A Conversation Between Author Paula Young Shelton and Illustrator Raul Colón
We asked author Paula Young Shelton and illustrator Raul Colón to talk about Child of the Civil Rights Movement, Shelton's poignant and hopeful story of growing up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Paula Young Shelton is the daughter of civil rights leader and former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young. She is a teacher in Washington, D.C., and a member of the National Black Child Development Institute. Raul Colón's work has appeared in numerous publications, but he is especially renowned for his children’s book illustrations, including My Mama Had A Dancing Heart, Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel, Angela and the Baby Jesus, and As Good as Anybody. Read on to discover how Paula and Raul worked together to capture, through words and images, a pivotal moment in American history.
Raul Colón: Why did you write the book in the first place?
Paula Young Shelton: I got the idea for this book after telling my students stories about the civil rights movement as part of our study of Martin Luther King. They became so interested in hearing about my "Uncle Martin" that I realized it was a good way for young people to connect with Dr. King, and I started writing the stories down.
Raul Colón: Have you written any others before or since?
Paula Young Shelton: I have always loved to write and have written quite a few "yet to be published" stories. My first book was actually written as my master's thesis and I've got a few stories brewing now, so I hope to keep writing.
Raul Colón: Did you interview your family or any other folks to refresh your memory, since it all happened during your early childhood?
Paula Young Shelton: Absolutely, I talked a lot to my sisters about their memories and, of course, my dad.
Raul Colón: What was the procedure you followed in order to make time to write this story? Did you wake up early, or did you write at all times, say while you rode the train, etc.?
Paula Young Shelton: As a teacher, I get the summers off, so I did the majority of writing during the summer, when I can focus on it for long periods. With three kids, a husband, and a job, it's sometimes hard to find the time to write, so during the year I would write late at night, when the house is quiet. I'm more of a night owl than early bird.
Raul Colón: You seem ready for another picture book. How much did you enjoy this experience?
Paula Young Shelton: It has been a real thrill! All the things I dreaded, like working with an editor or an illustrator I didn't know, turned out to be great experiences. The editor, Anne Schwartz, was incredible and made me really appreciate watching her cut my work to pieces. She helped me to focus the story and really made it flow nicely.
As for the illustrator, I was blown away by the pictures you produced. Some of them were exactly how I had envisioned them in my mind's eye, and others were more beautiful than I could have imagined. I can't wait to do it all over again!
Raul, everyone loves the picture of the crow and it is such a powerful image. What made you draw the picture of the huge crow above the little girl's head like that?
Raul Colón: Initially I had thought of drawing a mean-looking face. But looking through some art book I had, I saw some interesting pictures of black crows and decided to use the visual pun for this piece.
Paula Young Shelton: Besides, of course, my book, what has been your favorite book to illustrate, and why?
Raul Colón: Besides your book, I have quite a few others I truly enjoyed. But I must say that the most significant book I illustrated was my first one, Always My Dad. It won accolades and awards, and opened up the floodgates.
Paula Young Shelton: You've illustrated a few books on civil rights issues. Is that your choice, or just a coincidence?
Raul Colón: I did these books on Civil Rights but it was just a matter of timing. A coincidence.
Paula Young Shelton: I love the scratching effect in your artwork. How do you do that?
Raul Colón: I use a very "sophisticated" instrument called a Scratcher(TM), believe it or not. I etch the paper before I add the final layers of color.
Paula Young Shelton: I get such a great response to the book because of the amazing pictures. Would you illustrate my next book?
Raul Colón: Send the manuscript.
Starred Review. Kindergarten-Grade 3—When the author was a child, her father, Andrew Young, was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Her first picture book beautifully captures her childhood during those events that radically changed America. One episode recalls Shelton's unique contribution to the integration of restaurants. When white owners refused to seat her family, Shelton sat down and cried loudly, an action she calls "my very first protest, my own little sit-in." With this incident, she helps modern children understand the hurtful effects of segregation. Shelton also recalls how the movement united its leaders. The Youngs, the Kings, and other activists became like family because they "were brought together by a common goal." This positive tone prevails throughout the book, which ends with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Colón's luminous watercolors effectively underscore the text's optimistic viewpoint, imbuing scenes of struggle with light that represents the activists' hope for positive results. The book therefore balances honesty about the challenges of the movement with the hope that inspired activists to continue their efforts. An author's note explains how Shelton does not always remember conversations verbatim, but draws on her family's shared memories. The back matter includes information about the leaders who are mentioned. History comes alive in this vivid account.—Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
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