We’re so happy to have author-illustrator Lily Williams here to talk about her beautiful and meaningful work, including IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED, the third book in her IF ANIMALS DISAPPEARED series. We chatted about her books and her process!
Let’s start with the book we recently reviewed, IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED, the third book in the series, following a book on sharks and polar bears. Can you tell us how you chose Elephants, and specifically the African Forest Elephant, as your muse?
With the If Animals Disappeared books, I follow the science. I assumed in If Elephants Disappeared that I’d write about the African Savannah elephant, however, when I started doing the research there was little in the way of their impact on the environment. I read scientific studies and was struggling to find information until Katherine Roy (who wrote and illustrated How To Be An Elephant) and knew I was having a hard time with the research, found a scientific article about African forest elephants and sent it to me. Until then, I had no idea there were even African forest elephants!
The topic of Trophic Cascade plays heavily in your If Animals Disappeared books. Can you tell us a bit more about that and how you first became interested in the topic?
The whole series started with sharks, because they’re my favorite animal. I was volunteering for the nonprofit Shark Stewards at the time and trying to figure out how I could help save sharks. I watched a shark documentary where at the end the marine biologist mentioned that sharks were important to our oceans and then didn’t explain why and the documentary ended. I realized that if I could explain that WHY concept (why sharks are important, why we need to save them, why we should care) to people in a way that anyone like myself, just an artist with no scientific background, could understand then I had to figure out how to explain what would happen if sharks disappeared.
Your artwork is beautifully creative, blending sweet characters with lush animal and habitat imagery. Can you tell us some of your methods and secrets? Do you sketch? Paint? How do these illustrations come to your mind, and then how do you recreate them on the page?
Thank you so much! I sketch often in pencil, but sometimes digitally in photoshop, and the final product is created in photoshop. I like to keep my art very playful because it contrasts with the heavy topics. When I’m writing the book, I start to form the art in my head and eventually I put pencil to paper.
Have you chosen another animal to feature in an upcoming If Animals Disappeared book? How do you decide which animals to feature? What are you working on next?
Right now I’m finishing up If Bees Disappeared and starting to research If Tigers Disappeared. I’m really excited for If Bees Disappeared because I think it’s going to be exciting for kids to learn that so small is so important! Sadly there are so many animals, insects, and even flora and fauna that I could write about! I usually focus on different areas of the world so that we can all see it’s a global issue that we all need to work together on.
Is there a connecting thread within all of your work? You are the author and illustrator of other books and have worked on many different projects. What ties it all together for you as a creator?
I love truths and enjoy breaking down unapproachable topics that aren’t often considered topics for children. I guess it all comes from my curiosity about truths and a way to express my anger and frustration at injustices. I think so many children’s book authors feel and do the same!
Can you tell us about your creative process? Do you have any fun rituals or habits for when you sit down to write or illustrate?
I joke that I’m a “method artist” because I really get into the headspace of the characters and sometimes even feel disoriented when I look up.
What are you reading now? And what books did you love as a child?
I always loved reading the Kevin Henke’s mouse books about Owen and Lilly. I was late to reading, but once I started liking it, I had a mom who loved to read so I read whatever she gave me. Right now I’ve been reading a lot of adult nonfiction and recently finished Himalaya Bound by Michael Benanav. I love facts!
Besides writing and illustrating, what are some of your favorite hobbies or interests?
I love being outdoors, walking, swimming, hiking, and camping. I also spend a lot of time sewing which is often protested by my two sassy rabbits.
Written and Illustrated by Lily Williams
Publisher’s Synopsis: What would happen if elephants disappeared? Trace the repercussions of a world without elephants in writer and illustrator Lily Williams’ third picture book about loss and conservation.
The Congolese forest is home to many types of animals.
Some are strong.
Some are slippery.
Some are loud.
And some, like the elephant, are BIG.
The elephant has become synonymous with the image of African wildlife. They can grow over 10 feet tall and eat up to 300 pounds a day. While these giants are beloved figures in movies and zoos, they also play a large role in keeping the forest ecosystem healthy.
Unfortunately, poachers are hunting elephants rapidly to extinction for their ivory tusks, and that could be catastrophic to the world as we know it.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | September 17, 2019 | ISBN: 978-1250143204
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About the Author-Illustrator
Lily Williams grew up in Northern California. She received her BFA with high distinction from California College of the Arts. Lily seeks to inspire change, engage audiences, and educate people of all ages with her artwork. Her work can be seen in films, books, and on the web. This is Lily’s third book for children, following If Sharks Disappeared and If Polar Bears Disappeared.
This interview—Lily Williams Discusses the If Animals Disappeared Series—was conducted between Lily Williams and Denise Mealy. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Elephant Books, Endangered Species Books, Environmental, Lily Williams, Non-Fiction, and Picture Book.