Today we’re thrilled to reveal the cover and share a Q&A for bilingual picture book The Turquoise Room/El cuarto turquesa by Monica Brown, illustrated by Adriana García! The cover art is also by Adriana Garcia, and the book design is by Rachel Wood. The book will be released on September 27, 2022 by Lee & Low Books. Preorder it here, here, here, or here.
Esther paints a map and dreams of exploring the world.
Esther’s daughter Isabel paints pictures and dreams of becoming an artist.
Isabel’s daughter Monica paints with words and dreams of telling stories.
From the turquoise room in Peru, Esther, then Isabel, then Monica draws the strength to trust her imagination and fly into the world of dreams and possibilities. Over mountains and the sea, along rivers of paint, or among the swirl of words on a page, each girl, then woman, finds her creative path.
In this loving memoir, Monica Brown has created an homage to her grandmother and mother and a legacy for her daughters. Accompanied by luminous illustrations by Adriana M. Garcia, this warm, lyrical story invites you to close your eyes, open your mind, and imagine your life!
Esther pinta un mapa y sueña con explorar el mundo.
La hija de Esther, Isabel, pinta cuadros y sueña con ser artista.
La hija de Isabel, Monica, pinta con palabras y sueña con contar historias.
Desde el cuarto turquesa en Perú, Esther, luego Isabel, y después Monica sacan fuerza para confiar en su imaginación y volar al mundo de los sueños y las posibilidades. Sobre montañas y mares, junto a ríos de pinturas, o junto a olas de palabras en una página, cada niña, ahora mujer, encuentra su camino a la creatividad.
En esta adorable memoria, Monica Brown crea homenaje a su abuela, a su madre y al legado de sus hijas. Acompañada con luminosas ilustraciones por Adriana M. Garcia, invita esta encantadora, lírica historia a cerrar los ojos, a abrir su mente, y ¡imagina tu vida!
What inspired you both to work on this book?
Monica: I was inspired by my mother Isabel, and her gift of creativity, of love, of imagination. She modeled the ability to use art to express herself in beauty and love—and pain too. She struggled her whole life with the same chronic kidney disease I have, and her mother before her had, and taught me to live purposefully, and with joy, even with disability and no small amount of physical pain and struggle. My beautiful mother died young, and her mother even younger (at 41), before dialysis came to Peru. My mother was with us as long as she was thanks to a kidney transplant, which is also why I am here to write and teach. But in her short life, my abuelita gave my mother wings to fly through art and imagination, and I made that literal in this book that is magical, but no less real than any of my nonfiction books.
Adriana: The legacy that women pass on between generations is what inspired me to work on this book. Fortunately, my mother always made it a point to impart one, our own familial history but also, two, to make sure I go after and DO what I love. So Monica’s story reminded me of my own mother’s fearless pursuit of following her passion to become a nurse.
It’s wonderful that the text of the story is in Spanish and English. Monica, did you envision this as a bilingual narrative from the start?
Monica: My grandmother lived her whole life in Piura, Peru, and never spoke English. For my mother, English was her second language. For me and my daughters, Isabella and Juliana, Spanish is our second language. The Turquoise Room/El Cuarto Turquesa needed to be bilingual to honor these lives, this story!
Adriana, the color palette is anchored by turquoise and various shades of blue, but it’s so vibrant and rich with detail. Can you speak a bit about the process of developing that? How did you decide where to put pops of different colors?
Adriana: I was first inspired by the monochromatic pictures of the time period when we meet the first character Esther. Also, I wanted to show in color from where that initial passion/inspiration for something might grow. In this case the life-giving water and fluttering morpho butterflies. In my mind it serves as a core of curiosity and as we progress in the story and the lives of the girls and later women, color is added to represent growth of knowledge, inspiration, and passion. We see that our characters have the power to dream up and create what they see for themselves and it is full of life. For me, the pop and added color are a type of heartbeat throughout that each generation shares.
What kind of research did you do in order to complete each of your parts in this book?
Monica: My research was all about memory—sifting through stories that my mother told me, about her mother’s turquoise room, and her childhood, and visits to Piura with my mother as a child. My mother’s immigrant stories about coming north, and the way her mother’s creativity was expressed. All while surrounded by my mother’s paintings, and Esther’s truly magical map of South America—drawn when she was only eleven, that hangs in my home. I consulted with my tias, who were more than generous with timelines. I gathered so many photos and images for Adriana.
Adriana: I had the opportunity to speak with Monica and she shared with me her family’s photos, artwork, and mementos. I got to hear and see her connection to them and that was a big inspiration to me when developing the images for the story. So letting the feel of these source materials guide me, I then asked friends and family to pose for me for physical reference to realize the scenes of the story. I also checked out lots of books from the library.
What has been the greatest challenge of this project?
Monica: The greatest challenge was beginning! I carried the idea in my mind for months before I could write the first word. In fact, before I could begin, I painted a picture of a daughter and grandmother flying through the air. I took Lynda Barry’s advice from her magnificent book Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, and I started drawing with stick figures so as not to be intimidated. Then added color. Somehow, using my mother and grandmother’s medium of art, I was freed up to use mine—words.
Adriana: The passage of time that occurs in The Turquoise Room was the greatest challenge for me with this project. The story spans over four generations of dreams so to illustrate the characters growing into women was very involved. I decided to use identifying signifiers for each character so that we could recognize them as they got older. I wanted to make sure I kept their essence throughout as well as show the imprint that the previous generation had on the next. I hope I was able to accomplish that through details, use of color, and symbolism in the illustrations.
The passing of inspiration and encouragement to dream from generation to generation is such a beautiful part of this narrative. Did you two discuss specific visual elements to incorporate in order to convey that?
Monica: Ever since I saw Adriana Garcia’s work in San Antonio, it had been my dream to work with her. And this is a book about dreams, so it was perfect. She was my first and only choice, from the start. Adriana’s art is ephemeral and powerful, and holds such emotional resonance for me. I’m just going to go ahead and say that she is one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever worked with, and this one of my most beautiful books—and given the subject matter, the closest to my heart. In fact, I feel like I put my love for my mother and grandmother and this beautiful fragile life in Adriana’s hands, and they were in safe keeping. The book was created with love.
Adriana: Monica shared many family treasures with me. One of them she particularly expressed love over was the map of South America that her grandmother Esther drew as a girl. I could see the energy and care that Esther used creating the map. So that was a jumping off point for me to then explore what each character might treasure. Whether it be a piece of clothing, painting, a blanket, a doll, a book or other objects that could symbolize the mark imprinted by the previous generation. I hope the readers can seek them out. I was fortunate to have Monica’s trust to work those elements out.
What do you hope readers will get out of reading this book?
Monica: I want to honor mothers and grandmothers and daughters—generations of powerful women who strive and struggle and create and find magic! I want children to be inspired to dream and travel and create.
Adriana: I hope that readers of The Turquoise Room find that there are whole lives lived and dreamt in our mothers and grandmothers. That we too are a part of their continued legacy. Whatever passions or dreams we might want to pursue will only add to the story and honor them and ourselves.
Which picture books do you think this one is in conversation with?
Monica: The first book that comes to mind is Yuyi Morales’s wonderful picture book Dreamers. I can think of no better model. And also Juana Martínez-Neal’s gorgeous book, Alma, which I love. But mostly, this book is in conversation with a series of books I’ve written honoring my history, Peruvian culture, and all multicultural, mixed-race children, who are never described in fractions in my books. I see this book being hand-in-hand with my fictional character Marisol McDonald from Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina my more recent Sharuko: El Arqueólogo/Peruvian Archeologist Julio C. Tello, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. My mother spent her teen years living on Julio C. Tello Boulevard in Lima, Peru!
Adriana: When illustrating The Turquoise Room I was inspired by The House In The Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes. The story, the sense of wonder, and the style of that book was just so lovely. Additionally, The Key From Spain by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, was a beautiful story of family history and creativity kept alive through the generations. I would also like to acknowledge the picture book I just completed before starting on this one, Where Wonder Grows by Xelena González. The strong influence and guidance of our ancestors has been a theme I gravitate to and hope to illuminate with my past, current, and future illustrations.
Monica Brown has written twenty acclaimed picture books, including the Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor-winning Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, as well as the Lola Levine and Sarai chapter book series. Most of her stories are inspired by her desire to bring diverse stories to children and by her own mixed heritage, which includes Peruvian, Scottish, Spanish, Amerindian, and Jewish ancestry. When not writing for children, Brown serves as a professor of English at Northern Arizona University, where she teaches about US Latino and multicultural literature. Brown lives with her family in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her website is www.monicabrown.net.
Adriana M. Garcia is a visual artist, a muralist, and an illustrator. She is the recipient of a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor for her debut picture book, All Around Us by Xelena González. Garcia has exhibited her artwork nationally and has presented at conferences, schools, and museums around the United States. She especially loves painting portraits of strong women to honor those who have come before and those who continue to lead by example. Garcia lives in San Antonio, Texas, and you can find her online at https://adrianamjgarcia.com/.
JoAnn Yao is the Social Media Manager for We Need Diverse Books. Among other things, she has conducted research for the American Film Institute, provided book and script coverage for a Hollywood agency, designed an online narrative game, and written a comic for a New Frontiers anthology. She lives in New York City with her dragon’s hoard of books. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.