Guest Post – Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son by John Parra
With National Hispanic Heritage Month being celebrated between September 15th – October 15th the time is ripe for a celebration of books and personal stories you might not find floating about the internet elsewhere. Today I am delighted to share with you this guest piece from John Parra about his autobiographical new picture book GROWING AN ARTIST. The book is described in this way by its publisher:
Today is a big day—the first time Juanito gets to help his papi on the job as a landscape architect! Throughout the day, Juanito sketches anything that catches his eye: a nest full of baby birds, a nursery with row upon row of plants and flowers, and more. Father and son travel from house to house, pruning, weeding, mowing, and turning overgrown and chaotic yards into beautiful spaces.
A few of the clients don’t appreciate Papi’s hard work, like Juanito’s classmate who pretends not to see him. But Papi always feels pride in owning his own business and in a job well done. And at the end of the day, Juanito may get the chance to turn his artistic eye toward landscape design—just like his papi.
John . . . Take it away!
Growing up, I worked for my father who ran his own landscape and construction business. I began accompanying him to work when I was seven, at first helping with small tasks; by the time I was thirteen, it was my part-time job. It was hard work, but I loved it. I also helped my father with his landscape blueprints. For twelve years, I learned from him and even considered studying landscape architecture and design as a career before embarking on my path towards becoming an illustrator. The pages of my book, GROWING AN ARTIST: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son, are a snapshot of my memories of the experiences and inspiration that came with working alongside my dad.
In addition to enjoying my landscape work, I, like many young kids, was passionate about making art. My father loved to draw too and became my first art mentor. Often while sitting at a restaurant, he would sketch using his work pen to doodle on the white paper placemat. He would then tell my brothers and me stories about his adventures as a young man in the army, or about how, as a boy, he would clean up an area of land in his old Bakersfield neighborhood to play baseball. Sometimes, he’d tell me about marches organized by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta to help migrant farm workers protest unfair pay and living conditions in California’s Central Valley. Each drawing and story amazed us more than the last. My dad planted the seeds for my creativity.
As a first-time author, I began writing this manuscript under the tentative title: The Little Landscaper. Recalling memories, the scenes came quickly as I worked to develop them into a plot. I took the lessons learned from illustrating manuscripts by other wonderful authors and did my best to apply them in my own writing. My goal was to include themes that spoke of the bond between a father and son and family, the importance of hard work, and the links between art, nature, and creativity. I also wanted to shine a light on jobs and workers that often go unnoticed, and to encourage readers to feel proud of who they are and where they come from.
As with all my other picture book projects, the process for creating it was founded on research. I rediscovered a wealth of resources in my dad’s old papers and work materials. I found landscape photos, business cards, work flyers, newspaper articles, and more. One item that I particularly treasured is an old 1973 issue of Family Circle magazine with an article that features my dad’s landscape work. I remember thinking that he was famous! There are other references in the book; the book’s setting includes visual references to the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, CA, where I was born. Further inspiration came from various landscaping books, environmental design websites, and garden themed children’s books.
This book has taken me on an incredibly rewarding journey, both personally and professionally. I am grateful to be able to share stories with my art, and now with my writing, too. It is on this creative path that is forever evolving, and hopefully always worth taking, that there is room for all of us to grow into and as artists.
Many thanks to John for today’s post. You’ll find GROWING AN ARTIST on bookstore and library shelves everywhere now. Thanks too to Nicole Russo and the folks at Simon & Schuster for sharing John’s piece with us today.
Filed under: Guest Posts
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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