IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Illustrators get to learn all kinds of interesting things. Like how nomadic traders in Eritrea drink coffee, pack camels, and swath themselves in billowing white cloth called neTela. Before I illustrated Trouble for Harcourt Brace (now Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt) in 1996, I had scarcely heard of Eritrea. But by the time I finished the book, I had tasted Eritrean injerra bread, danced to Eritrean drums, swathed myself (and my daughter) in Eritrean textiles, drawn Eritrean people (and my daughter dressed up as one), painted Eritrean houses – and could practically smell the goats grazing the scrubby Eritrean hills.
Trouble, written by Jane Kurtz, is a charming folk tale about a young boy who – you guessed it – gets into a lot of trouble. His father gives him a gebeta board – or “mancala” game, as it is known here – to keep him busy while he takes the goats out to pasture. The gebeta board attracts attention and creates even more trouble – but in the end, helps get the boy out of it. Through it all, the mischievous goats nibble their way through the book, sampling everything – even decorative borders.
Jane Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia, and has dedicated much of her life to literacy programs there. She helped found a worthy organization called Ethiopia Reads. You can buy a copy of Trouble through their website. You can also buy a signed copy in my webstore. The book is paperback, written in English and Amharic (the language of Ethiopia).
Illustration really stretches an artist’s perceptual capabilities. As a fine artist, I might never have drawn a camel from three angles. But as a children’s book illustrator, I’m compelled to tackle subjects I never would have thought to try on my own. I developed a real affection for those camels. Some ten years later, I even got to ride one, in East Jerusalem. It was just as smelly and obstinate as I had imagined – yet faithfully did its job. Camels get a pretty bad rap, but I think they’re under-appreciated.
Hopefully by creating multicultural books, I’m introducing children to new animals, new people, new places, and the rich global tapestry that makes up humankind.
Perhaps next week I’ll show you how people roast coffee beans in Eritrea. Or what a traditional Eritrean baby-carrier looks like. Studded with cowry shells, they’re pretty amazing. Ever since I illustrated this book, Eritrea has found a place on my travel wish list. What a rich and ancient culture. What a rugged and evocative land. What good fortune have I, to be able to delve into these places as an artist!
One of my very first blog posts, People Drawing People, tells more about how this book was made – and how I drew the lively and mischievous main character, young Tekleh.