By Olivia Mules
Today we’re pleased to welcome both Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara to the WNDB blog to discuss their picture book Climb On!, out since March 8, 2022.
Take a hike with this father-daughter adventure that’s sure to inspire you to get outside.
When a young child reminds her dad about the hike they planned, her father is hesitant —To the tippy top? It’s a great day to watch futbol (soccer). But as the two climb on, her enthusiasm is contagious. Filled with setbacks, surprises, and stunning views, this warm and humorous story highlights in vivid colors the bonding power of a shared experience. A list of creatures at the end prompts a second look for keen-eyed readers to make discoveries of their own.
Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara (co-creators of The Field) have teamed up again! Baptiste’s humorous and tender text, with a sprinkling of Creole words straight from the Pitons, and Jacqueline Alcántara’s vibrant and evocative illustrations capture the wonder and emotions experienced on the trail and the special relationship between a parent and a child.
Interview with Baptiste Paul, Author of Climb On!
Tell me a little about your new book, Climb On! What inspired you to write it? What can readers expect?
Climb On! is a book that celebrates Black joy in nature. It’s also a book about a special bond between a father and his daughter. This book was inspired by my own personal experiences in nature with my family.
Readers will be wowed by Jacqueline Alcántara’s illustrations. I believe they will be transported to this special place—Gros Piton.
Where did the inspiration initially come from for this book?
A family hiking trip climbing Gros Piton in St. Lucia was the inspiration for this book. It was a few years ago and both of my children were really young at the time. That day our goal was to hike the three plus hours to the summit. I knew the hike was going to be difficult because I had done it several times in the past. I was not planning on doing it again, but when my daughter suggested we do it I couldn’t deny her that experience.
Sometimes music can be a great outlet for our feelings. Did you listen to any particular kind of music while writing this book? What songs/playlists would the father and daughter listen to while climbing to the tippy top?
I am a big reggae music fan. While writing this book, I listened to my favorite reggae artists, Nasio Fontaine and Lucky Dube.
Although a little reggae music would have helped motivate me when my energy level tanked, most of the credit goes to the sweet sounds of nature. That day our playlist was the sounds of nature—the wind howling through the trees, the birds singing, the ocean waves crashing along the rocky shore, plus an added bonus: the mosquitoes buzzing in our ears. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Smack, Smack, Smack. Hmmm . . . Turn back? No Way!
The book features Creole words. How did you decide what words to include and what words to exclude?
As a native speaker, it did not feel like it was a decision to include or exclude certain words. The words I chose are the words that are part of my everyday vocabulary.
Did you have to do any research for this book? If so, what was the most interesting thing you found out about?
While working on this book, I relied heavily on photos from previous hiking trips climbing Gros Piton to bring back some of the memories. I made a few phone calls to friends and talked extensively with my family about their experiences hiking the Pitons.
Did you encounter any challenges or unexpected surprises when writing the book?
Not really! I think because my background and experience hiking the Pitons made writing the book easier.
When you write, what is your favorite part of the writing process? Why?
For me, the best part is the editing process. This is where I challenge myself to make the text as tight as possible.
If you could have your dream panel promoting Climb On!, what would it be about? What other authors and voices would you like to have on it alongside you?
That panel would be all about joy in nature as well as Black joy in nature. I would want my family there. They are nature lovers just like me. My list of panelists would be Heather Montgomery, Jacqueline Alcántara, Farmer Tantoh Nforba, and John Francis.
What question do you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
To be totally honest with you, people ask me all kinds of question. I wish more people would ask questions about my language—Creole.
To me, Creole is not just a language I speak. It’s my identity and the lens in which I see and make sense of the world.
Do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming books or voices we should be reading?
I was moved by the story of John Francis. He is the author of Planet Walker. I find myself gravitating to environmental justice books. We all can learn a great deal from his experiences.
Can you share anything about any projects you are currently working on?
I am always working on a project. I wish I could share all the details but since they are under contract and have not been announced yet, I can’t say. I promise my future projects are going to move you physically and mentally. There might even be a memoir in my future.
Interview with Jacqueline Alcántara, Illustrator of Climb On!
How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
I was laid off from teaching about 10 years ago and decided to give myself a chance at being a full time artist. I started to figure out what I liked to make, what I wanted to say. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, so I loved that with illustration, there’s a jumping off point—helping to communicate others’ ideas, others’ words, but in the process able to put my own self into each project as well.
Do you have a favorite children’s book illustrator?
Oh, so many. I’m mostly self-taught so feel I really learned a lot from reading, staring, reading, and frankly copying a lot of other illustrators to better understand what they did and how they did it. I love Kadir Nelson, Chris Raschka, Patricia Pollaco, Yuyi Morales, Olivier Tallec, Sergio Ruzzier, to name a few.
You have worked with Baptiste Paul before. What is it like to collaborate with him?
I love Baptiste’s text. It’s minimal but each word and phrase feels like it has so much behind it. So as an illustrator it leaves a lot of space for me to play, imagine, interpret and put a lot of myself and my own experiences into the visual narrative. I love the energy and the movement that’s naturally in his expressions as well.
The book features many different animals. How did you choose which animals to include and which to exclude?
Baptiste made of a note for me with a bunch of St. Lucian animals. He wanted to make sure the St. Lucian parrot was featured most.
What was your favorite part of working on this book? What was the most challenging?
I had a lot of fun with trying to come up with ways to include “climb on” into the text. I was doing a hike myself and got tried halfway through and thought to myself, “I wished someone could carry me to the top!” So immediately thought about the kid climbing onto the dad’s back and them finishing the hike together. Then kept playing with where else I could incorporate “climb on” visually throughout.
Did you have to do any research while working on this book? If you did, what was the most interesting thing you found?
Of course! Always! And research is honestly my favorite part! I learn so much with each book. I wanted to travel to St.Lucia for this one but—pandemic—so I had to just take a Google Earth trip, but was really surprised at the incredible views I could get just from the photos people upload along the route up the mountain. I also like to watch people’s videos—YouTube or Instagram of hiking up the Pitons.
Which 4 words would you use to describe your style?
hmmm….vibrant, energetic, sweet, thoughtful.
What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
Well, I love gouache, markers, and Photoshop best, I think. I love each for a different reason, I think. I think markers have the ability to create really beautiful, vibrant skin tones. And I love with markers that I don’t have to mix colors! But I love painting with gouache—it’s very forgiving and looks really nice scanned (which is important obviously if the final product is printed!)
What is your working technique and process when creating illustration for books?
Well for this book, it’s mostly created with marker (Prismacolor). I finish in Photoshop, just to fix some things and add more lighting. I tend to start off with marker for most book projects, but the process from there will vary depending on the story.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you? (Does not need to be book/career related.)
Ah! It’s a “there’s two kinds of people in the world” type of advice. There’s people who say, “I could never do that!” versus people who say, “HOW did you do that?!?!” For a long time I was the first—in awe, dreaming of doing a thing, but too intimidated. It wasn’t until I realized it was much better to just ask how, AND to be ok with wherever you are in your journey.
What would be your dream project?
Finally finishing my own manuscript is my dream project for the moment!
Baptiste Paul is a Caribbean-born children’s book author. He is a native Creole/Patois speaker who enjoys sharing stories of his experiences with anyone who will listen. His debut picture book, The Field, was inspired by his childhood in St Lucia and received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Booklist. Baptiste’s stories are fueled by his passion for diversity, inclusion, and uninhibited jwe (play).
Jacqueline Alcántara is a children’s picture book illustrator. Her debut picture book, The Field, written by Baptiste Paul, received 3 starred reviews and won the Sonia Lynn Sadler Award, was a Junior Library Guild selection, and also appeared on the Horn Book Fanfare Best of 2018, the School Library Journal Best of 2018, and the CCBC 2018 Choices lists. Jacqueline’s favorite days are spent drawing, painting, writing, and walking her dog. She lives in Detroit, and her other titles include Freedom Soup, Jump at the Sun, and Your Mama.
Olivia Mules is currently pursuing her master’s degree in library and information science. Olivia’s goal is to work in academic librarianship and reference services with a focus on information literacy. Before starting her degree program, she was a special education teacher and taught math and science. Her favorite literary heroines are Elizabeth Bennet, Gemma Doyle, and Arya Dröttning. When Olivia is not doing schoolwork, she enjoys cooking, music, hikes with her wife and daughter, and drinking an inordinate amount of iced coffee.