June 1, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #180: Motomitsu Maehara

Words of the World by Motomitsu Maehara is a unique set of eco-friendly primer board books that explores sustainable subjects for babies. So far Motomitsu has published Birds and Ocean Animals, with Plants and Animals coming later this year, and each book features not one but six languages, taking a new generation of readers one step closer to inclusion and representation in the books they consume. I hope you enjoy my chat with Motomitsu Maehara about this stunning new series!

About the book:
Each board book in the The Words of the World board book series thematically pairs eighteen gorgeous collages with their names across the six most popular languages worldwide: English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Chinese (Mandarin), and Arabic, as well as the language of universal friendship, Esperanto. Each book also includes phonetic pronunciation for Hindi, Chinese, and Arabic.

Let's talk Motomitsu Maehara!

LTPB: The Words of the World series is incredible so far with Birds and Ocean Animals! What inspired it? And why did you choose to explore these subjects in so many languages?

MM: Actually I made illustrations of animals for my son at first. When he was four years old, I wanted to surprise him when he came back home from kindergarten. I made each illustration one by one every day and put them on the wall next to the door and asked him, “What's this?” He is a half Japanese and half Polish living in France, and has three nationalities, so he answers with four languages: Japanese, Polish, English and French. My family is a little strange in that I’m a Japanese person living in France, speaking Japanese, English, French. My wife is a Polish, speaking Polish, French, English. My wife and I talk to each other in English at home, I talk with my son in Japanese, and my wife talks with him in Polish. He studies in French for his school and speaks French with his friends. So at our home, there are always four languages everywhere!

Each book uses six languages: English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Chinese (Mandarin), and Arabic, as well as the language of universal friendship, Esperanto. They are the six most widely spoken languages in the world. Nowadays many families live under multicultural situations like our family. I believe that we can accept and share “diversity” through words, animals, nature, cultures, family and friends. Animals and nature are very interesting for kids in that they have very unique characters, shapes, colors. I think we can find such unique diversity only on our planet. Languages are also diverse and we have to respect their unique words.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in these books?

MM: I use collage techniques. I don't have any other technique for illustration, I'm simply doing it my own way, and my technique is simple. 

I always pick up free magazines from Metro in Paris and cut them and paste them on white paper. I don't paint colors on it, just try to find the best colors from the pages of magazine and just cut and paste them. I use only three things: magazines, scissors, glue. Everybody can do it. It's very simple. However the challenge is to find the best position for the colors and shapes to bring the collage alive!

LTPB: What do you do when you're not writing and illustrating children's books?

MM: I am an artist as well as a musician, DJ, poet, translator, and event organizer. So I always just try to find the best way to create my arts beyond the genre. Even when I'm making illustrations for books, I'm working in my own music studio and in front of speakers and music instruments with my favorite music, especially dance music and I feel their rhythms! And I love reading books, especially philosophy and poetry, so I'm always reading at cafes, or I'm organizing my own popup cafe called “cafe the eel” at a children's book shop Kirja' in Japan where my friend is an owner of the shop, and I'm serving coffee and tea there. Or I'm writing poems.

LTPB: Can you tell us about the next books publishing in the series here in the US? Can you show us anything?

MM: The next books in the series are Plants and Animals which will be out in October 2021 in the USA and worldwide. These are from the same series of the books Birds and Ocean Animals. These books use the same collage technique.

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?

MM: I’ve never thought of it like this before. However it may be Eric Carle! I think my life is with many bright colors like his illustrations and sometimes with a sense of humor or nonsense. His unique compositions and colors make me happy and I feel the music in his colors. I love his unique point of view that is very kind for kids and nature. I believe that our nature is made by poetry, not only by science.

A million thanks to Motomitsu for taking time to answer some questions about this fantastic new series! Birds and Ocean Animals published last month from Blue Dot Kids Press!

Special thanks to Motomitsu and Blue Dot for use of these images!

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