Monday, October 29, 2007

Robert's Snow: Sean Qualls

Back in 2001 or 2002, when I was still Arthur's assistant, I picked up the imprint mail, as I did every day, and flipped through the stack until I came across a postcard.* It showed two separate paintings: the head of an African-American woman with a mustard-yellow scarf around her hair, full lips, and direct, piercing eyes; and another woman, her arms wrapped around her belly, head down and eyes closed. As different as the moods of the two pieces were, they both accomplished the essential goal of illustration: They radiated feeling -- defiance and sadness, respectively -- and they caused feelings in me too. I wanted to talk to the woman with the headscarf, to hear what she had to say, and I wanted to reach out to the woman with the belly, to help ease her pain. And more than that, the paintings were just gorgeous. I turned the postcard over to see the name of the artist: Sean Qualls.

We need to get this guy's portfolio, I thought, and and the next time Arthur stopped by my desk, I showed the postcard to him. He was equally impressed -- I remember we both stood there oohing over the card for a while -- and not long after that, either he or I called Sean. He came in with his portfolio, bursting with talent and energy in every step, and eventually that visit resulted in two gorgeous books: Powerful Words, edited by Ken Wright, on the Scholastic Nonfiction and Reference list; and Dizzy by Jonah Winter, edited by Arthur on the AALB list. Dizzy received five starred reviews and a trumpetful of honors, including a Horn Book Fanfare citation and a BCCB Blue Ribbon.

So it's with great pleasure that I'm featuring his work here for Robert's Snow. This snowflake is called "Snowbird," and as ever with Sean's art, it's suffused with beauty and mood:

(Can't you almost hear the snow falling through that quiet wood?) Sean's other books include The Baby on the Way, The Poet Slave of Cuba, and How We Are Smart. He lives with his wife Selina Alko and their son in Brooklyn. "Snowbird" will be part of the third wave of auctions, from December 3-7, and you can click here to bid. And the full list of Robert's Snow Week 3 illustrators is, indeed, now up here.


* I freely admit it has been years since this happened, and as a result I may be confusing the details of Sean's paintings and what was actually on the postcard. But all his work is beautiful, so the essence of the story is true.


  1. That is one of the most beautiful snowflakes, I must say. I love his illustrations, though this post made me realize there are a couple books of his I haven't seen. There is a hole in my life. Must. make. it. to. the. library.

    This write-up is a lovely, heartfelt tribute to a big 'ol talent. Thanks, Cheryl.

  2. Yep. I can hear the snow falling...

  3. Sean's illustrations for HOW WE ARE SMART by W. Nikola-Lisa are quite beautiful as well.

  4. Thanks so much for this blog! I just spent my whole (nonproductive afternoon) reading through your posts, speeches and comments. This is a such a great resource, and your writing is so refreshing and accessible. A lot of things you said really helped.

    This business is so tough; it's really such a labor of love ... it's like parenting, I suppose. You wait around a lot, you worry and work, you agonize over every possibility, you freak out over every contrary bitlet of news, and just occasionally, there are moments of sheer magic thrown in there.

    I remember the first time I saw my kid go up to bat at T-ball. More than anything, he didn't want to use the T. In our league, each kid got one "coach pitch." If they missed it, they hit off the T. My son was almost in tears at the thought of using the T, 'cause only bad hitters used it. We did everything to prepare him for the possibility of having to use it.... He's so hard on himself already, I didn't want to see him crushed.

    Then he gets up to the plate, holding this enormous bat, all alone up there, the coach pitch lofts in, and WHAP! He hits a triple. I swear, I almost broke into tears myself. He was so proud and surprised, he forgot to run the bases, but stood jumping up and down on home base, screaming, "LOOK! LOOK!"

    That's what publishing reminds me of. Everybody is pulling for you, but not everybody hits off the first pitch, and some kids miss the T entirely, and most kids (including my son) will eventually wash out of Little League and move onto other things and forget about the game entirely.

    But for some, the promise of that first contact is like the first time you let a chocolate melt on your tongue ... you just know you'll never go back to a time when you didn't know how it felt to connect with the ball or how magnificent chocolate could taste. I'm not a SQUID, and I'll spare you my story, but I feel like I'm stepping up to bat right now ...

  5. Oh, hey!
    The Poet Slave of Cuba!
    Familiar artwork. I love the clean lines and the simplicity, yet it has such vibrancy. Love it.

  6. I lovelovelove HOW WE ARE SMART! Huzzah for a great illustrator!