To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Stacey Byer!
Stacey’s experiences working with children have inspired her to write and illustrate stories that all kids can enjoy. © 2020 Stacey Byer
Growing up on a steady fare of folktales, island adventures, and lemon grass tea actively fed Stacey’s imagination. She wrote stories about giant possums living in mango trees and drew many, MANY pictures of what lurked in the bougainvillea hedge. After graduating from Ringing College of Art and Design with a degree in Illustration, Stacey returned to her island to use her skills to promote art education and literacy in schools, and worked with different organisations such as Room to Read.
Stacey’s experiences working with children have inspired her to write and illustrate stories that all kids can enjoy. She spends most “sunsetty” evenings in her veranda dreaming up new ways to create materials that encourage diversity, pride, and inclusion. Stacey is a member of SCBWI.
“The Giant” © 2020 Stacey Byer Art
Welcome to the blog, Stacey! I’m so happy to have you here! As an art educator myself, I can’t wait to learn more about the work you’ve done to promote art and literacy in schools. I’m also interested in those giant possums in mango trees and what lurks in the bougainvillea hedge! Without further adieu, let’s dive in!
Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? I Really Want to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio and Dorothee De Monfreid, Grandad’s Isand by Benji Davies and The Red Tree by Shaun Tan.
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Bush tea all the way! And my favorite one is a combo of lemongrass and cinnamon. (Fun fact: I have a cinnamon tree in my backyard.)
- Where is your safe place? My veranda, where I can breathe, see the sunset and listen to the birds in the bay leaf tree.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs but cats love me for some strange reason. They always jump into my lap, and I always end up begrudgingly petting them because…well I love animals.
- Early bird or night owl? A night owl continuously failing to morph into an early bird.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…Consistency, resilience, and hope.
Stacey’s studio (I want it!) ©2020 Stacey Byer Art
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.
SB: I was born in the Caribbean and grew up on this interesting mix of my granny’s folklore stories and Enid Blyton books from England. One day, when my mother stumbled upon my crayon mural masterpiece on her wall, she “noted” my interest in art and so my journey began. During childhood, if I wasn’t making mud pies for a blackbird tea party or crushing ylang-ylang berries to make the best magical potion ever, I was painting or writing stories.
I later got a degree in Illustration in the US but returned to my island to highlight the importance of diversity and art education. I did this by working with organizations and non profits to create culturally relevant material for Caribbean kids. I didn’t fully realize how the lack of representation in the books I grew up with affected me until I saw it mirrored in the young children that I taught on my island. This further cemented my interest in centering children of color in stories. All children should be able to see themselves in the stories that they read because the feeling of erasure can have a profound effect on self-worth.
AD: Through art education and literacy there is so much we can do to help children recognize the beauty in their diverse stories and backgrounds. I’m glad you’ve found a way to merge your passion for art education with writing and illustrating children’s books. Your desire to return home and share your experiences with Caribbean kids is inspiring. AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
SB: I always wanted to be an artist and almost every job I had unconsciously connected me back to art. My first job as a teen was selling art supplies and later on I worked for a daycare, planning many art activities for the kids. But the bulk of my work has been exploring the ties between art education, community, and environment. I worked on public art initiatives and illustrated educational materials to be a part of our primary schools’ curriculum.. At random stages of my life I’ve had the odd urge to become a food critic (I’m a foodie) or a rally car driver (don’t ask) but those options er… didn’t pan out. 😀
AD: Wow! It sounds like you’ve done some impactful work in different communities regarding the arts and hey it’s never too late to learn a new skill 🙂
One of Stacey’s more recent murals 🙂 © 2020 Stacey Byer Art
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?
SB: I’m drawn to themes like community, the environment, and folklore. My favorite genres are PB and MG but I’m also now exploring the GN and non-fiction markets. In terms of media I started off as a fine artist so I love to paint. But I prefer a mix of traditional and digital media.
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?
SB: Entering this industry can be extremely intimidating especially as an international person, and I was concerned about cultural barriers. But when I see all the work that the BIPOC community and allies have put in to create space and awareness, I think there is more hope and opportunities moving forward. There is a saying we use in the Caribbean: ‘what is for you will not pass you’, and this always drives me onwards.
AD: I, too, hope the progress we are seeing continues and amplifies throughout all segments of the publishing industry so that we can have more stories and books being published that reflect the beauty of our diverse world. What a great mantra that is! I’m adding it to my list 🙂
“Granny” © 2020 Stacey Byer Art
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?
SB: Winning the Sept SCBWI Draw This contest was a lovely surprise and receiving some editor and agent interest on my DVPit pitch was extremely encouraging. During this pandemic, many small steps also felt quite big, like rejoining Twitter and new critique groups and fearlessly (sometimes) editing old manuscripts.
AD: Woohoo! Congrats to those steps forward, Stacey and for winning the Draw This contest. Each success should be celebrated no matter how big or small we may consider it.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
SB: I believe it would be my multicultural background. Coming from a multi-layered culture can provide a lot of inspiration and different resource materials. And growing up on an island is usually an added fun bonus, filled to the brim with hilarious and “wait, did that really just happen?” moments.
AD: From looking at your art, your island culture and folklore are beautifully evident in the vibrancy, warmth, and organic nature that is undeniably a part of your style and a part of who you are. I love it!
© 2020 Stacey Byer Art
What inspires your work?
SB: My childhood, nature, conversations with people from different walks of life, growing up in a developing country and observing people’s resilience and community spirit.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
SB: This may sound a little corny, but I dream up ideas a lot. I wake up with these characters in my head, and I have to rush to sketch or write them out before they fade away. When I’m stuck I move away from the project. If I don’t, I will fling myself onto my mental fainting couch and despair to the heavens about my horrendous writing. So I then either work on another project or I take a walk or eat something healthy like chocolate…which is essentially fruit…because well…cacao.
AD: I had a ‘rush to write’ moment the other night when a first line of a new story came to me as I was fading off to sleep (it was far too late, I might add). I went bumbling around in the dark to find my phone to capture in my Notes app or else I would’ve forgotten. I think every creator can relate to those moments. They’re great! AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
SB: CRITIQUE GROUPS. I mean it. Having to work towards monthly deadlines and have your work constructively critiqued on a regular basis is a game changer. I’m also a member of this really dynamic group called Black Creators in Kidlit. It is such a genuine community that really supports and encourages their members to reach their goals. These groups really inspire me to push myself harder.
AD: That’s amazing! Community, support, and accountability are so important in this industry. I’m glad you’ve found groups where all of those elements align for you!
“Shepherd” © 2020 Stacey Byer Art
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
SB: Don’t give up. If you love what you do, keep on doing it. Don’t let the stressful side of this business distract you from enjoying this journey. Tell that negative voice in your head to simmer down, dismantle your mental fainting couch and eat lots of chocolate, I mean fruit.
AD: “Dismantle your mental fainting couch”- I love that!! And chocolate always helps 🙂
© 2020 Stacey Byer Art
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series, Stacey! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Stacey and her work. Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit!