A Guest Post by Irene Luxbacher on Illustrating Malaika’s Costume

Only the brightest coloured scraps of paper and the most vibrant foliage would do when it came to illustrating Malaika’s Costume. A spirited girl like Malaika and the festive celebration she longed to dance in inspired intensely colourful backgrounds in my mind’s eye…

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeI began the illustrations for Malaika’s Costume by first sketching out the look and feel of the characters in the book. First Malaika and then her grandmother… My sketches are usually in pencil and ink and sometimes watercolour. I then started painting lots of different textured backgrounds with acrylic paints on canvas. But because Malaika’s story was so rich and vibrant, I decided to work in oils as well. The richness of thick, buttery oils seemed appropriate when rendering the lush foliage surrounding Malaika’s home and community, and I felt it would serve as inspiration for equally vivid carnival scenes.

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeWhen I settled on a colour scheme I was happy with, I scanned all my drawings and paintings into my computer and started playing around with different compositions. Incorporating the letter paper with Malaika’s doodles into the art was a happy accident that occurred during this part of the process. I think my favourite part of working on any illustration is allowing for the possibility of surprise. Just when I think I know how a page is going to look, I stumble on a different texture, pattern or swatch of colour that changes everything!

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's Costume

Just like Malaika, I suppose, creating a beautiful costume out of a collection of fabric pieces and her grandmother’s old costume, I felt proud as a peacock to lend my collection of drawings, paintings and collage materials to such a beautiful celebration. I’m so happy I was invited to this party and hope I did Malaika, her grandmother (and their wonderful creator, Nadia Hohn) proud!

Irene Luxbacher is an artist and author living in Toronto, Canada. With more than fifteen years’ experience as an illustrator, Irene has received numerous awards for her children’s instructional and picture books. Some of her awards include the 2003 National Parenting Publications Gold Award, the 2004 Disney Book Award and the 2007 Ontario Library Association Award. In 2009/10 Irene made the USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, both for her illustrations in Andrew Larsen’s The Imaginary Garden.

New Releases from Groundwood this March

We made it! It’s finally time to celebrate some new books, and we’ve got quite the selection this March; familiar faces, many new, and a couple favourites reissued in paperback.


Buddy and Earl Go Exploring
by Marueen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Available: March 1

Buddy and Earl are safely tucked in for the night; Buddy on his blanket and Earl in his cage. But just as Buddy settles in for a nice, long sleep, Earl says it’s time to say “Bon voyage.”

Soon these mismatched pals are at it again, exploring the wilds of the kitchen and defending a lovely lady hedgehog — who may or may not be Mom’s hairbrush — from imminent danger. When they’ve finally vanquished the greatest monster of all — the vacuum cleaner — it’s time for some well-earned shut-eye.

This second book in the Buddy and Earl series reunites this odd and loveable animal couple: a dog who likes to play by the rules and a hedgehog who knows no limits.

Groundwood Logos Spine

Malaika’s Costume
by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Available: March 1

It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?

Disappointed and upset at her grandmother’s hand-me-down costume, Malaika leaves the house, running into Ms. Chin, the tailor, who offers Malaika a bag of scrap fabric. With her grandmother’s help, Malaika creates a patchwork rainbow peacock costume, and dances proudly in the parade.

A heartwarming story about family, community and the celebration of Carnival, Nadia Hohn’s warm and colloquial language and Irene Luxbacher’s vibrant collage-style illustrations make this a strikingly original picture book.

Groundwood Logos Spine

Tokyo Digs a Garden
by Jon-Erik Lappano & Kellen Hatanaka
Available: March 1

Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

Groundwood Logos Spine

The White Cat and the Monk
by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith
Available: March 1

A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.

The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of the classic Old Irish poem “Pangur Bán.” With Jo Ellen Bogart’s simple and elegant narration and Sydney’s Smith’s classically inspired images, this contemplative story pays tribute to the wisdom of animals and the wonders of the natural world.

GPB Argueta Vilela J

Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding
by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Fernando Vilela
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Now available in paperback, Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding is the second title of Jorge Argueta’s popular bilingual Cooking Poems series, celebrating the joys of preparing, eating and sharing food.

From sprinkling the rice into the pot, to adding a waterfall of milk, cinnamon sticks, salt stars and sugar snow, Jorge Argueta’s recipe is not only easy to follow, it is a poetic experience. The lively illustrations by Fernando Vilela feature an enthusiastic young cook who finds no end of joy in making and then slurping up the rice pudding with his family.

As in all the titles in this series, Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding conveys the pleasure of making something delicious to eat for people you really love. A great book for families to enjoy together.


by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Margarita Sada
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Following on the success of Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding is Jorge Argueta’s third book in his bilingual cooking poem series — Guacamole — with very cute, imaginative illustrations by Margarita Sada.

Guacamole originated in Mexico with the Aztecs and has long been popular in North America, especially in recent years due to the many health benefits of avocados. This version of the recipe is easy to make, calling for just avocados, limes, cilantro and salt. A little girl dons her apron, singing and dancing around the kitchen as she shows us what to do. Poet Jorge Argueta sees beauty, magic and fun in everything around him — avocados are like green precious stones, salt falls like rain, cilantro looks like a little tree and the spoon that scoops the avocado from its skin is like a tractor.

As in the previous cooking poems, Guacamole conveys the pleasure of making something delicious and healthy to eat for people you really love. A great book for families to enjoy together.


Outside In
by Sarah Ellis
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Lynn’s life is full — choir practice, school, shopping for the perfect jeans, and dealing with her free-spirited mother. Then one day her life is saved by a mysterious girl named Blossom, who introduces Lynn to her own world and family — both more bizarre, yet somehow more sane, than Lynn’s own.

Blossom’s family is a small band of outcasts and eccentrics who live secretly in an ingenious bunker beneath a city reservoir. The Underlanders forage and trade for the things they need (“Is it useful or lovely?”), living off the things “Citizens” throw away. Lynn is enchanted and amazed. But when she inadvertently reveals their secret, she is forced to take measure of her own motives and lifestyle, as she figures out what it really means to be a family, and a friend.

Classic Sarah Ellis, this novel is smart, rich, engaging and insightful.

Win a Copy of Malaika’s Costume



Happy Carnival! Happy Mardi Gras!

To celebrate, we’re giving away a copy of the upcoming title, Malaika’s Costume by Nadia Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher!

The contest runs from February 9th to February 16th. A winner will be randomly chosen. Fill out the form below to enter!

“A Shared Space” – A Guest Post by Irene Luxbacher

Irene's workspace, where she makes her own kind of magic.
Irene's father's workshop space in more recent years.

Irene’s father’s workshop space in more recent years.

I grew up watching my dad work quietly at his trade. A small tailor shop in the garment district of downtown Toronto was my introduction to the world of pattern, texture, patches of color and a wild assortment of kaleidoscopic characters. There, in his shop, we got to share in the best wordless conversations ever, both looking out the large storefront window onto an ever bustling Spadina Avenue, and in again at each other. Working on Mr. Frank was a great way to re-visit a lot of those memories.

Because Mr. Frank was a story that was so personal, the first place I looked for inspiration was in the boxes of fabrics and patterns my dad had accumulated over the years. I collected scraps and papers that reminded me of the materials he had. Old newspapers and patterns he had stowed away as part of his reference collection became a part of the backdrop of his shop in the book’s illustrations. I made lots of paintings that resembled the look of woven fabric textures, and of course poured over lots of old photos of my dad over the years, drawing and re-drawing his facial expressions and posture as he aged from a young boy into an elderly man.

Irene's workspace, where she makes her own kind of magic.

Irene’s workspace, where she makes her own kind of magic.

In a lot of ways, my studio space is very similar to my dad’s workshop. At first glance both our workspaces are pretty unassuming. There’s a quiet feeling of productivity, practicality and comfort in the organized mess that I think I adopted from his way of approaching his work. From the scraps on the floor, to the piles of collected patterns and images, we both — in our own time — work quietly together. Sketching out designs for a new idea or style, piecing together patterns and textures in a new way… fussing over details that please the eye and somehow “fit” and “feel” right.

In many ways, making Mr. Frank reminded me that the wordless conversation I remember sharing with my dad while watching him at work in his shop is far from over.


On his last day before retirement, Mr. Frank is sewing the most wonderful outfit of his long career. Who could it be for?

In all his years working as a tailor, Mr. Frank has made all kinds of clothes. From the practical uniforms of the 1940s to the wild and weird designs of the 1960s and 1970s, he has seen (and sewn) just about everything. But today’s project is especially close to Mr. Frank’s heart.

With its use of textiles and sensitive period detail, Irene Luxbacher’s artwork is the perfect complement to her understated text. The result is a story that children and grandparents can share with equal delight.

Contact us

Get in touch with us!