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(How) Can we read? An interview with Ebony Glenn
One of the most delightful parts of writing this newsletter is the excuse to reach out to authors and illustrators I admire with a legit reason for contacting them and asking to chat — not everyone responds to me, of course, but a surprising number do, with incredible generosity and willingness to spend a little time answering my questions.
My children and I have been fans of Ebony Glenn since the first time we read Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, which turned out to be a double gift, because that book became one of our all-time favorite reads, and we were introduced to the bright, cheerful, upbeat work of the incomparable Glenn. (You can read my review of Mommy’s Khimar in issue No. 20.)
Since then, it was a short hop and a skip to many of her other titles: Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin (issue No. 21), Speak Up by Miranda Paul, Red Shoes by Karen English (another beloved book of ours; issue No. 31), and Strut Baby Strut by Amika Kroll.
(I got Strut Baby Strut from the library to read myself because it looked too adorable to miss, and it went above and beyond my expectations:
stand, baby, stand
and lean toward tomorrow
💕 Oh, how I love a board book with rhythm!
It’s hard not to love everything Glenn creates — her sunny digital illustrations are so uplifting, they feel like stepping into a children’s birthday party (a happy one where everyone is having fun and you actually want to be there). Even when the subject is biographical — like Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins or Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, both by Michelle Meadows — Glenn’s images are full of energy and spirit.
This is probably my favorite part of Glenn’s work, and I admire her talent in bringing various stories and narratives — real and imaginary — to life with such dynamism and heart.
Let’s hear more from Glenn herself.
First, let me say how much my kids and I adore your books — Mommy’s Khimar is one of our all-time favorites.
There’s so much life and vivacity in your work, especially in your use of color, gesture, and facial expression. What led you to illustration? And can you talk a little about your process?
Thank you for your kind words! Glad to read that Mommy’s Khimar is one of your favorites 😊
I’ve always had a love for illustration, even before I understood what the term meant. After college, I decided to pursue my childhood dreams, and I’m so fortunate that I managed to make it a reality.
For the sake of this interview, I’ll keep my illustration process brief: when I receive a new book project, I always begin by brainstorming ideas for the illustrations after I read the manuscript. Next, I will put my ideas down on paper by planning out spreads, creating character sketches, and experimenting with different compositions for each page. After submitting them to the art director and/or editor for review and after receiving their feedback, I’ll add color, shading, and detail to the sketches in order to create finished illustrations.
You’ve illustrated a nice mixture of fiction and non-fiction books: what draws you (no pun intended) to take on a specific project?
Ha, great pun!
At the beginning of my career, I accepted most of the books that came my way because I had the time and space to do so. Now that I’ve worked in the industry for a few years, I’m drawn to take on projects that preach self-confidence, advocate for diversity and equity, or are just a fun story to illustrate.
One of the programs you offer for speaking engagements is on the power of representation in picture books — something I have centered from the very beginning of this newsletter and write about often, as it’s something I deeply believe in.
Since you have a captive audience of parents and grandparents, other caregivers, educators, and librarians reading this interview, what would you say to them about this?
I think now more than ever, it is important to talk to our children about the beauty, value, and uniqueness of people who live differently from us. Books can be a great resource to help us understand ourselves and others, and I hope my adult audience will use children’s books as a tool to help build empathy, tolerance, and enlightenment for our young readers about our diverse world. I also hope the books I’ve worked on will make children feel seen, valued, and worthy of attention by having their lived experience and/or culture represented with care.
You recently became a new mom. What are some of your favorite books you’re reading to your little one right now?
This question makes me smile 😊 I’ve noticed that my daughter, who’s currently seven months old, enjoys reading books with children’s faces. One of her favorite books is from [the company] Lovevery entitled, Parts of Me. It’s a board book with pictures of toddlers’ faces and their different body parts.
You’ve had two books published this year — Strut, Baby, Strut with Amika Kroll in January and Cats Can with Roseanne Greenfield Thong in April.
What’s next for you? Any new titles you’re able to tell us about?
Yes, Twelve Dinging Doorbells is another book I’ve illustrated that will be published in October of this year! Written by the talented Tameka Fryer Brown, it’s an all-holiday tale that captures the magic, tension, and humor of family gatherings, and it’s also an explicit celebration of Black families and Black joy. I can’t wait to see it out in the world.
(Neither can I!)
Thank you so very much to Glenn for taking the time out of her busy life as a new mom and professional illustrator to answer my questions.
Thanks for reading today, and always,
Sharing comes back to you in the form of magic and good fortune 🧞♀️
This interview is public, so if you know someone who might like it, pass it on!