Today we will be talking to Jackie Azua Kramer and Magdalena Mora about their upcoming book — I Wish You Knew — out May 25th!
Here’s a quick synopsis for I Wish You Knew/Ojala Supieras:
In I Wish You Knew a little girl’s father is deported. She wishes people knew how much she misses him and how it affects her at home and school. But with the help of her teacher, they start a sharing circle where she and her classmates share their challenges and by listening with compassion and kindness, together they all help each other.
Jackie, I read your arc and I love the story. It gave me goosebumps. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story?
Jackie Azua Kramer: Thank you! I’m a big fan of Ted Talks and an educator shared how after feeling she was making little progress with her students, she asked them to complete the statement on a piece of paper, I wish my teacher knew... And she realized she couldn’t teach kids who felt sad, hungry, scared and angry. It started a movement #IWishMyTeacherKnew.
But the heart of Estrella’s story in I Wish You Knew was inspired by my father’s immigrant journey. The emotional cost he paid, and the courage it took, to leave his family and country to come to a new world with the hope of making a better life for himself like the father in I Wish You Knew.
Magdalena, I love your illustrations, especially the one where she is sitting on her Papi’s lap in a flower. What did you feel when you read this manuscript? Did you know right away you wanted to illustrate it?
Magdalena Mora: Thank you! And yes, I knew I wanted to illustrate the book before I had even finished reading the full manuscript. The language was so vivid and evocative without being overly prescriptive. In other words, there was a lot of room for the illustrator to collaborate on telling the story.
I felt a deep sense of connection to the main character and a familiarity with the experiences of the other characters. The story was told with care and compassion and there were so many wonderful visual anchor points (the sunflower, the oak tree) on which to build meaning.
Jackie and Magdalena, tell us a little bit about the process of writing and illustrating this beautiful book.
JAK: I knew I wanted to write about a little girl whose father is deported. She wishes people knew how much she misses him and how it affects her at home and school. But it was the description of the school that became a refrain and an anchor point in the story. “Our school wraps around a hundred-year-old oak tree.” From that everything fell into place, like the following line, “Through shady branches we watch summer leaves change in the autumn wind and drop into crunchy piles.”
MM: There were two moments where I felt like the illustrations for the story started to come together. The first was when I sketched the spread with Estrella and her dad sitting on the sunflower -- that felt like the emotional heart of the story. The second was when Jackie sent over a few reference images of a school. Those photos expanded my idea of what a school could look like - not just a stoic red-brick building but a warm and inviting place that integrated elements of the natural world. From that point on, I began thinking about the setting almost as another character in the story.
What is your favorite part of this story and why?
JAK: Oh gosh, that’s hard. But if I had to pick a favorite part, it’s the end of the story. Estrella’s hopefulness looking up at the sky through the sunflowers as she waits for the sunflowers to bloom symbolizing their reunion one day.
MM: As a reader, my favorite part of the story would also be the ending. As an illustrator though, I loved working on the playground spreads. They were an opportunity to explore each of the kids’ individual personality quirks and show how they related to one another. Even though the characters in the story were navigating difficult circumstances, their capacity to play and experience joy felt necessary to capture.
Jackie, what did you feel when you saw the illustrations? Did you ask for any change?
JAK: To me the art in picture books is everything. It’s probably the reason that it’s my favorite kidlit genre. I’m always amazed at the layers revealed in my stories by an illustrator's thoughtful and unique style. Maggie’s sunflowers; her color palette; her use of light that ranges from this hopeful yellow and orange to this emotional darkness of deep purple took my breath away.
What do you wish we knew about you?
JAK: That I believe that young people can be activists for good. Like Estrella and her classmates, you can be agents of change. Together with kindness, respect and hope you can help to be the change you want to see.
MM: I wish you knew that I find strength and creativity in a loving and supportive community.
What did you wish you knew about the writing/illustrating process?
JAK: I wish I knew how to draw so that I can illustrate my own stories.
MM: I wish I knew how to illustrate with the same freedom and abandon as a child.
What do you wish writers/illustrators know about the publishing journey?
JAK: That it’s a long and bumpy road with soaring highs and soul crushing lows. However, never give up if you feel strongly that you have something you want to say and share with others.
And on that writing journey, dig through the roots of your history. Through your relationship with family art, food, music, faith, culture, politics, let it inspire you to write stories which tell a fuller and truer history. And from your stories, hopefully, diverse readers can see themselves and in turn, it inspires them to discover their own roots in history.
MM: That it requires a lot of patience and a healthy dose of stubborness. But the best advice I can give to future picture book illustrators is to stay curious and to make ugly art! Prioritize experimentation over perfection. Don’t be afraid to be terrible at something. It’s how you grow. Protect your creativity and find time to make personal artwork that doesn’t have a publication goal.
Purchase I Wish You Knew, out on May 25!
Jackie is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s author. She earned her MA in Counseling in Education, Queens College. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab. Her picture books include, The Green Umbrella, “2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year”. If You Want to Fall Asleep and her newest The Boy and the Gorilla which received three starred reviews described by Kirkus as “Luminous.”
Her upcoming picture books releasing between 2021-2022 are: I Wish You Knew/Ojalá Supieras; Dorothy and Herbert- An Ordinary Couple and their Extraordinary Collection of Art; We Are One; Manolo and the Unicorn and Miles Won’t Smile.
She lives with her family in Long Island, NY. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching old movies and travelling to her family’s roots in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Spain.
Visit her online:
Magdalena Mora is a Minneapolis-based illustrator. Her debut picture book, Equality’s Call, written by Deborah Diesen, was released in February 2020. Her upcoming picture book, I Wish You Knew, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer, will be released in May. Her work has also appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review and Bitch Magazine, among other publications. Magdalena grew up in Chicago and graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English Literature.
She is a 2019-2020 Loft Literary Center Windows and Mirrors Fellow. When not drawing she spends her free time reading, people-watching, or exploring the Twin Cities’ many lakes and trails.
Visit her online:
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