All month we’ll be posting about African American History Month. This is the first of our posts, coming from illustrator Shadra Strickland.
White Water almost passed me by. The first time I created an idea sketch for White Water, it was without a manuscript and was ultimately rejected. After winning the CSK/John Steptoe Award, I was given a second chance at illustrating the story.
Because White Water is based on a true story, I began the illustration process by driving to Opelika, Alabama, to take pictures and visit the local library for any historical reference that I could gather. After gathering more research online, and interviewing my grandmother and mother who lived during the 1950s, I felt I had enough information to begin visualizing the story.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, so the civil rights movement had been talked about in my family from when I was a little girl. Stories of sit-ins, bus boycotts, and picket lines were not new to me. I was slightly intimidated by the subject matter at first, because it is such a serious time in our nation’s history. I wanted to be somewhat playful in the art without making light of the circumstances.
Photo provided by Shadra Strickland
Since Michael narrated our story, I was really able to play with his view of the world and the things he imagined. The visual element that I am most proud of in this book is the toy soldiers that help give him courage when he tries to get a taste of “that white water.” When I was growing up, one of my boy cousins always had toy soldiers lying around the house. I thought of him whenever I painted Michael’s soldiers.
Sketch by Shadra Strickland
White Water is a great story to introduce young readers to the civil rights movement. I hope that this book helps children find courage to challenge the things that they believe are wrong in the world and change them!
Sketch and Photo provided by Shadra Strickland
You can find White Water in Book Clubs right now!
Shadra Strickland studied design, writing, and illustration at Syracuse University and later went on to complete her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2009 for her work on her first picture book, Bird, written by Zetta Elliott. Strickland co-illustrated Our Children Can Soar, winner of a 2010 NAACP Image Award. Shadra is also the illustrator of A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), written by Renee Watson. It is the story of four children in New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Publishers Weekly called Strickland’s illustrations “quietly powerful,” and Booklist said, “In vibrant, mixed-media images, award-winning illustrator Strickland extends the drama, feeling, and individual stories.”