Interview: Selina Alko Masters Writing, Illustrating Books That Educate

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Selina Alko, a Canadian-born author and illustrator, is my interview today. As a kid, she spent summers at a Jewish sleep away camp and attended her father’s painting classes. She has written or has illustrated lots of books. I have reviewed two of them,  The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage and  Can I Touch Your Hair?

I also reviewed the book  Shaking Things Up: 14 Youg Women Who Changed the World. In it, she did the illustration for for the story about one of the bravest girls in the world, Malala. Check out my review of a book Malala wrote called Malala’s Magic Pencil.

I think Selina Alko’s work is cartoony and cool. A lot of her books have diversity in them and educate readers about issues about race, like for example, Why Am I Me?

She is married to Sean Qualls, another cool illustrator that I hope to interview.

Here are her answers to my questions:

Question: I liked reading your book The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage about Richard and Mildred Loving. Why did you write the book?

Answer: I wrote the book in order to learn more about why it was once illegal for people of different races to marry one another. When I married my husband in New York City it was only 35 years after the decision to overturn Loving vs. Virginia, and since I am from Canada I didn’t have a true understanding of this countries’ racist history. You might say I was a little naive, and that writing the book was my quest to understand racism.

Q: Was it fun working with your husband? Or did you have any conflicts?

A: It was a challenge to work together because we had to figure out how to merge our separate styles to make the art look cohesive. It was hard! In a way it was like having a second wedding, we married our separate ways of working to make something brand new.

Q: Do you celebrate Loving Day?

A: When we can, we go to the annual festival here in NYC. It’s so much fun!

Q: What is your favorite part about writing?

A: It’s very satisfying to tell a story that’s never been told before. When the writing is going well and the ideas are flowing it’s extremely exciting. The possibilities feel endless!

Q: Do you like writing or illustrating more?

A: I really love writing but still consider myself an illustrator first. For me, there’s nothing like making art. When I use paint and scraps of paper mixed together while letting my mind go to faraway places, it is pure magic.

Q: Do you believe diversity is important in children’s books?

A: Absolutely essential.

Q: What is your next book about?

A: I am telling the story of Joni Mitchell; all of the creative influences that made her the unique singer/song-writer she grew up to be. Like me, she is Canadian born and a painter first. But parallels to my own life aside, I feel that stories of female musicians need to be told.

Note from Elena Reads: Selina Alko drew the photo below of Malala for the book Shaking Things Up. And photo of Selina Alko above is courtesy Selina Alko.


One comment

  1. Elena

    Why do you think illustrations are so important in books? Why do you think there are fewer illustrations in books for older kids and adults?


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