|photo: Matt Carr
Sophie Blackall, an Australian artist and illustrator who has illustrated more than 30 books for children, is the winner of the 2019 Randolph Caldecott Medal, for Hello Lighthouse (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), announced earlier this week at ALA Midwinter in Seattle, Wash.
Shelf Awareness: Congratulations on your second Caldecott Medal! You're in Myanmar at the moment, correct? What are you doing there?
I have just finished two weeks as an artist-in-residence at the Singapore American School. My father, who traveled in Myanmar (then Burma) in 1962 was retracing his steps and I came over to join him and my step-mother for a glimpse of this complicated, beautiful, joyful and sorrow-filled country.
What is it like to receive this extraordinary honor so far from home?
Traveling can play tricks on the mind. There were long stretches where I didn't think of the youth media awards at all, and others where I thought of them quite a bit. Around the time I figured they were being called, my father, step-mother and I were sitting down to fermented tea-leaf salad and banana flower fritters in a street café. My phone rang and I stepped out onto the street where a local policeman watched me weep and laugh and thank a faraway gathering of wonderful librarians. My father followed me outside and put things together, and he wept and laughed too, and the policeman laughed at us and with us. And we all smiled and nodded at each other and said, "Mingalaba!" over and over, which is the only word I know in Burmese. It means "hello" and "goodbye" and "auspiciousness to you" and is possibly the most useful word on the planet especially at a time like this.
It was so lovely to have this delirious experience with my folks on the other side of the world but I am rather aching to be home with Ed and the kids, to see my studio family, to return to texting my editor Susan Rich 20 times a day. Maybe then it will all start to feel real.
How does it feel to win the Caldecott again? And so soon after the first!
I was just talking to Susan about this. Neither of us can quite believe it. It doesn't seem like anybody ought to be allowed to have this much good fortune more than once in a lifetime... but then I remember what it felt like when my second child was born. How it was completely new and miraculous. My children were also three years apart!
Was there anything about the developing and creation of Hello Lighthouse that felt different or special to you?
Hello Lighthouse had a long gestation, but when it was conceived, all the DNA was in place. I knew it would be tall and narrow; that the spreads would alternate, exterior and interior; that there would be a foggy spread that was barely there; that the lighthouse would be a constant, steadfast form in the same place in every scene, while the weather and seasons and time swirled around it.
When I began to actually draw it, for the first time in my life, it came out as I imagined it, instead of the usual compromised distortion I see appear on the page.
On an emotional level, I was painting Hello Lighthouse during a rather turbulent time in this country's history. It was a blissful escape, to transport myself to a lighthouse in the ocean, surrounded by waves.
How do you think Hello Lighthouse and Finding Winnie--your other Caldecott Medal-winning title--compare to each other? Do you think they have a common thread in content or in execution that makes them stand out?
With Finding Winnie, I had the privilege of bringing Lindsay Mattick's family story--about the world's most famous bear--to life. The scaffolding was already there. With Hello Lighthouse, we were building from the ground up. And by this time Susan and I were almost able to transmit thoughts through the ether. And we had the whole Little, Brown production team behind us, tinkering with foil-stamping and trim sizes, murmuring encouragement.
What is it you hope readers take from Hello Lighthouse?
I wanted to tell a story about the life of a single family living in a very specific and magical place, with universal experiences of separation and reunion, birth and growth, drama and peril, change and loss, hope and renewal.
At a school visit recently, the librarian announced a competition for students to write and create something inspired by Hello Lighthouse to win a lunch date with "the author." Usually she receives a dozen or so entries. This time it seemed nearly every kid in the school entered something. We sifted through essays and poems and drawings together, in awe.
"You have made a book," she said, "that this community didn't know it needed."
Which is one of the nicest things anybody could say.
Thank you so much for chatting with Shelf and congratulations again!
--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness