Sunday, April 14, 2013

Day #5 of the Día Blog Hop: Joe Cepeda On Illustrating and Writing

I am so pleased to share with you today, illustrator and author, Joe Cepeda's, personal article that talks about his own childhood and how he feels about what he does. Reading all of the articles in the #L4LL Día Blog Hop is a moving experience and I hope that you, too, will find joy in reading what these authors have to say. Please feel free to leave a comment for Mr. Cepeda, or to enter your school library (or local library!) in the giveaway by leaving a comment on this, and every other blog in the blog hop.

As someone who makes his living illustrating books (even having written one), I’d like to tell you that I was raised in a home where the thirst for reading was rich and vibrant and that we were so hungry for the written word that we’d read anything that we could get our hands on.  It would certainly be nice to tell you that my family spent hours and hours at the East Los Angeles Public Library foraging for books, laughing and chatting it up with our good friend, the nice gentle librarian, then strolled happily down the cracked and crooked sidewalks all the way home with piles of books lovingly wrapped in our arms. At dinnertime we all sat at the table telling stories. That, under the warm light of our simple kitchen, we listening eagerly and patiently to one another, quoting passages and sharing the excitement and drama that lied within the pages of our wonderful books.  It would be delicious to say how the legacy of books and their hidden treasures was a sweet dessert we filled ourselves with on a daily basis.

As you might be guessing, such was not truly the case. The only bookcase in our home was small, with three shelves...and held as many knick-knacks as it did books and unintentionally, perhaps symbolically though, was a little removed, away in the far corner of my parent’s bedroom.

We were by no means a family of scholars.  We came from simple roots, (although my mom’s stepfather was a self-taught engineer toy-maker carpenter public-attorney Marxist in Durango, Mexico... but he was the exception).  My brother, sister, and I went to school and did our homework... or didn’t.  We played baseball, stayed out ‘til dark and were not much different from our neighbors.  Each day was met with largely simple and clear struggles.  We were sometimes yellers and screamers like a lot of families on our block and like in my fathers case, whose education went as far as the third grade and didn’t have a lot of book knowledge to draw upon, we sometimes never said a thing.

We weren’t a well-read bunch.  It wasn’t a horrible place to grow up, it just wasn’t the most literary household.  Then, almost by happenstance (at least it seemed that way from my point of view) there was a change, small and incidental... yet momentous like the shifting of tectonic plates.

A door-to-door salesman came to our home one day.   He must have been a great salesperson because my mom was not one easily swayed. Yet, he convinced her, a woman working as a teacher’s aide, to let go of some of her hard-earned money. It wasn’t vacuum cleaners or Fuller brushes he was vending.  Soon after his visit, the curios and the few dust-covered books on our little bookcase made way for the 1969 edition of the World Book encyclopedia.  Brand-spanking new! Not a lot of brand new things made it into our home.  It was green and white with shiny gold-edged pages on each pebbly-textured volume.

Like an unknown siren calling hypnotically from a cliff, the next thing I knew I was sprawled across my parent’s bed slowly opening that first leathery cover, listening to it crack as I took in that smell that wafts up from a new book.

I started one day at volume A and sometime later... days, maybe weeks, I’m not really sure how long it took me, eventually I paged through the whole set, A to Z.  I make no claim, of course, to have read an entire encyclopedia from front to back like some super-genius, but glimpses and flashes of the outside world poured into my head with every turn of the page like a slow steady rain.  I never knew what a mallard duck looked like, but there it was. That funny looking building, the Taj Mahal, had no place in my brain before then... nor did the flags of the world, some answers to the mysteries of the human body, and the principle and workings of a simple lever.  The contents of those heavy books were not exactly poetry or elegant prose or fantastic storytelling, but it got me started reading in a whole different way.

Our house never really filled up with books, and the joy of reading wasn’t exactly a new thing to me, but, maybe at that tender age it freed me just a bit.  Like the first time I rode around the block on my bike by myself, zooming over new and different sidewalks, waving at fresh new faces.  The outside world and its discovery was just that much more in my control, letter by letter, page by page, volume by volume.  What I found in books took me to places that I’d never before imagined and has done that all my life.

Illustrating and writing stories has done something else.  I’ve illustrated city stories, farm stories, stories from Africa, a book about heaven and even a story that takes place in a bathtub. One day, I look forward to illustrating some epic saga.... perhaps a Viking story or one set in the future.  Yet, inevitably, and not necessarily by design... a life making books and picture-making comes round to making pictures that feel like home, not necessarily in a literal sense, but in the sense that is the most human thing to share a story.  Not so much about what you’re sharing as much as how you share it.  It all comes back home.  It all comes back to what I tell the young people I meet at school visits... wherever you come from, whether your place is small and humble, or grand and fanciful, if chaos runs rampant, or you live in utter doldrums... your story is worth telling.  The challenge lies in the beauty and poetry of it.  When I started speaking publicly I was anxious and eager to share what I did. I talked about painting, composition, visual storytelling skills and creative prowess and all that. Yet, eventually, after doing this for a while it became apparent to me that working as an illustrator is about who I am... something that all along was much harder for me to share.  Stories and books started me on that path, as did a set of encyclopedias.

Joe Cepeda received his BFA in Illustration from California State University, Long Beach in 1992 and also studied Engineering at Cornell University.  He is the illustrator of award-winning picture books such as What a Truly Cool World (Scholastic), Nappy Hair (Knopf), Mice and Beans (Scholastic) including The Swing (Arthur A. Levine Books), which he wrote as well as illustrated.  Mr. Cepeda has illustrated books written by numerous notable authors including Gary Soto, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Arnold Adoff, Monica Brown, Julius Lester and most recently, Toni Morrison.  He has also illustrated book jackets for many titles, including Esperanza Rising.  He was selected to illustrate the cover of Shaquille O’Neal and Reading is Fundamental’s Biggest Book in the World.  Mr. Cepeda received an ALA 2002 Pura Belpre’ Honor Award and the Recognition of Merit Award for 2000 from the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books.  His work has been accepted to the Society of Illustrators shows in New York and Los Angeles. In addition to his illustrative work, Mr. Cepeda is sought after as a public speaker to schools and other groups. He is the current president of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.  He lives in Southern California with his wife and son.

The Giveaway

L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles (as well as the blog hop SCHEDULE) here on the L4LL website.

To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below. Don't forget that you can enter it every day on a different blog! That's 20 chances to win!

The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th. The winner will be chosen using and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email - so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we'll have to choose someone else!)

By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules. No purchase required. Void where prohibited.

¡Buena suerte!


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