Welcome to #WNDBSummerReading! Our goal is to help families engage in discussions on race and diversity. This week, we are welcoming Ashley Lukashevsky to the blog in this guest post for the picture book Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (Penguin Young Readers, 2020).
Antiracist Baby was a labor of love, and I see this book to be a tool to be more loving — being loving necessitates engaging in the work of being actively Antiracist. This book goes hand in hand with Dr. Kendi’s other works, specifically How to Be an Antiracist, as well as learning more about abolition and transforming systems of oppression. While being accessible and a great tool, I think that Antiracist Baby also does the work of pointing out to parents where they might feel uncomfortable or need help explaining these concepts to their children. Spaces of discomfort are a good thing, because they can help parents recognize where they need to study and listen and reflect in order to adequately teach their young ones. I don’t want this book to be a virtue signal. Please don’t think that reading this to you children immediately lets you off the hook — it’s just the beginning.
You have said you are an illustrator and visual artist who draws into existence the world you want to see. How did this philosophy come into play as you worked on Antiracist Baby?
I drew people of color, specifically queer people of color, loving each other. That’s the world I live in, and I want all people to experience that. I want babies to come into this world seeing these images, images that reflect their own families and backgrounds. I want them know that this love and thriving is possible for all people.
The images for Antiracist Baby contain so much joy. How did you come up with each drawing?
Thank you! That was a big goal of mine — to speak about the crucial importance of Antiracism but also purvey lightness and hopefulness for little ones. I had a lot of creative freedom when it came to dreaming up what these images would look like. There were a few suggestions from the editors and Dr. Kendi — but I was given space to think about what these interpretations would come to life as. It was important to me to show all kind of families and identities loving and thriving — especially Queer folks of color. When it came to metaphors and symbols, I used elements like butterflies, ladders — blocks to create relatable metaphors that could be simpler to explain to children while still looking inviting and playful.
You have drawn for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and We Rise. Does working for those campaigns differ from illustrating a book?
Definitely. Most of my commissioned projects are one-offs or short series. Working on a book is a lot more laborious, and there’s also a weight to it where you really want it to be meaningful — a lot of trees are giving their lives to this project! When something goes to mass print, there’s that added pressure (not a bad kind, but something to consider). I also work in so many styles that for me, making sure that all of the characters are uniform throughout a book can be a challenge. I keep sketches of my characters up while I continue — because in publishing there can be weeks between edits — where I sometimes lose track of the way that I originally intended a character to look!
What is your preferred medium for creating? What styles influence your work?
I communicate best through drawing. I always start with a simple paper and pencil sketch. It makes me feel free to make mistakes, weird lines, notes and words that inspire what I’m creating. Starting directly on Procreate always makes me feel too much pressure! From the pencil sketch — I bring it into Procreate on my iPad Pro and define the lines I want to keep, change placement, and just play. Here, I add color and the rest falls into place. Lately I’ve been really inspired by Korean folk art for my personal work. I like to reach back into the cultures of my ancestors to find inspiration and a new/old way of depicting the stories I want to tell.
Do you have any advice for student illustrators looking to begin their careers?
Think about the story that you want to tell. Think about what resonates with your heart, what you want to amplify and share with your community. Start there. I think that the most meaningful work is that which can only come from you. The rest will follow.
What other titles would you suggest for families reading together this summer?Antiracist Baby is a picture book. Do you have any recommendations for MG or YA titles with similar themes?
My favorite favorite YA novel right now is PET by Akwaeke Emezi. The world that they have envisioned through their magical storytelling is one where we have abolish the prison industrial complex, where abusers are no longer in positions of power, where all people have complete freedom to thrive in their uniqueness. By creating a world in which racist systems have been abolished, Akwaeke ignites our imaginations to actually feel like living in that world is a possibility. In my own way, that’s what I wanted the images in Antiracist Baby to do.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a fantastic new book by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, to be published by Christopher Myers’ Make Me a World (who also published PET!). It’s a story about a young girl from Hawaii (like me!) who learns through the natural landscape that she has everything she needs where she is from.
WNDB is proud to be partnering with Mahogany Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Washington, DC, for this program. Please consider ordering your books with them. Email your receipt from Mahogany Books to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive #WNDBSummerReading bookmarks and WNDB stickers, while supplies last.
Ashley Lukashevsky is an illustrator and visual artist who uses illustration and art as a tool to strengthen social movements against systemic racism and sexism. Before moving to illustration full-time, she was the art director at KINDLAND and the social impact designer at LA2050, an initiative to create a positive shared future for all Angelenos. Learn more at her website http://www.ashleylukashevsky.