Selina Alko’s latest children’s book, B is for Brooklyn, is a visual treat, combining mixed-media collages with vibrant, painted cityscapes of local landmarks, from the general (Coney Island) to the super specific (BookCourt).
Before her events at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday–she’s appearing in the Children’s tent at 11 am and 12:30–we asked her about her all-time favorite kids books, and her family’s bedtime reading habits in their Park Slope home. She shares it with husband Sean Qualls, himself a children’s book illustrator (most recently, of Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee) and their 7-year-old son Isaiah and 4-year-old girl Ginger.
What’s your bedtime story routine?
We do read to our children every night, usually 2-3 books. Sometimes we read to them separately, my husband will read a chapter book to my son downstairs and I’ll read picture books to my daughter up in their bedroom (which they share). Our son still likes picture books and they do enjoy when we read to them together.
Do you and your husband test out your ideas for kids books on your own children? What do they respond most to?
Our children are around us during all stages of making books, so our ideas are tested out on them whether we (or they!) like it or not. They seem to enjoy when we put them in our illustrations, which happens both on purpose and also sometimes unconsciously. I wrote Every-Day Dress-Up for my daughter (and all girls her age, really) so she thinks the book is about her. She’s dressed up as both Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart for Halloween the past 2 years based on the heroine’s dress-up ideas (with some nudging on my part…), so I’d say she’s had a positive response to this book, in particular!
What are your all-time favorite children’s books and why?
As a child I absolutely loved exploring all of the little details in Richard Scary’s books, I adore the quirkiness of Maira Kalman’s children’s books (she’s my greatest influence!), and Ezra Jack Keats– for his incredibly delicate and thoughtful collage illustrations which match perfectly his texts.
What books do you enjoy reading to your children right now?
I enjoy reading funny texts with smart and quirky illustrations, as well as books with great characters and heart. For example, the Charlie & Lola books are a riot to read (I put on a British accent, which my children find amusing), Bink and Gollie, Big Red Lollipop, and Snowy Day.
What books are you looking forward to reading to them, once they are old enough?
Well my son’s already into chapter books, but when my daughter’s old enough I wonder if she’ll appreciate Judy Blume the way I did as a pre-teen. There are so many new YA books out there, I’d love to see what she discovers on her own and turns me on to!
What do you never want to read again?
Disney’s princess books. We have gotten 3 collections as gifts and I dread when they get pulled off the shelves…
Are there any other children’s illustrators you’re a fan of (aside from your husband!)?
Calef Brown, Leo & Diane Dillon, Meghan McCarthy, Giselle Potter, Mo Willems, Chris Raschka, Lauren Castillo, Erin Stead, and David Ezra Stein.