the past ten years or so.

We love this place. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but it is a window into/onto Parkdale with all of its funky Parkdale sights, sounds and smells: it’s a bit of a feast for the senses around here. The studio is pretty scrappy and doesn’t really offer a tonne of space, but it is a bit of a miracle that we have a place where we can create music and art affordably in this city and we thank our lucky stars daily.

Matt James working

Your new book The Funeral is very special and unique. What was your inspiration for the story?

Hmm, that’s kind of tough to pinpoint. Is there one specific inspirational spark? Basically, the story came from life: I followed my kids around at a few funerals. This book was a way for me to sort through my own feelings about the death of some loved ones, initially it was the loss of Uncle Frank, and then later when I was making the final art my dad got terribly sick and passed away. In other ways, it was a documentation; me watching my kids and writing down some of the great things that they say.

This was the first time you wrote and illustrated a book, as opposed to just illustrating, what did you find to be the biggest difference between the two?

This was more like making a story out of words and pictures — working the words and illustrations at the same time — pushing and pulling and kinda molding them into a story.

Just illustrating a book is maybe a bit more cut and dry: a text exists and then pictures are created to complement it.


Your artistic process for the book was quite varied. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Yeah, I did take some things a bit farther than I have in my other books. I had a nice balance happening in my studio where I was working on two very different books more or less at the same time, sometimes leap frogging one another. One book was When the Moon Comes, written by Paul Harbridge, which is set in the depths of winter on a cold moonlit night. That book was really planned out in advance, the pallet is very cold and dark (mostly blue and black) and is straight up painting all the way through. It was a nice contrast to this book, which takes place in springtime with lively pinks and much chlorophyll in the greens. It has painting as well as collage, and little models made out of whatever materials I had laying around (twine, cardboard, masking tape, flowers).  The Funeral was much more of an exploration where you see the results of experimentation right on the page. If it were a record, it would be mostly first takes or demos — I tend to like the look of rawness over refined.

What is one thing you learned while writing and illustrating The Funeral?

I learned a lot of things. I learned how to press flowers in a microwave! I had the idea to use real flowers, and I would (don’t tell anyone) steal little spring flowers off people’s lawns on my walk to work every day and dry them at the studio. I also saved flowers from my dad’s funeral and incorporated them into the artwork.


Interview by Meaghen Seagrave and Laura Chapnick. Photography by Laura Chapnick.




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