Illustrator E.B. Lewis was our guest for this year's Reading Week. We sat down with Mr. Lewis to learn more about his inspiration and background in illustration.
What inspired you to become an illustrator?
Well, when I was first introduced to the industry, an agent had seen my fine art worked and he asked the question, ‘do you want to do kids’ books?’ You would think that I would say, ‘yes, of course. I would love to.’ But my first response was no, I don’t want to be a children’s book illustrator. I’m a fine artist. But he told me, you need to see what’s going on in kids’ books. So on my lunch break I went to a bookstore, and there I discovered that some of the best art in the country is being done in kids’ books. So looking at what was being done and what’s being done today, that’s what inspired me and still inspires me.
Why is children’s book illustration important to you?
It’s about storytelling. It’s about getting kids to get closer to themselves and understand themselves better. And more important, they get a chance to see how they match up with other children around the world and understand their stories, and see the similarities and the differences. What better vehicle than a picture book.
What themes do you draw from in your books?
My books are about emotion. And if you look at my work, the common thread you’ll find is that these are tough stories, very poignant stories, and stories that tug at the heartstrings. I like to think that’s my gift—to be able to capture the emotion and put it down on paper.
What’s been one of your hardest or most difficult things to illustrate?
The story that I just finished is called When Your Daddy’s A Soldier Like Mine. It’s about a little kid whose father leaves to go to the military and he’s gone for months on end. And the kid is home, anticipating the return of her dad, only to come home for a month or so and go back.
What about your experience growing up led you to this path?
You know, we find ourselves on these little streams, these tributaries, and they lead in different direction, which sometimes we question. Why am I here? Why am I going in this direction? And after a while, you live long enough you start to realize that these tributaries all lead to one stream. And you have to go down each one of them. So, my story that I tell [is that] my early childhood was very tough for me. But it was necessary. Would I do it again, would I go down that same stream if I had to do it all over again? I would. Because it made me who I am, it made me have a different appreciation—a better appreciation—for the tough times.
What has struck you the most about ISD?
The enthusiasm. From day one, I came in and they were reenacting one of my books, Danitra Brown. And it hasn’t stopped, you know. I’ve been here four days and I look out and… I’m thrilled and I’m pleased and I’m overwhelmed.