Do you remember when you weren’t sure who you were and where you belonged? Quackers by local Seattle author and illustrator Liz Wong is an excellent book that gives the heart-warming message, be proud of you!
Quackers is a story about an animal who tries to figure out who he is and where he belongs. The illustrations are precious. The colors are striking and children will know each animal from the beautiful artwork. Young readers will also learn to identify things in and around ponds like reeds, algae, snails, and worms. Some children may be able to read words in the story after hearing it read to them several times. This is a great book to teach children basics about reading.
The International Examiner caught up with Wong to talk about her work as an author and illustrator.
International Examiner: Quackers is an adorable picture book. You were both author and illustrator of this book. What was the inspiration for Quackers?
Liz Wong: The idea for Quackers originally came when I drew a picture of a cat and thought it would be funny if the text said that it was a duck. From there I started thinking about what life would be like to be a cat living among ducks, and how Quackers might feel, well, a little different. The story, though ultimately about cats and ducks, ended up being informed by my own experience of moving from Hawai‘i to the “mainland” and realizing I was different from the people around me, feeling out of place, and finding my own place in the world.
IE: Your drawings are somewhat in the colorful style of Jose Aruego, who drew many animals for his picture books including a goat in Gregory, The Terrible Eater and a snake in The Last Laugh. He was one of the early Asian American children’s book authors/illustrators. How did you develop your artistic style for Quackers?
Wong: It took me some time to figure out the style for Quackers, since it’s different from my usual style. Because it’s a book for younger kids, I tried to simplify the shapes of the characters and make them look sweet and friendly. I did a lot of test paintings in watercolor and a combination of watercolor and digital techniques to figure out which combination of mediums I liked the best. I ended up redoing one of the pond scenes five times in order to get it right. It’s really a process of trial and error for me. I have an idea of where I’m going, but there’s a lot of wandering along the way.
IE: Were your parents encouraging about developing a career in art? What did they tell you?
Wong: My parents were incredibly supportive. Despite the fact that my family were all math and science types, they all have an interest in art. My father was always interested in crafts, and my mother is a great art appreciator. My mother often took us to art museums or on sketching trips to the zoo, and she enrolled my sister and I in summer art classes at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
I participated in poster contests at my elementary school and for the friends of the library. I ended up winning a few ribbons and the first place trophy for my school poster contest, which encouraged me to keep making art. I was raised to believe I could do anything I wanted, and when I decided to major in art in college, my parents didn’t bat an eye. My parents were very enthusiastic when Quackers came out, and my mom shows up at a lot of my book events, so there’s a high possibility that if you come see me in person, you’ll also meet my mom.
IE: What should children/young adults do to prepare for a career as a children’s book author? As an illustrator? It is a difficult market to get into.
Wong: First off, draw a lot and develop your art skills. Read a lot of current children’s books. Develop a writing or drawing habit—that is, try to draw or write on a regular basis with no particular end goal in mind. That habit will help to hone your skills and generate story ideas. My best story ideas have come from drawing just for fun. Secondly, join SCBWI, the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI is a professional organization that has both regional chapters and national conferences. Going to a SCBWI conference is how I made a connection that led to signing with a literary agent. SCBWI is a great source of information about the industry, a place to meet other authors and illustrators, and a place to get your work in front of art directors, agents, and editors. We Need Diverse Books is another organization that provides mentorships and grants to diverse authors and illustrators. Finally, it can be a long road to publication, but the most important thing to remember is to keep drawing, keep writing, keep improving, and don’t give up.
IE: Who has been your inspiration as you develop your career?
Wong: I’ve been looking at a lot of Allen Say’s work recently. His personal stories, from the Caldecott winning Grandfather’s Journey to his recent graphic novels Drawing From Memory and the Inker’s Shadow, are poignant portrayals of his life and the Asian American experience. He tops it off with flawless watercolor technique. As I am working on improving my writing and illustration, I keep returning to his work for inspiration and as an example of how brilliant, beautiful and moving children’s books can be.
IE: One of the books that you have illustrated for other authors is Camp Secret: Junior Spies. This book is for upper elementary and is a fun read especially for students who might want to train to be a spy! How did you decide on how to draw each of the junior spies in the story?
Wong: For Camp Secret, I read the manuscript and the authors also provided me with character descriptions and some rough ideas of how they might look. I then got to work, filling pages of my sketchbook with character designs. My sketches for the character of Lee Wong kept coming out looking a little too much like a Chinese Harry Potter, and needed a lot of tweaking. I learned that you not only have to be aware of stereotypes when developing a character, but also have to keep in mind those iconic characters that have permeated our cultural consciousness—such that dark hair and glasses reads instantly as Harry Potter, and I had to actively work against that in designing Lee. The solution lay in the shape of his glasses, as round glasses instantly evokes Harry Potter. This project was one of the rare ones where I worked directly with the authors, and we went through several rounds of sketches to perfect the kids and to develop the cover. I just recently finished the second Camp Secret book and hope to do more in the series.
Wong is currently working on her second picture book with Knopf Books for Young Readers, titled ‘The Goose Egg.’ She’s deep in revisions, trying to whip the story into shape. Wong has a few more story ideas in the works, and though she really would love to draw some multicultural kids for one of her future books, so far all her picture book story ideas have been about animals.
For more information about Wong and her books, go to Wong’s website at www.lizwongillustration.com/books.html.