Tag Archives: Selina alko

Day 12: Featuring Fabulous Illustrators!

Day 12, and it’s all about illustrators today!  We had a pretty tough time narrowing it down, because every artist has their own unique style and artistic twist, which makes it so difficult to choose favorites!  Without further ado, here are our favorite book illustrations:


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Vashti Harrison

Part author – Illustrator – filmmaker Vashti Harrison is an artist originally from Onley, Virginia. She has a background in cinematography and screenwriting and a love for storytelling. She earned her BA from the University of Virginia with a double major in Media Studies and Studio Art with concentrations in Film and Cinematography. She received her MFA in Film and Video from CalArts where she snuck into Animation classes to learn from Disney and Dreamworks legends. There she rekindled a love for drawing and painting. Now, utilizing both skill sets, she is passionate about crafting beautiful stories in both the film and kidlit worlds.  Her Experimental films and videos focus on her Caribbean Heritage and folklore. They have shown around the world at film festivals and venues including the New York Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival and Edinburgh International Film Festival. Find out more.

Vashti’s work can be found in:

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Shaking Things Up

Something we love about this book is the assorted artists that illustrate the pages!  Click on the link above to learn more about both the women featured in the book, as well as all of the artists involved in the illustrations!


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Kadir Nelson

Kadir Nelson (b. 1974) is an American artist who currently exhibits his artwork in galleries and museums nationwide and abroad. His paintings are in the private and public permanent collections of several notable institutions including the Muskegon Museum of Art, The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the International Olympic Committee, and the US House of Representatives. Nelson has also authored and illustrated several award-winning NYT Best-Selling picture books including, “WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball” and “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.” Nelson states, “I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror, reflecting the innermost beauty and divinity of the human spirit; and is most effective when it calls the viewer to remember one’s highest self. I choose subject matter that has emotional and spiritual resonance and focuses on the journey of the hero as it relates to the personal and collective stories of people.“

His work can be found in:

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Gordon C. James

Gordon C. James’ chosen artistic genre has its roots in Impressionism.  The art of John Singer Sargent, Nicholai Fechin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and many others inspired James to pursue a style that is both academic and expressive.  As a result his work contains a lyricism not often found in contemporary art.  Be it through the sensitivity found in his romantic pieces, or commitment to excellence in his commercial work, James always connects with his viewer.  He says of his work, “When people see my art I want them to say, I know that person, I know that feeling.” James currently resides in Charlotte, NC with his wife Ingrid, their children Astrid and Gabriel, and their dog Rascal.

His work can be found in:

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Grandad Mandela

Written by: Zazi, Ziwalene & Zindzi Mandela

Illustrated by: Sean Qualls

For ages: 4-10 years

Language: English 

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Figures, Activism, 

Summary: This book is written from the perspective of Mandela’s great-grandkids asking questions about their great-grandfather Mandela to their grandmother Zindzi. He went to jail when his daughter was just a toddler, for fighting against apartheid. Details of life during apartheid are described, such as being forced to live apart from white people and endure police brutality. Because of this, Zindzi and her siblings couldn’t go to school. They were sent to boarding school in Swaziland to receive education. Zindzi tells her grandchildren that you must be strong in the face of hardship, because the enemy will be happy if they see you cry and be sad. Zindzi goes through their family tribal history, and how that lifestyle shaped Grandad Mandela to be the man he was. He grew up and studied law, wanting to bring justice to his home country of South Africa. When imprisoned, the government hoped he would give up his activist lifestyle. Instead, the opposite happened and people all over the world began to join the fight to end apartheid. When Mandela was finally released, thousands of people celebrated his release by dancing in the streets! Mandela became the president of South Africa and continued to fight for justice. Zindzi tells her grandchildren that she honors his memory by volunteering and helping others.

This book is a unique narrative frame, with gorgeous artwork! It honors the social-justice legend of Nelson Mandela and links his past work to current day. Such an important part of global history is immortalized with this conversation between family members, and this book should be in every classroom library.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever heard of apartheid or Nelson Mandela?
  • How has he helped people all over the world?
  • What can you do to help people in your community?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about Mandela and his contributions to history. What can you do to volunteer in your community? What is something you care about?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

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Ambassador Zindzi Mandela is a South African freedom fighter, diplomat, writer, speaker, cultural advocate and favorite Grandma. She is the last born child of Mrs Winnie Madikizela- Mandela and President Nelson Mandela, and was only 18 months old when her father went to prison. In 1985, when she was 25 years old, she read Nelson Mandela’s famous refusal to accept the offer of conditional release from President P. W. Botha to a packed football stadium in Soweto, saying his words, ‘I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.’ The Ambassador lives in Copenhagen where she serves as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.

Zazi Mandela (8) and Ziwelene Mandela (6) are the great-grandchildren of Mrs. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and President Nelson Mandela. Zazi is a storyteller and an aspiring performer. Ziwelene is a storyteller and a maverick.

sean-quallsSean Qualls finds inspiration everywhere. Growing up in the 70’s in central New Jersey, his family didn’t have much money for art supplies but he made the best of what was available; discarded paper, blank end pages from old books and sometimes walls much to his mother’s chagrin. Some of his earliest inspirations were the crayons and coloring books his mom would buy for him and his older sister, drawing and handwriting competitions with classmates and an illustrated bible he received for Christmas in the 2nd grade. He moved to Brooklyn to attend art school at Pratt Institute. After only a year and a half he dropped out but continued to educate himself while working full-time at the Brooklyn Museum. Sean’s books and illustrations often explore history and non-fiction subjects. His fine art focuses on race & identity and the intersection of history & mythology, ultimately examining how we create our own identities or allow them to be scripted to for us.  Together his paintings and illustrations reveal  simultaneously unique and universal moments that reveal the human spirit. Sean’s most recent books include Why Am I Me?The Case for Loving and Two Friends all of which he illustrated with his wife, illustrator/author Selina Alko. He has also illustrated Emmanuel’s Dream (Schneider Award recipient) written by Laurie Ann Thompson, Giant Steps to Change the World written by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee and Before John Was a Jazz Giant (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor) written by Carole Boston Weatherford. He lives in Brooklyn (where you can find him DJing on occasion) with his wife and their two children.