Jump Into this Guest Post by Shadra Strickland About Her Latest Book: Jump In!
Been a while since I had a guest post on this blog. I get a fair number of asks, but I don’t usually say yes to the requests. Not unless the person is talking about a book that I happen to already like quite a lot. So when Alexa Higbee of Bloomsbury asked if perhaps I’d be interested in a post from Shadra Strickland regarding her newest picture book Jump In!, I jumped on the offer.
Just to give you a sense of the book, here’s my own description of it, written not that long ago:
“Ticktack, ticktack through the wind. / Feet bounce up the block in time … Jump in!” Join a hot summer day on the asphalt as kids (and adults!) show the different ways to jump in and have a good time in this vibrant paean to fun. There’s this little mention at the front of the book by the author where she says that the art in this book has been influenced by the work of Italian Futurists. I wonder now if I would have picked up on that at all if I hadn’t read it first. What I definitely would have noticed was how much joy and sheer energy there is in these pages. This actually feels like a contemporary update to last year’s The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson. Only here you not only have kids “jumping in” (and that can mean a lot of different things) but adult community members that all the kids are familiar with too. About the point that the reverend was jumping in, I was sold on the book. Skip to it and give it a read.
Do you get why I was excited by the possibility of a guest post? If so, and without further ado, here it is:
“Go outside and play.”
I can’t count the number of times I heard this growing up. For most of my childhood my mom and I lived in apartment buildings. As I was her only child, this was fantastic for me because there were always other kids around. We’d make our own fun for hours—running, playing hand games, jumping rope, riding bikes, skating; you name it.
Through my child lens, Atlanta wasn’t extremely diverse —it was mostly black and white. Though I lived outside of the city, I went to the same predominantly black schools as my mom and her siblings, and all of us kids knew one another’s families. My mom taught high school English and wanted me to have an expansive view of the world, so she exposed me to many different people and places as best she could. As a single mother, she learned early on that if she gave me paper and pencils, I’d disappear for hours at a time to go draw and write stories. Along the way, she enrolled me in classes at local community art centers. That gave me the confidence to leave the South and pursue I illustration and design in Syracuse, NY, and then again in New York City.
Jump In! happened kind of by accident. I wrote it for fun as a poetic exercise after seeing double dutchers on a commercial. When I shared the manuscript with my agent she exclaimed, “Where have you been hiding this!?” She sold it quickly—coincidentally to the publishing house where I worked as a part-time designer for many years—but I sat on it for several years while I was teaching and completing other projects. When I finally did begin sketching the book dummy in 2017 I thought, whose idea was it to put all these characters in a story? Oh, yeah . . . mine. I was extremely intimidated by the thought of illustrating it. I also lost my mother that year, which brought all progress to a halt.
In the preliminary draft, the story just didn’t fit into a conventional 32-page book format, so I played what if? and crafted a paper dummy with pages that folded out in many directions. I thought, nobody’s going to say yes to this,but mailed it to my editor anyway, and she approved it! Then I thought, wait a minute, did you just give yourself more work to do???
Initially the gatefolds were there to give me a bit more real estate to support the rhythm of the text. “Jump in” as a refrain needed one additional visual beat and the gatefolds achieved that where a page turn would not. Visually, I needed to make sure that the reveals of the images behind the folds also extended the narrative in a fun and interesting way for readers.
Once the structure was solved, I thought, how am I supposed to make the art jump “off” the page? I didn’t think I could do the book justice with my usual painting or printmaking work, so I looked back at art history and remembered the dynamic views, movement, and shifting landscapes of the Italian futurists. Fortunato Depero’s Skyscrapers and Tunnel and Tullio Crali’s Before the Parachute Opens were big inspirations for me and had stuck with me since childhood (thank you, elementary art teachers!). I also drew from the dramatic establishing playground shots in the original 1961 West Side Story prologue by cinematographer Daniel Fapp. I had been toying around with the idea of working digitally for this book, and it really was the best decision given the amount of flexibility that digital work provides. I was able to render characters, scan in textures, and include some sensibilities from printmaking while using digital effects to give a strong sense of movement, specifically where we see the ropes turning.
Jump In! draws upon my sense of play and love for community. The community depicted in the book is rich and diverse, reflecting a balance of my childhood experiences and my view of community as it evolved over the years. Double dutch became the vehicle to express that, but at its core, the book for me is a celebration of community, play, and expression. Kind of like the making of the book!
I can’t thank Shadra enough for taking the time to walk us through her process and her book. Here’s a secret: Any author/illustrator who talks at length about gatefolds is going to instantly get my attention. Jump In! is on shelves everywhere as of yesterday, so go on out and grab it while you can!
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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