March 8, 2022

Let's Talk Illustrators #206: Yas Imamura

Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall's grandparents' story, Love in the Library, is the true story of two interred Japanese Americans falling in love in Minidoka, and Yas Imamura's illustrations certainly do the book's inspirational story justice. I talked to Yas about bringing the Tokuda-Hall love story to life, enjoy our chat below!

About the book:
To fall in love is already a gift. But to fall in love in a place like Minidoka, a place built to make people feel like they weren't human--that was miraculous.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast--elderly people, children, babies--now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn't know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp's tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn't the only one. George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before. As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day?

Let's talk Yas Imamura!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Love in the Library? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s text?

YI: I was sent the manuscript of Maggie’s story through my agent and immediately fell in love with the story’s message. I didn’t have one specific image in my head but I definitely thought of ideas for lighting and how it interacts with shadows.

LTPB: Can you talk about your research process for this book? As the illustrator, how did you work to accurately portray Tama’s and George’s lives?

YI: I had photo references to go off from but I think most importantly I wanted to embody their spirit rather than their specific features. I wanted my illustrations to live in that middle between fiction and non fiction, especially in the way Maggie brings them into the world of Love in the Library.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

YI: Narrowing down a style and tone took a bit more time. This was a very unique story, unlike any picture book I’ve ever done and I think similarly, I wanted to experiment and find new ways to illustrate with watercolor. I might have gone a few different directions. The most rewarding part is nailing the style and colors I want and finishing one spread that really embodies all that.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

YI: I primarily use gouache and watercolor. It really hasn’t changed much since but I’m always eager to experiment with new ways to create texture.

LTPB: What are you working on now?

YI: Quite a few things. I’m working on the last few pages of a picture book and starting some sketches for a couple more. I wish I have stuff to show but I’m excited to in the future!

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?

YI: Maybe the Provensens and Victoria Semykina. I’d be interested to see my life and likeness depicted in such stylized way.

Thanks to Yas for taking time to answer some questions! Love in the Library published last month from Candlewick Press 2022!

Special thanks to Candlewick for use of these images!

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