We're taking a Saturday afternoon picnic with illustrator Kristy Caldwell today! Her latest picture book with John McCutcheon, Flowers for Sarajevo
, is an uplifting story about the power of beauty in the face of violence and suffering.
Q: What part of
this story did you most respond to?
A: Drasko’s personal situation is
what struck me the most. He doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the tension of
the adult world. He has to navigate his own way through it.
Q: What sort of
research did you do?
A: I wasn’t able
to visit Sarajevo in person, but it was important to me that people who lived
through the events of the story could recognize their city in the
illustrations. The urban details, but also the atmosphere. I tried to immerse
myself in different ways: reading first-hand accounts, listening to music,
looking through photography books like Sarajevo
by Tom Stoddart and Sarajevo
Self-portrait: The View from Inside by Leslie Fratkin. It was easy to find
references of the destruction and rebuilding of Sarajevo. It was much harder to
find images of the city as it was before the destruction. I searched through
hundreds and hundreds of photos online, comparing details against what I had
read in articles and marking the locations of “Sarajevo Roses.” At this point,
I think if you dropped me from a helicopter onto Ferhadija Street I could
direct you to most of the major landmarks.
Q: Milo’s floppy
hat appears in many of your illustrations.
Can you tell us about it?
A: The first line of the story is “See that man in the floppy hat? That’s
Milo. He’s my father.” With those words John immediately set up a recognizable
trademark for Milo. The next line is “He can sniff out the best roses in all of
Sarajevo.” Milo and Drasko only get to spend a couple of pages together, but
their relationship is the heart of the book, and the hat symbolizes that
relationship. I knew I wanted to see Milo hand the hat to Drasko when he leaves
for the battlefield, and I knew I wanted Drasko to put it on his own head for
the first time after hearing Vedran Smailovic play his cello in the rubble of
the breadline massacre. The music inspires Drasko toward
his own selfless act, which also echoes the generous spirit of his father.
Q: Many graphic novels address
difficult topics but are geared toward adults. Flowers for Sarajevo is for children. How did your consideration of
this younger audience influence your artistic approach to this event?
A: I tried to
keep my focus on Drasko and his immediate experience. I also made a conscious
decision at some point to show the effects of the conflict—the market
crumbling, plants wilting, and people scattering—instead of resorting to guns,
tanks, and soldiers.
Q: You’ve said
in the past that your style is influenced by theater and comic books, artistic
avenues which present a “heightened reality.” What decisions did you make to
create the “heightened reality” in Flowers
A: Incorporating panels of spot art allowed me to isolate key moments
in a more intense way, without the background noise. There are also moments
when elements break out of the border of the illustration. For instance, Milo’s
“floppy hat” breaks out of the border of a spot illustration three times.
the most part, I wanted the background elements to be flowing around Drasko,
and every background character has to be on their own journey, with their own
immediate task to focus on. That’s something I learned from theatre.
Q: What do you
hope readers take away from your art?
A: I want
readers to feel like they are experiencing a story in progress. Even though the
real events took place at a specific time and in a specific location, the
broader story is about a community stepping across lines of religion and race
to support each other during a crisis. We can keep that story going.
Labels: Author/Illustrator Talks, Behind the Story, Children's books, Community, Illustrators, Interviews, Picture books, Saturday Afternoon Picnic