Javaka Steptoe, once a model and inspiration for his father, the late award-winning author/illustrator John Steptoe, New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Javaka Steptoe has established himself as an outstanding talent in his field. His beautiful biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Radiant Child, was this year’s Caldecott recipient, and winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustration Award. Other notable titles include What’s Special About Me, Mama? and Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow. Javaka uses everyday objects to deliver reflective and thoughtful collage creations filled with vitality, playful energy, and strength. www.javaka.com
Javaka began his breakout session with the disclaimer that anyone setting out to write a book to win a Caldecott is setting themselves up for agony. There are lots of rules and committees, and that's really not what picture book-making is about, is it? (My words, not his!)
He believes it's far more important to have a child-appropriate story you feel intellectually connected to; to commit to making a book that feels right to you in every moment; to have a publishing team that respects the intent of your book, so they can enhance it; and to immerse yourself so deeply in the research that you gain a fluency with your subject that can be invoked in creative subtleties.
I loved how he uses life experiences as research, as a method actor might:
For Radiant Child, exploring symbolism in Basquiat's work at the Brooklyn Art Museum is how the seed of his book concept was sown. Seeing a documentary expanded that. Listening to music of the period, scanning the textures of brownstone buildings, working at a large scale like Basquiat, experimenting with art materials, and generally using life experiences as his form of research allowed him to have fun and find the connections to Basquiat that helped him distill a lot of information about the culture and experiences of Basquiat into a form young readers can connect to.
"The job of the writer is to keep you on the path. The job of the illustrator is to show you how beautiful the path is."
Catch more of the conference highlights this year through blog posts tagged #LA17SCBWI or as-it-happens on Twitter.