Julia Kuo: Illustrator Extraordinaire
I worked digitally in Adobe Photoshop from start to finish, using a Wacom tablet and stylus.
How did you decide what key elements would go into the making of the cover for PAPER WISHES?
I read the manuscript a couple times to make sure I had the right feel for the book! I took notes on details like how old the main characters were, their appearances, and if anything about their physical selves changed at certain points in the story. I also made sure to bookmark moments that were significant to the plot or scenes that could be visually appealing. Showing Manami on the cover seemed like a must, but I started off with a couple sketches that placed her in different settings.
Did you study photographs of children interned at Manzanar Camp and/or the artwork made by Japanese-Americans internees before finalizing your illustration? If so, how did allow them to influence your illustration decisions?
Yes! I always try to do research to make sure that I’m portraying my subjects accurately. There was actually an article about Ansel Adam’s striking Manzanar photos that popped up at the time I was working on this project. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find plenty of reference for the way that Japanese-American women and children dressed and did their hair during this time. I loved looking at those photos; as a 2nd generation Asian-American I felt personally drawn to these families and their struggles.
I remember wanting to show the starkness of Manzanar, because understanding the camp was so important to understanding Manami’s distress. Manami chooses to live as a silent girl while she is in Manzanar, so I thought the strong shadows and earthy hues of this bleak and unforgiving desert landscape would easily lend themselves to Manami’s story.
In what way did you try to instill the theme of PAPER WISHES--of hope triumphing over despair--into your illustrations?
Manami is letting go of one of her many Yujiin drawings, hoping that her messages will bring Yujiin back to her. I felt that the strength of resolve Manami had at the end to move forward with life was not too different from the intense hope and yearning that she had for Yujiin’s return, or for the return of some type of normalcy in her life. She’s a strong girl, and I wanted to show her taking action despite the awful circumstances.
PAPER WISHES is historical-fiction for middle-grade readers ages 8-12. It is written by Lois Sepahban and published by Margaret Ferguson Books an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR), January, 2016. Sketches used with permission of Julia Kuo and Macmillan Publishing Children's Group. Read a starred Kirkus Review HERE.