Odeta Xheka Discusses Here Comes Ingo
The Children’s Book Review | May 15, 2019
Odeta Xheka is an artist and author in a quest to connect people with art in truly meaningful and enriching ways starting from early childhood. Most recently, she has published Here Comes Ingo, a picture book invested in open ended creative experiences.
Here Comes Ingo offers a unique picture book experience in that it is open ended allowing readers to add to the story via writing, painting, drawing, coloring and collaging on the actual pages of the book. What inspired you to create such a book?
I believe that all books for children should offer a truthful depiction of reality all the while promoting a positive worldview. Here Comes Ingo is my honest attempt as an artist and a parent to provide young readers with a set of creative tools that can serve them well in the future to push back against intolerance stemming from the fear of the unknown. After all, it is not every day that picture books provide them with the opportunity to come face to face with a shark eating cupcakes or a merry band of birds & frogs piggybacking on a chubby fish or even a solitary wolf wrapped in a rainbow. Yet, page after page, children are encouraged to resist feeling discouraged or confused in front of the unexpected and the unknown. Much like Ingo, they are to rely on their ability to embrace what at first may seem strange in order to fully enjoy the book. Equally important, Ingo’s flying adventures invite children to put their thinking hats on and figure out what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing in order to progress toward a mindset of love, kindness and inclusion because the world needs more empathetic, understanding and tolerant children.
Which age group do you feel Here Comes Ingo is best suited to?
I believe that artistic expression is a crucial part of human development and while Here Comes Ingois officially intended for 4-8 year olds, this picture book strives to create a sensory experience for the whole family. Children, parents, grandparents, guardians and sitters alike are encourage to make Ingo part of the family fun. Ideal for kindergarten and grade school children, this book may also come handy to teachers who seek opportunities for art projects, creative writing and other educational avenues that make use of picture books to teach comprehension (look at this picture- what do you thing is happening?), predicting (what do you think will happen next?), inferring (what makes you think that?), reasoning (what do you think that happened?) and sequencing (what happened first? next? last?).
With the goal to encourage exploration, self-expression, logical thinking, imagination, and creativity, all children get to make this book their own. Can you tell us about some of the artistic directions that readers of your book have taken?
Generally speaking, art is an instrument to encourage the process of thinking in an innovative way; art-related activities have been proven to boost a child’s self-image by instilling a sense of pride on the self-directed project. So, yeah, I am fully confident in my decision to make open ended creative experiences the foundation of Here Comes Ingo but there is a big difference between being absolutely certain of the power of art and having the guts to present an art-focused picture book (quelle horreur) to gifted and talented 7-8 year old second graders in love with Pokemon and Minecraft during a school visit.
Incredulous at first, they couldn’t believe that I was encouraging them to draw, paint, write ON the page. Once they made sure “on the page” really meant on the page, no string attached, they had a blast. I am happy to report that an unexpected high percentage of boys used pink crowns to decorate Ingo while a number of girls told me in no uncertain terms that my next book should be about “girl birds like Ingo but strong and tough”. I see a book series in the making.
What has been the best verbal response you have received from a reader, so far?
Stopping at a certain point in the day to have a cup of espresso or turkish coffee is a ritual amongst my friends. One of them, a mother of two working full time told me, “It took long enough for Amazon to deliver the book to Bulgaria, but it was worth it, I can finally drink my coffee in peace while my daughter gets lost in the book”. What can I say, I’m always ready to do a favor for a friend.
How did you approach the creative process for creating this book? And how long did it take you to complete the project from conception to published book?
Although Here Comes Ingo is technically a wordless picture book for children, it can easily qualify as an art book in its aim to familiarize children with figurative collage, an ancient art technique. Each illustration is a multilayered handmade paper collage with special attention paid to the Disney-like palette and the meticulously orchestrated arrangement of various cutouts of animals, insects, birds, grass and trees. In other words, each collage is a “painting made with scissors” as Henri Matisse famously put it referring to his paper cutouts series.
Each illustration is purposefully imbued with suggestive possibilities bordering on the surreal in order to provide Here Comes Ingo with an artistic language that is very inclusive and issues an open invitation for readers to stretch the visual story in front of them as far as their imagination permits. While the actual process of crafting and photographing each collage took only a few days, the process of selecting the cutouts took much longer. I have this long held habit of cutting and setting aside different bits and pieces that catch my eye for various reasons. Sometime it is the unexpected texture on a patch of color in one of my kids drawings, at other times I preserve a section from a magazine, yet another time I select small bits from my own art prints and wall decals. It is an ongoing process which in this case came to fruition in the best possible way.
The Mom’s Choice Award® named Here Comes Ingo among the best in family-friendly products. What does having this accolade mean to you?
I used to be a little bit wary of all things “mom” unfairly attaching a sense of domesticity to the concept. Until I became a mother myself and understood the multidimensionality involved in motherhood. In my opinion, the saying If you want something done, give it to a busy personshould actually have been If you want something done and done well, leave it to a mom. In this sense, I am immensely proud of Here Comes Ingo been recognized among the best by the Mom’s Choice Award®. In the words of Dawn Matheson, Executive Director of the Mom’s Choice Award, they aim to introduce families and educators to best-in-class products which help families grow emotionally, physically and spiritually. Parents and educators know that products and services bearing The Mom’s Choice Award®seal of approval are high quality and also a great value. The MCA evaluation program is designed to incorporate the expertise of scientists, physicians and other specialist; but also engages parents, children, educators, and caregivers because they are experts in knowing what is best for their families.
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
Many, many books, both on my nightstand and in my phone. I have always been a voracious reader and one of the things that makes me most proud as a parent is the love of reading that I have intrinsically instilled in my children as well. It is as likely to catch us immersed in a book while riding the subway in our hometown as it is to see us reading under the umbrella under the sun of the Caraibes away on vacation.
Illustrated by Odeta Xheka
Publisher’s Synopsis: Here Comes Ingo, a Mom’s Choice Awards Recipient is a great example of the benefits of art in early childhood development. This unique picture book encourages children to switch seats with the illustrator via painting, coloring and drawing directly ON the page in order to tap into their creativity and let the imagination soar. As with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over. Ingo invites children to visit again and again in order to expand on Ingo’s dream world following into the tradition of classic books such as Good Night, Gorilla, The Adventures of Polo, Tuesday, Where’s Walrus, Sea of Dreams and The Red Book.
Ages 3+ | Publisher: Outskirts Press | January 12, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1977207180
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