Dreaming up children's books: An interview with Joy Chu

Reading time!

"Sure, it's simple, writing for kids...just as simple as bringing them up." — Ursula K. LeGuin

We recently had a chat with art director, graphic designer, and UC San Diego Extension instructor Joy Chu about her taste in children's literature and for some advice on entering the field. Joy teaches children's book illustration online and onsite for us. Here's what she has to say about working in the business:

1) What’s your favorite children’s book and why?

Tough one. I keep discovering new favorites. A few have remained timeless:

Because it carries themes on multiple levels that both young ones and adults can relate to. It has pitch perfect text. His "monsters" are friendly, and cuddly, while the main character, Max, is the real monster, and he too is tamed by the end of the book. Totally minimal. But every word, every syllable, every "beat" counts.

  • "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Clement Hurd.

The words rock! The pictures are of a room from the child's point of view. Every parent can do his/her own version of the text sequence "good night, chair, good night bear..." Much is left to the imagination. Sheer poetry! Characters are depicted as animals.

  • Current favorite: "Me, Jane" by Patrick McDonell.

A book with hardly any words that speaks tomes, with sparse yet meaningful illustrations, combined to form great story-telling.  Pure zen!

2) What are the biggest challenges for aspiring illustrators, and do you have suggestions for overcoming them?

In terms of the profession itself, it's an exciting time. Much cutting edge art is being created. Subsequently, the field is more competitive than ever. It's beneficial to meet others with the same goals, encouraging each others efforts in improving art skills.

3) What are the key elements to include in a robust illustration portfolio?

Having a confident assured hand that demonstrates a distinct "voice". No matter what media is used, each piece speaks clearly, from the same person. A great illustration portfolio contains at least a dozen pieces in a variety of subjects. For children's books, you must render children! And adults. If the human figure is not your strong suit, draw your favorite animals, birds or beasts, in many poses and situations.

Here's what a few of Joy's students are saying about her class in Spring 2012:

"I was needing a jump start in my career and Joy Chu's course gave me just the challenges I needed to get moving."

"I expected a general overview and hoped to learn a few new tidbits; this class offered so much valuable information, I'd be inclined to take it again. Working through the creative process again would bring new insights into the ever-improving art of the work."

"She provides a relaxed atmosphere, yet not so relaxed that there is the temptation to be lazy. She has the ability to motivate without driving too hard, something that encourages creativity."

Joy Chu has a BFA in painting, and works as a graphic designer and publishing consultant. Her work has been cited by the AIGA, BookBuilders West, the Society of Illustrators, the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, the National Book Awards, Print, Step-by-Step, and Publishers Weekly. Prior to running her own studio, she was an art director at Harcourt, and a designer at Holt, T.Y. Crowell and Knopf.

Ready to get started on your own book? Take a course with Joy this quarter or next!

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