Amy June Bates has illustrated over fifty books for children including Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed, The Dog Who Belonged to No One, Sweet Dreams and That’s What I’d Do (both by singer-songwriter Jewel) and many more. She earned her bachelor’s degree in illustration from Brigham Young University. Originally from Utah, Amy has lived all over the country. Currently, she and her family of artists reside in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
As huge fans of Amy’s illustration, we are thrilled to have her as our January illustrator. We asked Amy about her favorite stories, her inspiration, and what she’s working on next.
How did you begin illustrating for young people?
I have always wanted to be an illustrator, even as a child. I love books as an art form and I love reading and I love drawing. I started illustrating for a company in college and kept on until I was freelancing full-time.
What, in your mind, is the most important job of a picture book? What do you aim to do when you bring a book to a child?
My hope is that the reader engages with the book in their own way on their own terms. I feel like the written story, the visual story, and the reader’s interpretation of them are three different points of view revolving around a set of events. It’s true that a book exposes them to reading, but also to art and the magic of storytelling.
What would you tell a young person who wants to create picture books?
Do it! Everyone has stories to tell. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all share them? My advice is to never stop drawing. Try not to care what your peers think and draw what you love.
What has been your favorite interaction with a child about your work?
My own children. Drawing with them. Seeing the world through their eyes and putting that into my work. Also, seeing them grow up into artists themselves.
Your book The Big Umbrella was a collaborative project with your daughter, Juniper. Can you tell us a bit about how this book came about?
At Juniper’s school during the presidential election, there had been a lot of fighting and bullying. This was really worrying Juniper. I walked to school with her every day and she would tell me about these things that were bothering her and what she could do, so the idea of being inclusive was in the air. The day Juniper got the idea, it was raining. We could only find one umbrella, and I was frustrated that there was only one umbrella. Juniper said, “Don’t worry. There is always room under the Big Umbrella.” She started to make it into a character. Later that day she drew a bunch of pictures. We did a lot of the thinking about the book on our morning walk, and it cracked us up thinking about the creatures (like Big Foot). At first we thought maybe the umbrella would break and people would have to fix it, but it we both did a happy dance when we realized that of course the umbrella just kept getting bigger.
What books did you read as a child that had a lasting effect on you?
I loved Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, James and the Giant Peach [Roald Dahl], What Do You Say Dear? [Sesyle Joslin], One Monster After Another [Mercer Mayer], The Chronicles of Narnia [CS Lewis], The Secret Garden[Frances Hodgson Burnett], The Iron Giant [Ted Hughes]… Some of these are ingrained on my memory in an almost prehistoric way. When I read them again it takes me way, way, way back in time. Books are so cool.
Is there a project you’ve been a part of that remains especially close to your heart?
The Big Umbrella is the first independent project I worked on, plus the way it came about will always make it stand out. The meaning behind the book is very important to me.
What are you working on next?
I have a book that came out in December: Loving Hands by Tony Johnston. I have another book coming out in February, Gittel’s Journey by Leslea Newman. I am writing a couple of books that are a secret! And I am having my first solo art show in March at Ejecta projects art gallery.