Friday, October 8, 2010


Winner of the Americas Award for Illustration: Children's and Young Adult Literature and a Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration.

My Name is Celia. Me Llamo Celia. Written by Monica Brown.


My name is Celia: The life of Celia Cruz by Monica Brown is an exuberant picture-book biography of the Cuban-born salsa singer. From its rhythmic opening, the first-person narrative dances readers through Cruz's youth in Havana, a childhood bounded by scents of nature and home, the sweet taste of sugar, and the sound of music. A singer from an early age, Cruz sang so continually that one of her teachers finally urged her to share her voice with the world. Thus encouraged, she entered competitions, undeterred when her racial heritage prevented her from competing - undeterred, even, when the advent of Castro's communist regime forced her to leave Cuba as a refugee. Positive even in exile, Cruz made New York City her own and took Miami by storm. The salsa-influenced prose presented in English and in Spanish is followed by a straightforward vita of the singer, noting her death in July 2003. Lopez's distinguished, luminous acrylic paintings are alive with motion, lush with brilliantly layered colors, and informed with verve and symbolism. This is a brilliant introduction to a significant woman and her music. The only enhancement required is the music itself.
-from Del Sol Books

This was my first children's book and I couldn't have been more inspired by the subject- the late great Celia Cruz. What a great opportunity to work with the talented Monica Brown. Monica and I have continued to collaborate and enjoy speaking around the country to schools and conferences about how writers and illustrators work together. I can't tell you how much music fuels my work and in my opinion there is nothing like Latin Jazz. I filled my studio with the exuberant power of her voice and began to draw. I made mood boards with images of her, watched videos of her performances and tried to dig deeper into her own words to conjure the right vibe for these paintings. The queen of Latin rhythm said "Afro-Cuban music is the root of today's Salsa. It is steeped in cultural indentity and embraces the folklore of every town and province of the tropics. It is a source of pride, of happiness, of being alive. It is what I bring to the people."

In this scene I show her sitting on the lap of her big, strong father and listening to him tell stories about working on the railroad. Later in life Celia said "In a sense, I have fulfilled my father's wish to be a teacher as, through my music I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that can be found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar."

This scene shows Celia and her cousin Nenita traveling far and wide by bus in Cuba to sing in competitions. I needed to leave space for the text in both English and Spanish and so I used this diagonally flowing composition to show movement.

New York became Celia's new home and I hoped to show her excitement at arriving in such a place filled with diverse cultures and people, lights and music.

Celia sang with Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colon bringing salsa to the Americas. These legends brought Latin music into the spotlight and made it known worldwide.

My wife and I love dancing and I was lucky enough to create a stamp for the United States Postal Service about Latin music. The contribution of Celia Cruz and her contemporaries is enormous because their music blended rock with rumba and mambo with jazz.

Indeed Celia is the queen of Latin music having recorded more than 50 albums. She broke down racial and cultural barriers in the process with her exceptional talent, passion and perseverance. As an illustrator I like to juxtapose unrelated things to form new symbols. In this case a musical note becomes her crown.

Here this red bird represents the free flying joy that is her music. I wanted to showcase her potent life force, that wonderful smile and her flamboyant costumes.

Before and after her performances Celia would yell out these famous words "Azucar" sprinkling her audiences with sugar. In the paintings for this book, in the faces of the characters, with color and texture I tried to synthesize the timeless magic of her music.

1 comment:

  1. I love the illustrations for the book. THANKS for posting a preview. I plan on purchasing this book.