We’re very excited to welcome illustrator Hazel Mitchell who is visiting Story Snug as part of her ‘Imani’s Moon’ blogtour. Hazel illustrated Imani’s Moon, written by JaNay Brown-Wood, in which a mother uses the tradition of African storytelling to encourage her daughter to believe in herself.
Age Range: 3 to 7
The Story: Imani, a little girl with big dreams, lives in Africa. The children in her village tease her but Mama tells Imani traditional stories to show her that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to. Imani decides to try and touch the moon and despite the children’s mockery she persists in her quest. Imani climbs a tall tree but falls out. She makes herself some wings but gets caught in a tree. On her way home Imani watches young warriors doing a jumping dance (adumu). She is fascinated by how high they can jump and starts to practise. Her patience and concentration is rewarded when she jumps high enough to land on the moon and bring back a piece of moon rock. This accomplishment becomes Imani’s story.
We asked Hazel about illustrating Imani’s Moon, illustration in general and of course we wanted to know about her favourite picture books.
Do you have African experiences that may have helped you to illustrate Imani’s Moon?
I really didn’t. So I had to rely on research. Although I loved the idea of researching Africa!
Did illustrating Imani’s Moon involve lots of research?
Yes it did! I hadn’t much idea about the Maasai tribe, apart from seeing pictures of them. I read books about their culture, habits, dress and history. I did a lot of picture research online using Google, Bing, Flickr and Pinterest, as well as looking at websites about the Maasai. My friend’s son had lived with a tribe for a while and had a Maasai cloak and spear, so I got to wear and hold those, which in spirit made me feel closer to them. I also listened to their music while drawing. I researched the area in Africa they come from (Kenya and Tanzania), and looked at landscape, trees, their villages and animals that I’d need to illustrate. The moon I was able to imagine!!
Did you and author JaNay Brown-Wood work together to discuss her vision of the story?
No, I was given creative freedom and happily JaNay loves the end result.
We love the way that traditional stories are woven into the story of Imani’s Moon. Mama tells the stories of Olapa, the moon goddess, and Anansi, the spider. Were you familiar with these stories before you illustrated the book?
I had no idea about the folktales JaNay wove around the story of Imani. It was great to learn more about them!
We love the nighttime spreads which depict Olapa and Anansi in the stars.
Do you have a favourite picture / page spread from Imani’s Moon? Can you tell us why you particularly like it?
Thanks! I very much enjoyed doing the nighttime spreads. I have 2 favourite spreads … Imani and Nyoka the snake for one. I love the composition here, how it spreads across the page so that Imani falls from the same branch that the snake is wrapped around.
I also enjoyed doing the spread where Imani lands on the moon upside down, I thought that was kind of fun. I had a great time painting Olapa in the moon with all the glowing mooniness in it. It was also completely different from the initial sketch, which Susan Sherman suggested I change to simplify and she was so right! Which is why Art Directors are great!
Does your style of illustration and the medium you use differ depending on the theme of the picture book?
Yes it does. I’ve found that the age group, subject and mood of the book all contribute to how I feel the illustrations will evolve. So I’m not an illustrator with just one style and I’m fine with that!
Do you have a favourite location / environment to work in?
My studio! Although it’s nice to get out and work at the library or a coffee shop occasionally. But, I like my home comforts and pets around me.
You are British but now live in the US. Do you have a favourite British childhood picture book? Do you have a favourite US picture book?
Hmm. For a British book I think I would choose The Gruffalo. And American – I would choose The Cat in the Hat. The Gruffalo is later than my childhood for sure, but I love it. I remember loving The Cat in the Hat from an early age.
What advice would you give to aspiring picture book illustrators?
Learn your craft, read and draw as much as you can. Never be afraid to try. Have fun!
Can you tell us about any future titles or projects that you are working on?
My most exciting project at the moment is ‘TOBY’ coming from Candlewick Press in Fall 2016, edited by Liz Bicknell. They’re my dream publisher and editor! And it’s the first time I will be have been published as author / illustrator. The book is about my adopted poodle, Toby, who is a bit of a superstar in his own right already! (Go to Facebook and type in ‘meettoby’).
I also have three books out next year that I’ve illustrated – ‘Animally’ from Kane Miller, ‘Kenya’s Art’ from Charlesbridge and ‘Where do Fairies go in the Snow’ from DownEast Books.
In my spare time (laughs) I’m working on a middle grade mystery, but that’s a work in progress that hasn’t seen the light of day yet!
About Hazel Mitchell
Hazel Mitchell is originally from England and now lives and works in Maine. When she wasn’t riding horses as a youngster she was drawing them. After attending art college in the UK, she spent several years in the Royal Navy and then worked as a graphic designer. Now she’s doing what she always dreamed of – creating books for children. Her latest titles include ‘Imani’s Moon’, ‘One Word Pearl’ and ‘1,2,3 by the Sea’. Her first book as both author and illustrator ‘TOBY’ will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognised by Bank Street’s Best of Children’s Books, Society of Illustrator’s of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews and Learning Magazine. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, NYC.
Toby on Facebook
Hazel has also illustrated the following books;