Talking With the Creative Team Behind the New Children’s Book
This Thursday, Oct. 15, Hawai‘i families and schoolteachers trying to educate youngsters about the coronavirus got a special treat: the debut of locally authored children’s book “Six Feet Together,” written with love and empathy by Beverly da Silva and illustrated with gentle whimsy by Kat Uno (pre-order sale price $9.99; retail $12.95).
Through its playful rhymes and images of children in different local ‘ohana trying their best to understand social-distancing practices, the book teaches basic public-health practices for pre-K- and elementary-school-aged youngsters — even presenting a fun quiz on proper mask-wearing (mutualpublishing.com/product/six-feet-together/).
The Herald emailed the book’s creative team to learn about their artistic process, experiences and vision. Enjoy a peek into the worlds of these talented Nikkei artists. We expect to see more of their work soon!
Author – Beverly da Silva
HH: How did you work with Kat Uno in creating the story?
DA SILVA: … [I]t’s usually the case that the author and illustrator of children’s books never meet (although it would definitely be nice to do that someday!). Instead, the publisher plays matchmaker, knowing what style will bring a story to life.
I’m thrilled with the final product. It’s vibrant, capturing island life as well as this moment. I love the Zoom gallery on the little boy’s laptop.
HH: What were your concerns about the relationship between Hawai‘i kids and their küpuna, during this pandemic? [The Herald interviewer mentions a 2018 news article on da Silva visiting her elderly mother at her care home (kitv.com/story/38172531/every-mothers-day-a-special-one-for-this-family).]
DA SILVA: Thank you for looking up the KITV “Aging Well” story about my mom and myself. She died in 2019, but I think nearly every day about how challenging it is for caregivers to keep loved ones, both seniors and children, safe throughout the pandemic.
Six Feet Together cannot only help parents, family and teachers explain COVID-19 health and safety issues to young children, but could also potentially be used by caregivers and senior care facilities to start conversations with our küpuna.
HH: How did the book’s writing process start?
DA SILVA: Back in April, soon after the pandemic lockdowns began, I was hearing news stories about frontline healthcare workers having to take strict precautions to keep their little ones safe — not only the physical precautions, but also explanations about why they couldn’t give Mom or Dad a hug when they came home from work, or why they couldn’t go to Grandma’s house for a while. Around the same time, the phrase “six feet together” was taking hold in social media.
One of my favorite local boutiques, Eden in Love, launched a “six feet together” campaign encouraging people to do the right thing (social distancing) to keep our community safe. I thought six feet together would also be an effective way to illustrate social distance to children. I sat down to write, and soon I had a poem. I sent it to Eden in Love, who loved it and printed it as a poster for their store window when they were able to reopen.
A friend saw my Instagram post about it and encouraged me to publish it as a book. I worked with Mutual Publishing to incorporate hand-washing and mask-wearing into the story, as it became more and more apparent that our new normal would be here to stay for quite some time.
HH: What was your development of ideas for the story like?
DA SILVA: The writing process was relatively quick. The original poem was written in one night. The extended version took a few more days. The content came from the images and information we’re all surrounded by, in our constant news cycle. When I talk about the book, I don’t have to say much more than the title, and people get the concept.
HH: How have you gotten your ideas for other stories (such as your first book); and are any new books on the way?
DA SILVA: My first book (“Mele Bear, Hauoli Bear and My Grandmother’s Mango Tree”) was written as part of a collection at Liberty House, where I was the advertising department copy chief at the time. I have another manuscript out for review right now, inspired by my father’s garden in Käne‘ohe. And there are many more in my head, waiting to be written!
HH: Favorite Hawai‘i writers or storytellers?
DA SILVA: I admire the Bamboo Ridge writers group. My sister Gayle, who’s now an English professor in Tökyö, is my editorial sounding board. And my daughter Giada, who has not one but two chapter books in progress, is my inspiration.
Illustrator – Kat Uno
HH: How did you work with Beverly da Silva in illustrating the story and visualizing the book’s world of characters and places?
KAT UNO: I actually have never met Beverly in person, although I hope to, one day! You may be surprised, but in the majority (actually all so far) of my illustration jobs, I have virtually no contact with the authors! I usually will receive a brief with the manuscript and some general illustration guidelines, but most publishers are happy to allow me to create without any initial limitations or expectations.
HH: We noticed that you have illustrated other children’s books for audiences in the U.S. and the HH: When working on a book about Hawai‘i, are there any special artistic details you pay attention to? What did you do for this book, for instance, for a “local” look?
KAT UNO: I’m born, raised and currently live in Hawai‘i, so it’s actually easier for me to illustrate local books than books for publishers in other countries! I drew a lot from my home-town roots for some of the foliage and details in this book. I grew up on a pineapple farm in Ha‘ikü on Maui, so I was surrounded by a lot of lush plants there.
HH: How did your aesthetics try to make the “six feet” social-distancing rule appear reassuring and safe, even playful and fun, for young kids?
KAT UNO: First and foremost, I took the responsibility of illustrating a difficult topic seriously. Having two little ones of my own, I wanted to be sure to make the illustrations fun and engaging while portraying an important message. Although some of the kids had to look sad (in social-distancing situations), I played with incorporating cute or funny animals, to help bring some levity to the situation. I included a lot of color to the book as well, to brighten the mood.
HH: We noticed that you have been fairly successful as an illustrator, getting the attention of big-league marketing/creative agency Astound to book your illustration gigs. Any advice for fellow local artists?
KAT UNO: My advice is to put yourself out there; it’s never too late to start a new path. I honestly wasn’t sure if my agency would accept me; I was actually expecting to be rejected, based on my lack of professional experience at that time. I think a lot of people put off their dreams, because they are unsure that they’ll be successful — but if you never try, you’ll never know.
HH: Was there a particular challenge for you in reaching this level of notice, that you can briefly share with struggling illustrators or designers who grew up here?
KAT UNO: Honestly, now with the internet and social media, it’s so much easier to make contacts and get your work out in the world! Being repped by an agency really helped, as it put my work in front of art directors and publishers that I feel would have been very hard for me to do on my own.
HH: Or was there a certain trait of your work, or a particular job, that you feel has helped you get there?
KAT UNO: I think that practicing the craft and observing is very important. Although I don’t have time nowadays to create my own personal art, I am drawing daily, mainly for projects.
HH: Any new projects on the horizon, such as books, etc.?
KAT UNO: I’m constantly working on multiple things at a time. Most notably, I have started developing and writing my own stories which is scary and uncomfortable but exciting!
HH: Favorite Hawai‘i artist, designer, or illustrator?
KAT UNO: I love the very talented designer Jana Lam. She is a local textile designer who has a lovely range of products. I really admire her because like me, she’s a full-time working mom who has really found success doing something she loves.