Meet Rising Star
Judith Valdes Breidenstine!
Judith is a Mexican-American writer and illustrator who has lived in five countries on three continents. As a result, her work is a rich tapestry of multicultural influences. An SCBWI member, Children’s Book Academy graduate, and student at the Institute of Children’s Literature, she also has degrees in Illustration (BFA), Business Administration (BA), and International Affairs (MA).
Judith is currently seeking agent representation.
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? I have so many favorite books, but the following are three of them: Snow by Uri Shulevitz, Drawn Together written by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat, and Planting Stories written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar.
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Coffee before noon. Any time after that, tea; usually one without caffeine.
- Where is your safe place? My little home office, but when I am able to travel, my parent’s house in Mexico.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Both, but currently I have a dog.
- Early bird or night owl? Very early bird. Alarm usually goes off at 4 a.m., hence the coffee before noon.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…
Patience, Perseverance, and Learning.
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
JVB: I was born and raised in Mexico, and grew up listening to my father tell stories to anyone and everyone who would listen. Coming from a big family, even at very early age, I would look for places to hide, where I could lose myself in my sketches and writings. Most of my early works were about magical places where the characters had no limitations. They could dive into the deepest oceans or fly into space and sit on the moon. I always was interested in creating stories, sometimes with words, but other times with images only.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
JVB: I always wanted to write and illustrate but never thought that I could make a career of it. I had a gift for numbers and received bachelor and master’s degrees in accounting and international affairs, respectively. Years later, rekindling my passion for creating images, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Illustration while living in the UK. As English is not my first language, I found refuge in creating images that spoke for themselves. It was during this time that I came across some great creators like Uri Shulevitz and was drawn to his word economy. A narrative tied to the images permits the young reader to explore and wonder through the pages, interpreting not only the intended story, but also wherever the imagination would take one.
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
JVB: I focus on cultural identity and heritage, multiculturalism, diversity and the richness of food, music, customs, traditions, and more. I am a mother to three wonderful multicultural children, who are also “third culture kids”, as they have grown up abroad most of their lives. As a result, I want to tell stories to which, children like them, can relate and in which they see themselves reflected.
I have lived in five countries, on three continents and have benefited from learning about other cultures. All of my stories have come from a personal experience but carry with them universal themes. For example, due to my frequent moves, I have felt the pain of leaving behind friends, pets, and even plants, that I couldn’t take with me.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
JVB: I am my biggest challenge. As I mentioned, I love math, sketching and writing and that is because I am introvert at heart. While I like it that my works speak for me, at the beginning of this journey, I struggled with putting myself “out there” and all that that involves. Believing in oneself and in one’s abilities is crucial to making it in any area of life. If we believe in ourselves and in our creations, the rest should come at the right time.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?
JVB: I find that I’m much harder on myself than I am with others, but this has allowed me to laser-focus on my areas for improvement. Over the course of time, I learned a lot about me and what brings out my best. A little over a year ago, one of my dogs passed away from cancer. It was a terribly sad experience, because it coincided with the time when my family moved from Brussels to Bangkok. Even though my dog was no longer with us, I felt as if I abandoned him. It took me all this time to sort out my feeling enough to be able to write a story called, “Celebrating Perro”, which I wrote in the context of the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
JVB: I truly believe that what makes my works different is the way that I create them. I love to infuse in my stories little gems that only parents who share my heritage would catch. My hope is that these treasures will remind them of the beauty of “being bicultural”, while sharing the story with their children. I hope that children of all backgrounds will develop a greater appreciation for their history and the journeys of their ancestors, that brought them to where they are today. It is also my desire that this sentiment will propel them to be the best “global and inclusive citizens” that they can be.
AD: So, so important! I love that idea of dropping little bicultural gems for parents to catch, too!
AD: What inspires your work?
JVB: My children inspire me. I am in awe of the way that they have successfully adapted to life in different countries and to varied cultures. While remaining open to new and different things, they also take pride in who they are and from where they come. I long to give a voice to tobi-cultural children, so that they can find their place and identity in my stories and that other children will come to appreciate the greatness that diversity brings to their communities.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
JVB: I often draw the characters before working on the story. This allows me to get to know my characters, what makes them laugh or cry, as well as what their dreams or fears are. Once the character is fixed in my head, I begin to write, not before.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
JVB: I am a strong advocate of lifelong learning. I believe that if I want to improve, I need to look for ways to become more proficient in my art. The camaraderie and community that goes with my coursework is also an integral part of my growth. And, then there is practice, practice, practi
ce – taking risks, making mistakes, getting up, dusting myself off, and trying again.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
JVB: First, be authentic. Be you! Take a look at your own, unique journey to find your stories. Enjoy the learning and all it brings. Work on crafting your skills. Try new things, strive to be better, and have fun. If I am not having fun, I know that I must be doing something wrong.
I am also active on Twitter @Judithvaldesb and Instagram: judithaldesb.