We had the opportunity to interview the talented Mariana Ruiz Johnson, an outstanding illustrator who has created over a dozen picture books, including While You Are Sleeping (Chronicle), Run, Little Chaski! (Barefoot), and I Know a Bear (Schwartz & Wade).
What made you decide to become an author and illustrator?
My parents have been dedicated to the book world for as long as I can remember. My mom is an illustrator for magazines and children’s books, and my dad worked as an art director for a large publishing house in Buenos Aires. Sometimes he would let me tag along. There, I understood that behind the books there are people who work so that the book shines, circulates and is read as well as possible. When I started studying Fine Arts, I did not feel completely comfortable with painting in large formats, then I realized that what I wanted was to work telling stories to be published in books.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I went to art school in Buenos Aires, where I was able to study art history, painting, printmaking, and drawing. I also studied illustration with different teachers from my country, informally.
Who has been one of your major artistic influences?
I grew up with Richard Scarry’s books, and I feel like his work influences mine a lot. Also Quino, a very brilliant Argentine humorist who created the famous character Mafalda, and who changed my way of approaching image and humor.
What do you like more, writing or illustrating?
I really like both things. I feel that I am, first and foremost, an illustrator. But I’ve been writing since I was little and I attend literary workshops. I feel more and more seduced by the world of words.
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
Like I said, Richard Scarry’s. I also grew up with the Ladybird collection of classic stories, which were very simple versions and brightly illustrated. My mom used to read them to me when I came home from school. As my mother is English-speaking, but I grew up in Argentina, these stories were my contact with English and left a deep impression on me.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Generally, from experiences or conversations I have with my children, Félix (5) and Pedro (10). They are a great inspiration to me. I also try to evoke my own memories from when I was a child. Sometimes I think that those of us who write and illustrate for children have to be very connected to our own childhood.
Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?
It is very difficult for me to choose one thing, because I like from the moment of the idea to the project execution process, as well as the work of editors and the meeting with young readers and colleagues.
What do you hope kids learn from THE BOOK THAT KIBO WROTE?
I hope they have a good time reading it and also discover that books are created by people and that they have their own story until they reach the hands of a reader.
When you are not drawing, what do you do to relax?
I love lying on my sofa and reading. Also, walking with my children and cooking.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I’m very tall, a bit clumsy, and every time I draw I get ink on my hands and face.
One night under the acacia trees, Kibo writes a story about home. His neighbor Naki reads his words, binds them into a book, and brings it to the city. There Camilo devours Kibo’s story, remembering his childhood in the savannah. The next day he shares the book and his memories with his friend Simon. Soon Simon starts writing new songs about distant lands. Where will Kibo’s book go next, and what will it spark for its next reader?
Featuring a charming cast of animal characters, The Book that Kibo Wrote showcases the power of stories to connect readers across the globe.