HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Juana Martinez-Neal, Illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name

Illustration Inspiration: Juana Martinez-Neal, Illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name

The Children’s Book Review | June 12, 2018

Juana Martinez-Neal

Juana Martinez-Neal

Juana Martinez-Neal is the daughter and granddaughter of painters. She started her story in Lima, Peru, and then moved to the United States. The winner of a 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, Juana Martinez-Neal is still writing the story of her life, with the help of her husband and three children, in Arizona.

I make art because …

There’s nothing else I like doing as much as making art. It is the way I communicate and connect with the world.

My latest published book is …

Alma and How She Got Her Name and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre is my new picture book, published simultaneously in English and Spanish editions. This is my author-illustrator debut, published by Candlewick Press. It is the story of Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela who doesn’t understand why she was given such a long name. In the book, Alma asks her dad and she learns the story behind each of her names.  At the end of the story she comes to the realization that her name fits her just right.

Alma and How She Got Her Name Illustration
Alma and How She Got Her Name Illustration 2

ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME. Copyright © 2018 by Juana Martinez-Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Art medium used …

I’m a mixed media, traditional artist. Old school is my way of creating artwork.

Most of the time I use acrylics, colored pencils, and graphite on handmade texture paper. I change my technique a little for each book as a way to keep the work fresh and interesting.

For Alma, I created the artwork on handmade textured paper with colored pencils and graphite (plain old pencil). For the illustrations of the photos of the relatives I used black and white prints of my drawings which were transferred to my surface. I added colored pencils and graphite on top.

Artistic process …

Whether I’m illustrating, or writing and illustrating, my artistic process remains the same: lots of thinking, then running to make the deadline – chances are I have spent too much time thinking.

I am inspired by …

Everything. Pattern, color, light, a street, roof tiles, song lyrics, my dog, my children, love. A baby’s hair, the fringe in a Peruvian hat, wildflowers, imperfection. It’s all about experiences and how I feel them.

My favorite place to create & illustrate is …

My studio.

We built it shortly after moving to Arizona. It is my most favorite place with its skylights, glass doors and yellow walls. I am happy just being there.

My most used art supply or tool is …

My 0.5mm mechanical pencil loaded with 4B leads, and my index finger (I smudge a lot).

Illustrator idols …

This is a hard question that must have a long answer.

I love the work of John Bauer, Gyo Fujikawa, Maurice Sendak and The Provensens. For contemporary illustrators: Rebecca Dautremer, Isabelle Arsenault, Beatrice Alemagna, Carson Ellis, Christian Robinson and Sean Qualls. I also love the work of Klee, Gauguin, Rousseau, Sargent, Andrew Wyeth and Mary Cassatt.

All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate …

This is the easiest answer: El Principito (The Little Prince).

A literary character to create art with …

Once again, El Principito (The Little Prince).

Currently working on …

I just delivered the art for Babymoon written by Hayley Barrett to Candlewick Press. It is about the first day you bring your newborn baby home. I’m currently working on sketches for a new picture book, and painting the art for Swashby and the Sea, written by Beth Ferry to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Website & Social URLs …

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Alma-and-How-She-Got-Her-NameAlma and How She Got Her Name

Written and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher’s Synopsis: What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Candlewick | April 10, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0763693558

Available Here: 


Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre

Written and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher’s Synopsis:¿Cómo terminó Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela con un nombre tan largo? Mientras Papi le cuenta la historia de cada uno de sus nombres, Alma comienza a sentir cómo cabe perfectamente en ellos.

Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Candlewick | April 10, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0763693589

Available Here: 

Fun Stuff: 

Teacher Tip Card: https://edelweiss-assets.abovethetreeline.com/CAND/supplemental/Alma_TeacherTipCard.pdf

Activity Kit English: http://juanamartinezneal.com/wp-content/uploads/books/alma/Alma_activities_eng.pdf

Activity Kit Spanish: http://juanamartinezneal.com/wp-content/uploads/books/alma/Alma_activities_esp.pdf

For author events, readers can visit: http://juanamartinezneal.com/events/

Discover more picture book illustration inspiration and books like Alma and How She Got Her Name and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre, written and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with , , and .


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The Children’s Book Review, named one of the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Great Web Sites for Kids, is a resource devoted to children’s literacy. We publish reviews and book lists of the best books for kids of all ages. We also produce author and illustrator interviews and share literacy based articles that help parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to grow readers. This article was written and provided by a guest author.

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