Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cuentos...discovering the Person Behind the Story: John Parra

April Spotlight on Children’s Book Illustrator John Parra

Welcome to our new blog series, Cuentos...discovering the Person Behind the Story. 
Each month we will feature one of our favorite children’s book author/illustrator.

We are kicking off the series with John Parra, an award-winning illustrator who brings to life the stories in the books Gracias/Thanks, Waiting for Biblioburro, My Name is Gabriela/ Me llamo Gabriela, P is for Piñata, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes and his most recent book Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors.

If you are in New York – you can meet John at the 4th Annual East Harlem Children’s BookFestival!

John, of the books you have drawn, which do you reflect the most on? Why?
Each book project I have worked on holds special memories, many levels of enjoyment, and distinct concentration. However, there are times when I reflect on one particular book more than any other.

The book I seem to reflect on most frequently is, Waiting for the Biblioburro, a story inspired by the heroic efforts of an actual librarian Luis Soriano.  Mr. Soriano and his mobile library journey through the rural areas of Colombia, South America, to bring literacy and culture to the children who have no access to town libraries. I was immediately drawn to the delightful narrative as it was presented to me several years ago by its author Monica Brown. Her use of themes such as kindness, sacrifice, determination, humor, empowerment, and beauty captures the true journey and heart of a hero and a dedicated teacher. I am also drawn to and feel proud of the many art illustration spreads created for the book.
Pages I created like The Imagination Tree and Ana and the Butterfly I feel capture and create a sense of wonder as well as joy to compliment the words of the story and its ideas.  I know that through learning and creativity we solve issues as well as enhance our minds and souls.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Growing up I always loved creating art for no other reason than for the sheer joy of it. I did not know at the time that as I got older it would be a part of my professional life. I think the advice I would give to myself is one of direction and potential. Art is such a large field with many areas that a young artist can follow. There are fine artists, commercial artists, children’s book artists, mural artists, graphic artists, editorial artist, and on and on. To understand where to put my energies took time. I do remember the exact moment I found out what kind of artist I wanted to become though. It all clicked one day when a visiting professional illustrator came to visit my art class in junior college and showed us his work.  I recognized his work immediately and like a light bulb turning on in my head, I felt a sense of excitement and empowered that this is what I wanted to do too. So much of where I am today was in thanks to other professional artists taking the time to spend on talking to a young art student such as myself.

What three children’s books, other than your own, would you name as must reads? Why?

What? Only three? This is more than difficult; it is impossible because there are so, so many.  Let me give you just a few to wet your appetite:

a)     Pedro, The Angel of Olvera Street, by Leo Politi
b)    Frida, by Jonah Winter & Ana Juan
c)     The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton.
Extras Bonus Selections:
d)    Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
e)     Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, by Kathleen Krull and Yuyi Morales
f)     Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown and Rafael Lopez

Finally John, what are three places you would suggest children/families visit when in your hometown?

I live in New York now but I grew up in Southern California, such as Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Diego. If I could recommend three places for families to visit it would be:

a) The Santa Barbara Zoo, on Child’s Estate that sits on a beautiful little hill next to the Pacific Ocean.  The zoo has a great little selection of animals such as monkeys, birds, lions, giraffes and elephants.  And above all do ride the train around the park grounds, though the stately Eucalyptus trees, animal exhibits, and adjacent lagoon that is remarkable and just lovely to see.
b)The Beach. Especially Malibu and Santa Monica for the boardwalk, Leo Carrillo, Torrey Pines, La Jolla are all great stops along the Pacific Coast.
c) Balboa Park in San Diego that has many museums and activities all centrally located and all breathtaking and memorable for all ages.

We want to thank John Parra for his participation in our Cuentos segment! 
If you want to find out more about him please visit his website.

If you are in New York – you can meet John at  the 4th Annual East Harlem Children’s BookFestival!
Saturday April 26th
11:00am – 4:00pm 
Free event, rain or shine! 

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