Carmen Agra Deedy, author of several great children's books including The Library Dragon and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale, has just released 14 Cows for America. Her new work from Peachtree Publishers was illustrated by a childhood friend, Thomas Gonzalez. Both Carmen and Tom appeared at the Decatur Library last night in an event sponsored by Georgia Center for the Book.
It was a great evening.
Carmen is a wonderful storyteller, whether she is spinning the tale of a young insect named Martina or explaining the details of how 14 Cows for America came together.
It began in June 2002 when she picked up a copy of the New York Times from her driveway and read this front page article of a Kenyan tribe's reaction to the events of September 11th. After years of allowing this story to percolate, she began writing. An effort to get the facts right lead to contacting Kimeli Naiyomah, a young Maasai man who had been studying at Stanford University in 2001 and was featured in the Times piece. Mr. Naiyomah is given special credit on the book's cover.
An unlikely push from her mother brought Carmen together with a Thomas Gonzalez, a family friend and a fellow Cuban exile whom she had not seen in over 30 years. Drawing since childhood, Tom has had a successful career in advertising as an art director and project designer. This is his first time illustrating a children's book. (The two are currently collaborating on a second project.)
Tom spoke of the creative process of putting together the illustrations, including his efforts to get the facts right and to evoke the connectedness of a rural Kenyan tribe and New York City. The Georgia Center for the Book had the originals on display last evening. As beautiful as the reproductions are in the book, the originals are truly stunning.
For those of us who are inspired by (or delighted in, or in wonder of) listening to artists talk about their craft, it doesn't get any better than last night.
Little Shop has copies of 14 Cows for America on sale, signed by both Carmen and Tom.