Qin Leng

One of the joys of my job is the the people I get to work with. My most recent collaboration has been with Qin Leng,  an illustrator Kirkus Reviews recently dubbed a "rising star."Bernie Goedhart, in her Montreal Gazette review of A Family Is a Family Is a Family writes: "Her art first drew my eye because it reminded me of two favourite illustrators — Britain’s Quentin Blake and Australia’s Bob Graham — in that they all share a loose line, colourful palette and distinctive detail work." High praise, indeed.So who is Qin LengLet's start with the basics:Qin Leng was born in Shanghai, China and as a child moved to Bordeaux, France. She studied film at Concordia University in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto where she works in the animation industry.  

And here's a lovely little self-portrait by Qin.


I'm very grateful to Sheila Barry at Groundwood Books for bringing Qin and I together on this book. I think the lightness of touch and sheer exuberance of the illustrations lifts what could have been quite heavy subject matter. In celebration of working together, I asked Qin if she'd answer a few questions for me to share here.

What was your favourite book as a child?

     That's a tricky question, there were so many books I loved when I was little.  More than anything, I would love to spend my days reading...I loved to read at the mall when my mom was shopping, at the library, in my bed, during the day, at night under my covers (which, I think, is partly why I've needed glasses since I was 8!). I think my all time favourite, which still remains a huge source of inspiration to this day, are the Petit Nicolas series by Jean-Jacques Sempé. The illustrations were drawn with such spontaneity and the lines kept so simple, it's always something I strive to achieve in my own work.

What do you like about making picture books?

     I love inventing worlds and characters. I grew up as a really shy kid, but I was very observant, and the best way for me to express myself was through pictures. Even now, I love people watching and taking in stories I hear around me. On beautiful days, I like to go out and sit at a café or a park and looking at passers by and imagine what kind of characters they are and what lives they lead.

What are you working on now?

     I am always working on multiple projects at once. I dislike long breaks, it makes me anxious and I feel like I am wasting my time...I constantly want to be accomplishing something! I just wrapped up a new picture book with Comme des Geants, written by Céline Claire, called "L'Abri." I am really excited about this one, because it was entirely done with ink and watercolour, no digital painting (which I normally do). So that was a challenge I really enjoyed. I am also currently illustrating the 5th chapter book in a series written by Ellen Potter called "Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Pie Girl," for Random House.Then there's a new picture book with Harper Collins about the childhood of Jane Austen. It's called "Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen" and is written by Deborah Hopkinson. Finally, I'm working on a board book of Dennis Lee's bedtime poems for HarperCollins Canada. And for the next coming year, there are a few more things in my agenda, such as the very first picture book I am going to write AND illustrate!

Qin is represented by Shannon Associates.
And you can find her online here:


Celebrating You Are Two

You Are Two is now out in the world which is a good excuse for bringing this post on my books with Karen Klassen up to date.

We received a lovely review (and a ✭) from Kirkus Review.

A big thank you to Julie Danielson for a lovely introduction to our series of baby books with Owlkids Books, illustrated by the prodigiously talented Karen Klassen. The article is here at Kirkus reviews and there is more art from the books over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

You Are One also got great write-ups from The National Reading CampaignCM Magazine, and 49th Shelf.

To celebrate the start of this series, Karen Klassen generously created portraits of the two of us in the style of the books. I was already happy to be working with Karen but now I'm really happy!

All The Wonders was good enough to debut the book trailer made by Owlkids. You can see it here and the trailer for You Are Two is here.


Happy Families

A few more notices for our little Family.

Kerry Clare is both generous and insightful over at Pickle Me This

From the child whose parents won’t stop kissing to the family with so many kids, the family with split custody, the blended family, the single parents, two dads, and the child who lives with her grandparents (“Because I live with my grandmother, people sometimes think she is my mother. She’s not. She’s my everything.”)—O’Leary’s story paints a varied and celebratory picture of the many ways there are for a family to be. Leng’s illustrations add richness and texture to the simple prose, with their action-packed and cluttered scenes that suggest a marvellous mess of abundance (which, of course, is love).
 Great perspective from teacher/librarian/parent at Front Porch Librarian.
What I love – and what sets this book apart from some of the other family books out there – is the child’s initial nervousness. Unsure what the other students will make of her family, she quickly realizes that all of her classmates have different sorts of families – there is no standard, no one kind of family. Tapping into that childlike insecurity of oh, no, what will everyone else think makes this story so real. Concluding it with the understanding that all of us are unique, as are the families in which we belong, makes this story so authentic. 

Lovely write-up by Helen Kubiw at Can Lit for Little Canadians.

Though I know, and children do too, that not all families are perfect or happy or supportive, Sara O'Leary's book celebrates families in all their forms–big, small, alike, different, blended, separated, adopting, fostering–as worthy of note, eclectic as they may be.  Her narration is a universal one of acceptance and appreciation for families of all kinds.  The sweetness of her message is matched page by page with Qin Leng's illustrations of children and parents of assorted colours and shapes, economic backgrounds and interests. The lightness of Qin Leng's lines and the whimsy of her colour and shape help portray a diversity of families that are as fluid as they are depicted. 
As always, I'm very grateful to writers like Kerry, Mary, and Helen who take the time to talk about children's books with such care and attention.


More Family

A few more links for A Family Is a Family Is a Family.

Chatting with the lovely Shari Okeke on CBC Radio's All in a Weekend here
A blogpost about teachers and how a class can also be a family here.
Included on this great list via 49th Shelf: "Picture Books You've Got To Read This Fall" by Kerry Clare. 
A really wonderful write-up by Kid Lit Reviews here.  


A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Celebrating three things in our household: the first day of September, the publication of A Family Is a Family Is a Family (out today in Canada and then September 13 in the US), and finally, an absolute peach of a review by Bernie Goedhart of The Montreal Gazette. 
Each spread shows a distinctive child (easy to find in the classroom scene) with equally distinctive parents and siblings. A little boy has two moms who “like to sing really loud,” while another has two dads who “both give good hugs” as they tuck him in at night. One girl spends one week with Mom and the next week with Dad; “Fair’s fair,” she says. One boy’s mom, who is confined to a wheelchair, told him that “before I was born I grew in her heart.”
In every case, the scenes are filled with joy. The narrator needn’t have worried about her family being different; each family in this book is unique. (Adults reading the book aloud to their offspring will likely find some comments especially touching. The little girl who lives with her grandmother, for example, says “people sometimes think she’s my mother. She’s not. She’s my everything.”)
And the narrator? It turns out she’s a foster child. By the time her turn rolls around, she knows just what to tell the class. She talks about the time someone asked her mother which of the three children with her in the park are her real children. The mother’s response is O’Leary’s writing at its best! And Leng’s triumphant final spread says it all.
It's traditional to praise the intelligence of reviewers who like your work, but I truly am consistently impressed with the calibre of Goedhart's reviews and her ability to contextualize new children's books (I've just been off googling Bob Graham, whose work I was sadly ignorant of). I am also very pleased to live in a city with a newspaper that boasts a dedicated children's book reviewer.