I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Meet the GreenPB23 author/illustrator team behind LIGHT SPEAKS = Happy #BookBirthday!

April 18, 2023

I’m very excited to celebrate this gorgeous GreenPB23 picture book, LIGHT SPEAKS, written by Christine Layton, and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell (Tilbury House).

But don’t take my word for it:

Boy, do we have Questions!

Meet the Author

Q 1. Welcome to the blog, Christine. What was the inspiration for LIGHT SPEAKS?

CL: Thank you so much for having us! I started thinking about the concept for LIGHT SPEAKS during a visit to an elementary science class. The kids were learning about light and sound. The teacher talked about technology that uses light, like ambulances and traffic lights. The kids had ideas about fireflies and other lights in nature. It turns out humans aren’t the only ones using light to send messages!

Writing Literary Nonfiction

Q 2. How do you approach a lyrical nonfiction project like LIGHT SPEAKS? Which comes first—the text, the title, or the research?

CL: Since the idea for the book came from an elementary science class, I knew I had to start with research. I looked at the Next Generation Science Standards to find the key words and concepts that would be useful to include in the book.

In the margins, I scribbled some ideas like “talking with lights,” “speak with light,” and “light speaks” and the last scribble became the title! Then I dove into the thesaurus to make lists of all the words related to light and communication. The book grew from those messy lists.

Writing + Teaching

Q 3. How do your thirteen years of teaching influence your picture book process?

CL: I think about the teachers like me who use picture books with learners of all ages (K-12 and adults!) to open the door for conversation and exploration. I am so glad to see classroom libraries in science, math, and history rooms, not just language arts classes. These are the books I want to write— books with creative, positive, and educational value for kids, teachers, caretakers, and librarians. As an educator, I want to make sure my writing accesses what kids already know, supports what they’re learning now, and guides them to think creatively to expand their understanding of a topic.

Surprises & Discoveries

Q 4. What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in creating this book?

CL: Oh my gosh, I learned so many cool facts about the nature of light! One of the most surprising facts was about light pollution. I knew artificial lights could be harmful to wildlife, but I didn’t know light pollution can be dangerous to humans, too. Just like animals, humans need a dark night to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. The book has more information at the end to guide readers to kid-friendly resources for fighting light pollution.

Interior art by Luciana Navarro Powell
written by Christine Layton (Tilbury House).

Q 5. What surprises did Luciana bring to the project?

CL: Wow! The illustrations add incredible layers to the book! I mean, there is an entire story told through Luciana’s illustrations that isn’t present in the text. Luciana brought fun, real characters, a theme of exploration, and a cohesive journey that continues across the pages. I have no idea how she makes each page practically glow as if the paper is infused with light! What could be more perfect for this book? I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Luciana, and I treasure our friendship that’s grown through this book.

Q 6. Which spread is your favorite?

CL: I have to choose… the rainbow spread! The first time I read through the book with illustrations, I actually choked up when I turned the page to that spread. It’s a celebration of light, nature, beauty— I’m getting emotional just talking about it! Kids will come to the book with their own ideas and associations about light and dark. I love that the book ends on this page that moves us to a joyous moment with a brilliant, radiant rainbow!

Interior art by Luciana Navarro Powell from LIGHT SPEAKS,
written by Christine Layton (Tilbury House).
Speaking of Luciana…

Meet the Illustrator

Q 1. Welcome to the blog, Luciana. What medium / process did you use in this gorgeous book?

LNP: Thank you, so much Erin.

For Light Speaks I used a mixed media technique to try to capture visually the mood of what our editor Jonathan called “light mysterious messages.” I used acrylic paints with stencils, some watercolor washes, and the most fun of all, real light from sun rays!

To capture “real stars” I perforated a grocery bag and photographed a myriad of little stars projected on the other side, then manipulated it all on Photoshop. You can check out a bit of the process in this “peek behind the scenes” image I prepared. I also photographed the reflection of the sun going through some crystal pieces and hitting a wall – to create the Big Bang image, for example.

See more Illustration Tips below!

Q 2. Which lines of Christine’s text are your favorite, or were the most fun to illustrate?

LNP: What really drew me into this project was the lyrical nature of the manuscript by Christine. I loved the poetic approach to non-fiction she does in this book.

I have several favorite lines, that were challenging but fun to illustrate because of their open nature, for example: “From suns burned out long ago, still, light whispers the answer to a mystery: the start of time” It’s a 2 page spread crescendo that leads to the image of the Big Bang I mentioned.

Another favorite, because in a few sentences it builds up a simple, subtle but incredibly dramatic spread – baby turtles hatching and being misled by artificial light to their potential demise: “Once in a while, without meaning to, and without words, light tells lies”. This example also captures perfectly the alchemy of the picture book melding words and images to tell a story.

Q 3. You mentioned on Instagram that the NASA folks were an inspiration to your illustrations. Could you explain further?

LNP: Blake Marie Bullock read and endorsed our book – she is an astrophysicist and vice-president at Northrop Grumman who was part of the team that built NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which has been bringing us wondrous new images of outer space in the last few years!

When they released the Cartwheel Galaxy images about a year ago, I added it to our Big Bang spread right away. Perhaps it’s the first appearance of Cartwheel Galaxy in a PB!

Q 4. I love that the Kirkus review noticed that your art adds a secondary storyline (Which you do so well in the books you have illustrated!) Does this extra layer occur to you right away or does it evolve through your preliminary sketches?

LNP: Thank you for noticing it. I find that infusing a secondary story line, a “sprinkle of fiction” even in a Non-fiction book, helps me to dive deeper into the manuscript, it’s like my way into it. It usually comes to me during thumbnailing.

Q 5. They say it “takes a village”—and I feel like this is true with children’s books. Who’s in your village?
LNP: I love this question! It’s so true. Publishing kids books can be so hard but I am so grateful for the connections I have been making in this journey. To name just a few – you, of course! and also my agent Deborah Warren [East West Literary Agency]; Patti Newman, the entire art critique group from our agency, other author/illustrators I have connected with like Ana Siqueira, Amber Hendricks, Tory Christie, Steve Bjorkman, Joanna Pastro, Craig Shuttlewood, Lynnor Bontigao, and every editor I have ever worked with!

Q 6. What projects are you working on now?
LNP: I am waiting on contracts for about 2 new books – Yay! And also working on 3 of what I call “back burner” projects that come to the front when I finish art for contracted books. All picture books.

Illustration Tips

Q. 7 Are there any tips you can give new illustrators?
LNP: Keep your eyes on your own paper, avoid comparing yourself to others, and when you feel discouraged by the publishing industry focus on the joy of the work itself, and you will right your ship!

Take Aways

8. What do you hope readers will take away from LIGHT SPEAKS?
As I mentioned earlier, I loved how Christine texts approached a non-fiction concept with a poetic lens – so I hope that kids can pause and think that science can also contain an element of wonder and can be viewed differently than how we read it in textbooks.

Thank you for having us on your blog, Erin, and for being such a great part of our village!

My pleasure!

Follow Christine and Luciana on social media:

website www.lucianaillustration.com https://christinemarielayton.com/ 
Instagram lucianaillustration Layton_author
Twitter lucianaillustra @Layton_author
Facebook Luciana Illustration Christine Layton, Children’s Author

Next up on the blog: We celebrate the Book Birthdays of TWO Birthday Books!

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  1. Ana Siqueira says:

    Wow. I must get this book now. I am curious to know more about lights and I can’t wait to see Luciana’s beautiful illustrations. She is fabulosa, for sure.