June 30, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #147: Selina Alko

It was wonderful talking to Selina Alko about her new book One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book. Selina and I discussed her inspiration for creating this unique counting tale and how she maintains a sense of creativity with each new project she tackles. Enjoy our conversation!

About the book: 
Young children experience a day of preschool, beginning with morning meeting, story time, and art projects, then on to outside play, puzzles, and snack and nap time, ending with a heartwarming golden rule.

Set against the familiar and dynamic backdrop of a daily school adventure, this vibrant counting book showcases a diverse and inclusive classroom of learners. The text counters from one to ten and back again while the back matter counts higher to twenty.

Let's talk Selina Alko.

LTPB: What was the impetus for creating One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book

SA: When my daughter Ginger was 3 and 4 years old I spent a lot of time at her 'Chickpeas' daycare and, then, in her public school pre-K classroom. Carolyn and Yliana at Chickpeas and her marvelous teacher, Ms. Marlene, at PS10 made learning a magical adventure all day long. I was in total awe! During those precious years, I envisioned doing a schoolroom counting book as a follow-up to my alphabet book, B is for BROOKLYN. The project ended up going through many, many different revisions. Seven years later, with Ginger now in middle school, One Golden Rule is finally out!

LTPB: As someone who has created many books during their career, how have you found that your process changes from book to book?

SA: Well, I have found that keeping a sketchbook in mixed media for each project really helps my process evolve. In this way, I am able to develop a deeper familiarity with the topic - jotting down associations, words, colors, found papers, etc. My feeling for the subject is then more complete so that when moving to final art I am more confident and freshly inspired.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text? When you do both, which do you generally start with?

SA: I like writing and illustrating the entire story, and I always start with the words (or at least the concept) before doing any art. I like illustrating other people's stories, but naturally, the books don't feel quite as much like my own babies once they come out. 

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about how you created the hand lettering in this book? 

SA: I did some in this book but the designer was very savvy and created fonts that look a lot like my lettering. In general, I spend a lot of time flipping through font books, copying cool looking letters, trying to make them my own. It's very satisfying, I could paint funky words all day long.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

SA: I just completed the art for a book about immigration, called I is for IMMIGRANT. It is actually more of a true follow-up to B is for BROOKLYN than One Golden Rule (all 3 books are with my same editor, Christy Ottaviano, at Henry Holt). IMMIGRANT came together pretty quickly; from concept to finished art, in just over a year! This was the perfect project for me to be working on during the pandemic and in light of the current political climate. Depicting different immigrant cultures in positive vignettes gave me a sense of purpose. I am truly hoping my book will be one of many to help educate a new generation of American readers to be more inclusive and tolerant of all cultures.

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

SA: It would be such a great honor to have my life illustrated -– what a fun question! I absolutely adore Maira Kalman's sensibility and liken it to my own at times. However, if she were unavailable, I would take Giselle Potter or Melissa Sweet to depict my life's adventures any day. All three women illustrate with just the right mix of humor, humanity, and quirk.

A major thank you to Selina for taking time to talk about her work! One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book published earlier this month from Henry Holt & Company!

Special thanks to Selina and Henry Holt for use of these images!

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