The Children’s Book Review | March 13, 2020
Work It, Girl is an empowering series of biographies featuring modern women in the world of work, from designers and musicians to CEOs and scientists. Each of these vibrantly illustrated books tells the story of a remarkable woman in 10 chapters that highlight transformative moments in her life, following the ups and downs that she faced on her road to success. At the end, 10 key lessons show what you can learn from these moments, and self-reflection questions help you apply these lessons to your own life. Brightly colored photo illustrations of 3-D cut-paper artwork featuring inspiring quotes from these amazing women bring their stories to vivid life. Learn how to work it as you lay the foundations for your own successful career.
Where did you get the initial idea to create this series? Did you always envision it as a series?
When Quarto reached out and asked me to noodle on a series idea for young kids about women of today in work, I was over the moon. I had a laundry list of dozens of women we could write about, each with their own incredible story to tell. It only makes sense as a series because the subject matter is endless.
How do you consciously work to leave room for me, the illustrator, to add my own spin to these books?
Well, you, Sinem, are a genius, so it’s not hard to do my best to roll the red carpet out for you to do your thing. I try to pull colorful anecdotes out of my research, ones that I think lend themselves well to transforming into visual work on the page. In turn, your work allows me to think about my words not just as words, but as a world of possible imagery. It’s the best challenge!
What do your school visits look like?
I am obsessed with going to visit schools because kids are always hysterical, but I leave every visit exhausted and just bowing down to teachers and parents. I don’t know how they do it! Depending on the age of the kids, I come prepared to talk with them and not at them. We discuss how they know the names Oprah and J.K Rowling, and we talk about the challenges those women faced while trying to achieve their dreams. Then we talk about biographies and the difference between fact and fiction, and we go around the room and share the titles of our own books (like yours would be “Learn to create beautiful and unique art like Sinem Erkas”)! I always leave room for questions because I really love hearing what kids have to say.
Of all the women you’ve written about so far, who would you most like to meet? What’s the first question you would ask her?
Oh man, hardest question ever!! I think I would choose Mae Jemison. Something I like about her is that she doesn’t have that global fame that Oprah and Michelle Obama have, but she is accomplished and world-changing and legendary for her work in STEM. She is such an inspiration to me and to so many who read her story. The first question I would ask her would be a math question. I just want her to explain science and numbers to me. I think I’d find that mesmerizing!
What were your favorite books when you were growing up?
I used to hate reading because I didn’t like the books school had to offer in the curriculum, but my grandma managed an independent bookstore in our town and my mom would take me there anytime I got an A, or 90 or above on a paper or an exam and I was allowed to choose any book I wanted. I got really into The Babysitter’s Club series but I also loved Just As Long As We’re Together by Judy Bloom. I read that book 100 times at least. I recently went on the SSR podcast to talk about how it held up after 30 years. I loved mystery books, too. I used to think Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney about a little girl who discovers she was kidnapped when she sees her picture on the back of a milk box was the scariest thing ever. But I loved it. I used to try to sneak books into church so I wouldn’t have to pay attention to the mass.
Any new projects in the works? Can you give us a hint what’s next?
If you know “who runs the world” I bet you can guess…
Caroline Moss Asks Sinem Erkas
How do you approach illustrations for each new Work It, Girl book?
I start with some research and sketches, noting character quirks, reading your manuscript and highlighting my favorite bits that I want to illustrate. This is challenging because the writing is so engaging, and there’s often too much I want to pick out! Each book has a different personality and its own limited color palette, which is really satisfying to work out. I’m really grateful that you and the publisher leave the brief completely open and just trust me to fill the pages with visuals. I enjoy not knowing what I am going to come up with and just reading the inspiring stories of these women and seeing what springs to mind. My main goal is to always have fun creating the visuals because then I hope that means people looking at them are also having fun.
How did you become a children’s book illustrator?
I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins and then ended up working in branding which wasn’t very ‘me’. So to keep sane I made lots of things in my spare time like balloon sculptures and album covers for friends, and then I self-published a project which opened my eyes to the wonderful world of publishing! I’ve been a book cover designer for 10 years working across all types of books from literary, classics, children’s, crime to cookery and non-fiction. Sometimes I would collaborate with other illustrators or photographers to visualize my ideas, but the most rewarding projects were always the ones I illustrated myself. I quickly got commissioned by a lot of publishers both in the UK and the USA, and this eventually led to children’s book illustration commissions.
Has your style and medium changed over the years? What do you prefer to work in and how does the physical part of the process work from the first draft to what you send the editor?
I decided to make paper illustrations for the Work It Girl series so they feel tactile and have a sense of collectability. I have always loved making with my hands just as much as I love working digitally, so I like to mix it up depending on the project. For example, I might bring an element of craft into my work (sculpting with paper, embroidering or constructing a design in 3D). On the other hand, I might make flat and refined digital graphics. I think it is my playful approach, bold colors and graphic style that is consistent throughout my portfolio rather than a set medium. I think because I am from a graphic design background I always try to visually get to the point as minimally as I can (without being boring). When I work in paper the physical process can be quite long. I first sketch my ideas, then finesse the compositions in Photoshop. I then print them out so I can use them as a guide to cut and sculpt the designs out of paper. Finally, I light and photograph the paper illustrations to put back on the computer. I love working across these analog and digital platforms!
Which spread was the hardest to illustrate so far? What’s your favorite?
The challenging spreads tend to be the quote pages where I like to illustrate the quotes in a more abstract way, but they’re also the most fun to figure out. My favorite always changes, but in Michelle Obama, it might be the spread with birds, I really enjoyed making all those textured feathers. Also, the illustrations of imagining how ‘fly’ Michelle Obama would be as an old lady. In Mae Jemison, my favorite illustration is the one with girls floating in space making up a question mark, which questions the future of our planet.
What do you like to do when you’re not illustrating?
Yoga, trying to be a good vegetarian and I’m currently preparing for a baby! I plan to make a lot of pompoms and knitted toys!
Any new projects in the works? Can you give us a hint what’s next?
I’ve just finished illustrating book 5 in the Work It Girl series and have made a start on book 6! These won’t be out until October so I’m keeping the details hush-hush! Further news and work in progress will be on our Instagram account @workitgirlbooks.
Written by Caroline Moss
Illustrated by Sinem Erkas
Publisher’s Synopsis: In this imaginatively illustrated book from the Work It, Girl series, discover how Michelle became an inspirational leader, FLOTUS, lawyer, author, and role model in this true story of her life. Then, learn 10 key lessons from her work you can apply to your own life.
Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a little bungalow with a close-knit family. She loved going to school, and she knew that one day, she would use her voice to empower other young girls, just like her. Young Michelle was a brilliant student and a wonderful daughter. With hard work and talent, she propelled herself into the universities of Princeton and Harvard. She qualified as a lawyer and life was going smoothly…Then she met a guy named Barack.
Ages 7-12 | Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books | March 3, 2020 | ISBN-13: 978-0711245181
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About the Author
Caroline Moss is an author based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan and more. Her first book, “HEY LADIES!” came out in May 2018. She loves scary movies and pickles.
About the Illustrator
Sinem Erkas is a graphic artist and art director with an appetite for experimentation and a good sense of fun. Mainly working in publishing, her practice ranges from digital artworks to 3D photo-illustrations – her favorite projects involve creating playful and bold imagery that makes you look twice. Based in South London, she graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2008 (1st in BA Graphic Design). She has since acquired numerous awards for her designs and illustrations, and her work has been included in London exhibitions and the Venice Biennale ’09.
This interview—Caroline Moss and Sinem Erkas Discuss the ‘Work It, Girl’ Series—was conducted between Caroline Moss and Sinem Erkas. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Girl Empowerment, Historical Figures, Inspirational Figures, Michelle Obama, and Women’s History.