Maya Lin – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Maya Lin, Artist-Architect of Light and Lines-Designer of the Vietnam Memorial

Author: Jeanne Walker Harvey

Illustrator: Dow Phumiruk

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books, 2017

Ages: 7-12

Themes: artist, architect, biography, Vietnam Memorial, women


In the woods by her childhood home,                                                                                         Maya Lin played with her brother                                                                                                 and explored and climbed the many rolling hills,                                                                           one she named the Lizard’s back.


As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Goodreads)

Why I like this book:

Not being American, I had no idea about this art-architect’s story. I like how the author begins with Maya as a young child in a home of creative parents who didn’t put limitations on their daughter in contrast to the restrictions they themselves had experienced before fleeing China.

Young listeners will be as surprised as I was to discover that Maya was still a student when she sent her anonymous application in 1420 other entries for the competition to be the architect of the Vietnam Memorial. They will also be perturbed, as I was, to learn that when the judges and others discovered her identity, there was much resistance. Because she was young? A woman? Child of an immigrant? Her bravery and refusal to back down is extraordinary. I loved the details about her naming so many of her creations, often with words from nature.

Dow’s artwork mirrors the shaping of the artist and her work, as well as her early influences and her sensitivity to the natural world. It shows careful design as befits a biography of an architect. Peace and awe emanate from the illustrations, just as one experiences in visiting the great memorial.


I am grateful to Goodread’s reviewer, Angela, for the recommendation of pairing this biography with the picture book, Talking Walls by Margy Burns Knight and Anne Sibley O’Brien, which introduces young readers to different cultures by exploring the stories of walls around the world and how they can separate or hold communities together.

Don’t miss my interview this week with the illustrator, Dow Phumiruk.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

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Dow Phumiruk Ng – Illustrator Interview

I’ve known Dow a couple of years on line, and she is one of those people with whom I have interacted with such frequency that I feel we have already met in real life. And, yay for my first Thai illustrator intevreiw. Thailand is a nation in which I had a wonderfully warm experience, and I would love to go back. 

Dow’s debut picture book as author is coming out next year, and this Friday for PPBF, I am reviewing her first picture book as illustrator — Maya Lin, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey.


[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?       

[DP] Author and illustrator, heavy on the illustrator. A doodle or sketch can prompt a story idea, but words first to create the story.

In times when I’ve tried drawing first, my writing ends up awkward. It feels the same as when I draw something complicated without reference and then get stuck. I find myself trying to work backwards by enlisting the help of passerby family members to get that body part just right – but then I can’t get them posed like the people in my drawing (they look like they are one round 6 of a game of Twister)! For me, the text first works best!

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[DP] I was born in Bangkok, Thailand. We moved to the Chicago area when I was almost three. After that I lived in Texas, New Mexico, and have since settled in Colorado, where my husband grew up.

My birth country is an obvious influence on Mela in the Jungle, my first book project as an author (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018). It’s my own Thai fable. I loved incorporating information about Thailand in the author’s note. My home life was so different from the lives of people I saw in mainstream media. The new commitment to diversity in children’s books is something I never imagined. It makes me happy to embrace this push wholeheartedly. All children need to see themselves in stories so we don’t feel like outsiders in the country we call home. I’d love to redraw all the fairy tales with Asian main characters!

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[DP] As a kid, I loved arts and crafts but never thought of it as a career choice. My mother strongly influenced me into a career in medicine (she was a nurse). It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I rediscovered art and even longer before I felt comfortable calling myself an artist. My children were my inspiration. In 2011, I joined SCBWI. Our local Rocky Mountain SCBWI chapter is strong, and we have had some seriously excellent illustrator faculty that helped me learn the ropes. By August 2011, I purchased my Wacom tablet and fell in love with working digitally. Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency offered representation after seeing my portfolio at RMC-SCBWI conference in 2015, and she secured my first contract with Christy Ottaviano Books shortly after I signed. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, by Jeanne Walker Harvey, was released last month. I have three more books coming out next year.

[JM] I know you have your first book as an author coming out next year. Tell us a little of how Mela in the Jungle came to be.

[DP] I thank SCBWI for this book. I wrote the story to enter the SCBWI On-the Verge Emerging Voices Award contest that was established to promote diversity in children’s books – and won! Sue (Planet Kindergarten books) and Martin Schmitt are the founders of this award. A few years later, an editor from Sleeping Bear Press (whom I had met at our local conference) picked up the manuscript. Ziyue Chen, a past SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship winner, is the illustrator! I love seeing the work of other artists, and it is fascinating to see how she is developing the art for my story. I can’t wait to share that next year!!

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[DP] I am most comfortable and speediest with digital work. I have a folder full of scanned textures that I pull from to add interest to my digitally created work. One day, if time allows, I hope to have the time to revisit traditional media.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

[DP] I can’t share contracted work, but I whipped up a little something just for you! Of course, it serves double duty as an illustration I will submit to SCBWI’s Draw This artist activity. I have fun doing those, as they are monthly – not too demanding! Anyway, this one will be for the prompt “splash.” 

[JM] Wow, thanks for sharing Splash with us. What does your workspace look like? 

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[DP] Flowers in the Attic and the rest of the series by V. C. Andrews in middle school. I can’t remember buying anything but comic books before then! However, as a young child, I spent lots of time at the Skokie Public Library and our elementary school library. I loved Amelia Bedelia books and Mandy by Julie Andrews. Cinderella art by Mary Blair mesmerized me. I also checked out arts and crafts books frequently.

[JM] I loved Mandy, too! What artwork do you have hanging in your new home? 

[DP] My girls and I really enjoy art. My middle daughter especially creates intricate paper cut art and collages whenever she has free time. So, between their pieces and mine, we have lots of stuff on the walls!

 The buffalo is one of my earliest watercolor pieces, and the paper cut collage is my middle daughters and recently took Best In Show for an art show we enter through my husband’s company!

[JM] Which writing/art groups or organizations do you belong to, and how has this helped you?

[DP] SCBWI changed my life. I had limited interaction with professional artists and authors before this. I was awestruck at my first local conference, finding myself surrounded by creative people just like me! Pretty much everything I know about the business and the basics of illustration I’ve learned through SCBWI gatherings. I also joined my first critique group after meeting local artists through SCBWI. This organization has been invaluable to me.

In addition to SCBWI, I participate in a couple of online critique groups, and KidLit411, Storystorn, and ReForeMo. These are full of great resources, community, and support!

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[DP] I have few. My top two are: Rocky Mountain National Park, since I live in Denver and can easily get there, and the Bluffs Regional Park that backs to my home. The Bluffs aren’t fancy, but there are pretty views and usually wildlife. We hop up for a walk almost every day (because I sit all day drawing or studying). 

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

Mila – brother’s cat

[DP] I love animals, but cats have a special place in my heart. I don’t think I’ve been around dogs enough to fairly compare, though! The problem, though, is that my family members are allergic to cats. Now I am a doting long-distance auntie to my brother’s cat, Mila (Thai name: Meerap, with means “has luck”). 

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[DP] I talk to myself a lot (especially when stressed!), my closet often looks like a tornado hit it, and I’ve met Adam Ant, back in the day.

[JM] What was your first paid job out of high school?

[DP] I worked at a hip clothing retail chain at our local mall out of high school. But the job I want to tell you about is after that, when I was a waitress at a Japanese restaurant during college. My husband worked for a Japanese company at the time, so he and his coworkers were regulars. Soon he built up the nerve to ask me out. The rest is history!

Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices? I go through spurts every few months. Lately it’s been an apple a day. And salt and vinegar chips. For drinks, I have a morning cup of coffee, then iced tea, then Diet Dr. Pepper keeps me going in the afternoon. Once in a while, I’ll have coconut juice (it’s mostly sugar!).

I love your art for Maya Lin, which you will see in my review on Friday, and I can’t wait to see Mela in the Jungle next year.


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Town is By The Sea – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title:  Town is by the Sea

Author: Joanne Schwartz

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2017

Ages: 5-8


Themes: under the sea mining, Cape Breton, coal towns, dangerous jobs, historical fiction


From my house I can see the sea.

It goes like this—house, road, grassy cliff, sea.


A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea.

Why I like this book:

This is a gem of a story, both the text and illustrations. Set in the 50’s, in a Cape Breton mining town by the sea, this simple story of a boy and his family’s day to day life, with its ever present dangers is haunting and moving.

The patterns of repeated phrases and scenes, and the dominating presence of the ocean in all its moods is somehow mystical and concrete at the same time. The author and illustrator achieve this with this simple slice of life text, with moments playing on the broken swings and visiting grandad’s grave with a sea view (also a minor, of course).

The seamless continuity of life (and death) is reinforced towards the ends with the words:

I think about the bright days of summer                                                                                         and the dark tunnels underground.                                                                                                   One day, it will be my turn.          

I’m a minor’s son.                                                                                                                                     In my town, that’s the way it goes.

The artwork is evocative. Five full double paged spreads mostly black, deep under the sea. Through the day the boy is aware that “deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.” This repeated phrase accompanies the black spreads, the last underwater one in which the father and his colleagues are no longer visible.

 Beautiful double paged watercolor seascapes. My favorite four panels on the two pages, wordless, watching the slow movement of afternoon sun through the kitchen door as the boy waits for the return of his dad.

This is a beautiful Canadian picture book that I hope wins awards in and outside of its country.

I would buy this as a gift for adults, I love it that much!


Do check out my interview with the author here. 

I would love to see a book like this used on a unit about oceans.

Any unit on child labor at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, could include this book.

Art classes looking at the use of light and dark, could use this art work.

While not based on mining at sea, three historical fiction chapter books that could be read with Town by the Sea are:

  • IN COAL COUNTRY by Judith Hendershot. Illustrated by Thomas B. Allen. Unpaged. (Ages 5 to 10)
  • TROUBLE AT THE MINES by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by Joan Sandin. (Ages 8 to 12)
  • A BIRD ON ATER STREET by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Ages 8 to 12)

 Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.


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