view more
view more
view more
view more
view more
view more
view more
view more
view more
view more

Into the Air with Michele Wood Interview by Julie Danielson

The way Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator Michele Wood approaches her picture books is a bit unusual, compared to the traditional way most picture books are made, and her newest book is but one example. Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song was her concept, and for it she created 13 striking original paintings. She then submitted the images, as she explains to me below, to author Cynthia Grady, who wrote text to accompany the artwork. Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner, took on the project, and it arrives on shelves this month.

The book is a tribute to African American spirituals, songs that “helped [slaves] pace their movements, lift their spirits, and communicate with one another,” as Grady notes in the book’s opening. Wood’s rich paintings for the spirituals are accompanied by music, lyrics, and Grady’s notes about the songs’ biblical and historical roots. It is a book that, as the Kirkus review notes, gives new life to old songs.

I interrupted Michele’s writing (and Master’s studies) to ask her about this particular book. She tells me that it may be one that reflects the African American experience—“I want every child to have exposure to books that reflect their experience,” she adds—but that it is ultimately for everyone. It is also a book that, as she puts it, means the world to her, and she hopes it “engages the reader in dialogue, while educating and inspiring.”  

I love how in this book the author responds to, comments upon, and asks questions about your paintings. Does this mean you submitted paintings first and then the text was written? 

In 2012, I received inspiration for the book. I titled it Like a Bird, because I read about Harriet Tubman dreaming that she could fly like a bird.

“She used to dream of flying over fields and towns, and rivers and mountains, looking down upon them like a bird.” –Harriet Tubman: Slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights in the 19th century

It is located in the Bible –Psalms 124:7 NIV.

“We have escaped like a bird
 from the fowler’s snare.”

Yes, before the proposal was composed I worked on the Gospel Train image. So, yes, after the paintings and investigations were complete, I handed it to Cynthia. Often, we do not think of the artist doing research along with painting, but it is a part of my process.

You mentioned in your acknowledgment that, as a child, your mother bought your first paperback book about Harriet Tubman. Can you talk about that and what it meant to you?

My mother, Karolyn, bought me all kinds of books. She is an avid reader. Mostly, I would receive beautiful pop-up books. But the one that stood out was a small black and beige page paperback book on Harriet Tubman. I don’t remember what I thought at the time, but I still can visualize the cover that was done in two colors, black and purple. It is ironic that I depict her life story in my books.

I am so touched by Harriet Tubman’s towers of faith and strength. She was in a place of hearing from God, unbelievable faith, and wisdom. Her walk with the Father had to be close in order for her to shepherd over 300 hundred slaves to freedom. Just imagine this little woman leading men and woman through the terrain – and being hunted like an animal by men with guns and dogs. She was beyond fierce.

News

HD Video