Sunday, October 19, 2008

A talk with illustrator Nicole Tadgell

I'm always happy to receive a package from Lee & Low Books. They publish some of the most interesting and joyful children's books around. Sally Derby's No Mush Today, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, is no exception. This story of a girl who just doesn't want to eat mush for breakfast brings light and fun to a familiar domestic battle.

The heroine of No Mush Today sets out on her own after refusing to eat the cornmeal porridge set in front of her: "Puttin' on my shiny shoes,/goin' over to Grandma's./No mushy mush at Grandma's house./No bawlin' baby there." Because, you see, it's not just the mush that's at issue in Nonie's world--there's the new baby brother, as well.

Nonie thinks a permanent move to Grandma's might be in order. But, then, there's a picnic and Grandma doesn't really want to run around, but Dad does. And, it turns out that Mom and the baby brother miss her, so Nonie thinks she just might give her family another try.

Sally Derby's text is fast-paced and childlike, while Nicole Tadgell's lovely, warm illustrations--with greens, blues, yellows, and browns at their heart--bring life to Derby's minimalistic text. Take a look at Tadgell's rendering of Nonie's homecoming. The most hardened six-year-old will be unable to resist that beautiful baby in green--even if you've given him your favorite stuffed animal.

No Mush Today is best suited for children ages three to seven. I recommend it particularly for all first children and for children who really hate breakfast.


I had the opportunity to talk with illustrator Nicole Tadgell (who blogs here) as part of her fall book tour which concludes on November 1 when she'll sign books at the Kennedy Center for the annual Multicultural Children's Book Festival in D.C. Here's our conversation:

Kelly: Tell me, Nicole, about working with Lee & Low. (I think they're a fantastic house.) How were you hired? How did you team up with Sally Derby for No Mush Today?

Nicole: I had done work with Bebop Books, an imprint of Lee & Low for Moving Day Surprise a few years ago. Knowing Lee and Low's reputation for quality multicultural books, I had been wanting to work with them for years. My agent and I regularly sent updated portfolio pieces to them, and with luck, there was a manuscript they felt I'd be a good fit for. As with most publishing houses, the author and illustrator don't actually work together during the book process.

Kelly: As an artist, how did you know illustrating for children's books would be a good move for you?

Nicole: It's natural for me. I've always been sort of child-like in how I see the world, and I still remember what it was like to be little. I enjoy drawing things that children like to see, quite simply!

Kelly: No Mush Today centers around a sibling relationship. Do you have a sibling? Did this change the way you illustrated the book?

Nicole: Oh, yes! I have a younger sister and brother, and I recall how it was very disruptive in my world as a child. I'd say it influenced the way I illustrated the book, because I knew from experience how Nonie felt.

Kelly: What do you think about the state of multicultural picture books in the U.S. today?

Nicole: I think there are so many lovely books out there I've seen, and there must be hundreds more that I haven't seen!

[Kelly: Agreed! That's why this article from the Guardian was particularly disturbing.]

Kelly: Tell us a little bit more about you. Where do you work and live? How do you spend your days?

Nicole: I work as a graphic artist in Worcester, at Davis Advertising for 15 years. I do my illustration work in the evenings and on weekends. It's sometimes challenging to balance both, and sometimes the dust bunnies seem to take over when I get busy! I live in Central Massachusetts, and I love New England - especially this time of year when the leaves are brilliant and the air is crisp.

Kelly: Thank you so much, Nicole, for stopping by.