EXCLUSIVE: CBLDF Talks to Caldecott and Printz Honor Winners Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This One SummerLast week, graphic novels were honored by ALA during their annual Youth Media Awards ceremony. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki was among the honorees, so we asked the creators a few questions about their accolades!

This One Summer has taken the children’s books and graphic novel communities by storm, being the first graphic novel to win the Caldecott Honor for “Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children” and Printz Honor for “Excellence in Literature for Young Adults.” It is a coming-of-age story that embraces readers of all ages as two tween girls, some local townie teens, and one set of parents all look at growing up, pregnancy, and babies from very different perspectives. What makes this book so special is how it sensitively and somewhat magically deals with these very difficult and mature issues through the growing awareness of two girls one summer. CBLDF is thrilled for the recognition graphic novels are beginning to get outside the comic book communities (hoping this will be just the beginning), we are thrilled for the recognition this gem of a book has received for its breathtaking prose and art, and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki just after receiving these honors.

CBLDF: First, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us.  We know you’ve been getting tons of interview requests and appreciate the time and consideration you’ve given us.

Jillian and Mariko, what were your first thoughts/reactions when you heard you won the Caldecott Honor AND the Printz Honor?

Jillian Tamaki: What more is there to say except for it’s really, really cool? I never expected to win the Caldecott, given it is not a picture book.

Mariko Tamaki: It was an honor to be honored.

CBLDF: What were your later thoughts about winning these prestigious honors?

Mariko Tamaki: Wow, I must be prestigious now.  Better get back to work.

Jillian Tamaki: It’s only been a few days!

CBLDF: Mariko, you’ve written both graphic novels and prose. What made you decide this story was a graphic novel? (Jillian, feel free to jump in here too).

Mariko Tamaki: I think in this case the setting felt really ripe for a comic.  Also so much of this was about atmosphere.  Not just the visual details but the little noises in the silence that Jillian captured so well.

CBLDF: How did you come up with this story idea? What inspired This One Summer?

Mariko Tamaki: Originally I was interested in telling a story about summer.  The next layer was I really wanted to look at pregnancy.  How pregnancy and babies are talked about within and between generations.  What better age to talk about it than when you’re 12 and everything feels so mysterious and metaphorical?

CBLDF: You’re cousins, and some swear it’s best to keep work and family separate. How does your familial relationship affect the ways in which you work together?

 Jillian Tamaki: Ehh, that’s usually good advice, probably. Oh well. I think we share a similar Tamaki humour. Very dry.

Mariko Tamaki: I think it makes it all the more important to make sure we don’t wear the same thing when we appear in public.

CBLDF: I loved This One Summer for so many reasons. What struck me while reading this was how many subtle layers there were in the prose, art and story lines and yet how exquisitely seamlessly it unfolds. It’s a thoughtful, sensitive journey exploring love, relationships, life and growing up, but feels as light and warming as the magical milkweed pods that float up and around the beach on pages 32-33. The dialogue, the characters, and situations in this book ring so true and personal. Were they taken from your own lives, were you channeling you or your friends at Rose and Windy’s age, or is this story purely fictional?

Jillian Tamaki: I don’t think anything is purely fictional or purely autobiographical. You’re constantly weaving in elements of your life and personal philosophy in ways that are conscious and subconscious.

Mariko Tamaki: Exactly.

CBLDF: There are so many stories going on here between tweens Rose and Windy, the mystery around Rose’s parents’ marital issues, and even around the local teen scene. In short, this coming of age story for tweens has mature topics and some mature language, especially with Dunc the Corner Store Guy and his friends. Was there an editing process around the book, story and its rating?

Jillian Tamaki: Sure. There was some discussion about the sex terms. But, to be honest, that’s not something Mariko and I consider too much. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to make the books we want to make and reflect what we believe to be a true experience.

Mariko Tamaki: I think half the fun of this is remembering the ways we talked about stuff when we were little.  Which were probably FAR TAMER than the way kids talk about things today.

CBLDF: As a follow-up, have you received any challenges for this book from tween or younger reader communities?

Mariko Tamaki: I believe the book was removed from one shelf in New Jersey, but the decision, thanks to an amazing librarian’s fighting the good fight, was reversed.  Beyond that I tell people that the book addresses the existence of sex, when they ask if there’s anything inappropriate in it.  I follow that up by saying that I, myself, do not think that is inappropriate.

CBLDF: As mentioned earlier, you won the Randolph Caldecott Honor for most distinguished American picture book for children AND the Michael L. Printz Honor for excellence in literature for young adults. Two awards for one book covering two different age groups.  What does this tell you about your book, your story and the graphic novel format?

Jillian Tamaki: I feel like a lot of those distinctions are marketing decisions. I try to make books that appeal to myself and maybe a few ideal readers. I love that people of different ages can take various things away from the story, though.

CBLDF: CBLDF has long advocated for the free speech rights of the comics community and for the importance of graphic novels as a tool that educators and parents can use to encourage reading. How important is free speech to you?

Jillian Tamaki: Obviously, it’s incredibly important.

Mariko Tamaki: It’s the base coat.  You pretty much can’t do anything without it.

CBLDF: Thank you so much for your time and awesome responses. We are thrilled for you and we’re thrilled for the industry.  We’ll definitely be looking out for your next projects. Also, just want you and our readers to know that for Women’s History Month (March) we’ll be taking a closer look at This One Summer and how it can be used in book clubs and classrooms, so look for it in my “Using Graphic Novels in Education” column in March.

Meryl Jaffe, PhD teaches visual literacy and critical reading at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth OnLine Division and is the author of Raising a Reader! and Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning. She used to encourage the “classics” to the exclusion comics, but with her kids’ intervention, Meryl has become an avid graphic novel fan. She now incorporates them in her work, believing that the educational process must reflect the imagination and intellectual flexibility it hopes to nurture. In this monthly feature, Meryl and CBLDF hope to empower educators and encourage an ongoing dialogue promoting kids’ right to read while utilizing the rich educational opportunities graphic novels have to offer. Please continue the dialogue with your own comments, teaching, reading, or discussion ideas at meryl.jaffe@cbldf.org and please visit Dr. Jaffe at http://www.departingthe text.blogspot.com.

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