The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Hunter Liguore and Vikki Zhang, plus Review

I have the privilege today to introduce you to the creators of the beautiful and empowering picture book - The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup


Hunter Liguore is an author and advocate for living in harmony with the natural world and with one another. When not making soup, she is she is often roaming old ruins, hillsides, and cemeteries.



Vikki Zhang is an illustrator who was born in China and is now based in New York. She has illustrated over 50 books and book covers published worldwide.



Their picture book collaboration, The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup, released August 24th.


Welcome Hunter and Vikki,

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)


Hunter: My effort in the world is to walk soft and gentle, especially after walking so many years harshly. To 'walk softly' implies both a gentle physical step that is present and aware, enough to observe the snail on my path, or to pass a fawn undisturbed; it is also an inward awareness of being gentle and soft in every thought, which then carries outward into every action.


So whether I'm writing, teaching, cooking, traveling, or speaking and engaging others, I'm doing so fully aware that I'm part of the compassion and peace possible in the world.


The more we observe this, the more we can catch the moment of our own disruption or discord, and offer instead love and gentleness.


Vikki: I’ve been illustrating since I was a kid. I love telling stories with my drawings. Usually I began with some character doodling, titled them ages, jobs, relationships, personalities, and designed the house and neighborhood they lived. Then I made up stories of their daily life with series of drawings and strips.


Hunter, what a difference it would make if everyone did this, too. Vikki, what about The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup manuscript snagged your attention or captured your imagination? Who or what was the inspiration for your illustrations?


Vikki: Hunter’s writing leaves blank spaces for artists to recreate. She never drops a specific word that excludes any possibility. The story could be set in any era and area. I also thought of a Victorian Edwardian background, and the character could be a rabbit grandma and granddaughter. And that would totally make sense, because what Hunter’s telling us is a universal story and truth that lasts timelessly.


Vikki, what a great description of the story. I can see why you had fun illustrating it. Hunter, what was the inspiration or backstory for The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup?


Hunter: The Whole World in Nan’s Soup is a rumination on our ability to recognize our interconnectedness with ‘all’ people. It is wisdom passed down many generations through my own nanni who understood that in order to eat a single meal, it takes the whole world to make it.


Through the practice of gentle-cooking, each movement—washing veggies, cutting, etc.—is an act of love, infused with our own kindness, which is felt by those who eat it, and especially our gratitude, as we consider where everything that goes into making a meal comes from. Our dinner table doesn’t end at the four corners, but is reciprocal; it extends to all those faceless helpers involved with making sure we’re nourished—and that’s a very beautiful thing!


I continue to find new things that are in the pot of soup, the circle of our world that is involved in its making growing bigger each time. The more we see our oneness, the more each meal—each bowl of soup—becomes a celebration, and our struggle with each other falls away, and the harmony we experience within will be reflected back.


You succeeded in capturing that in the book. It definitely make the reader pause and think. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?


Vikki: My favorite book is the Grimm brothers fairy tales. But I rarely found pleasing illustrations on the opposite sides to the story in Chinese translations, sometimes they ruined my reading experience, either too straight forward, or drawing things conflicting with the author’s description. When I grew up, I gradually saw master works of art for fairly tales like Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac etc. I guess it’s because there were very few professional illustrators (especially creating art for children) in China at that time. But now it's different, numbers of young people join this industry with passion and talents. And being an illustrator is being accepted by more people as a formal career.


I am glad that it is changing. Hunter, is there anything special you want your readers to know about The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup?


Hunter: The Whole World in Nan’s Soup is a story about reciprocity (shu, 恕) which is more than an intellectual understanding that I will treat others with the same respect I want to be treated. It goes deeper and implies—Who I am on the inside is the same as what is on the inside of others—and if that’s true, we can experience and discover for ourselves the delicate thread that connects all people.


In doing so, when we meet others, we do so with an awareness that their suffering is our suffering, felt and experienced the same way, and through empathy, through not wanting suffering for ourselves, we will not want it for another (ji suo bu yu, wu shi yu ren 己所不欲, 勿施於人)—thus, we will seek harmony and peace in all our words, actions, and relationships.


As our understanding of reciprocity grows, so does our empathy. The circle of life expands, as we recognize we’re not able to live without those beautiful helpers, which we can now honor with our thankfulness, our kindness, our understanding, our patience, and most of all, our self-responsibility that discerns: we are the root of others’ suffering when we set aside our interconnection.


We can always take time to recognize our interconnection with others. Even in a bowl of soup!

That's a perfect message for a time when we find ourselves experiencing more and more division and fear. Hunter, when you first saw Vikki’s illustrations, did anything surprise or amaze you? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Hunter Liguore, 2021. Image © Vikki Zhang, 2021.


Hunter: Vikki’s creativity, vision, art and practice is not merely illustration, but in a class all its own because she’s embodying the essence of harmony, or the effortless flow of translating emotion and words into pictures. As such, the book is ‘felt’ on a vibrational level, so that the essence of unity, reciprocity, healing, love, kindness (and more) is extended to the reader. Her masterful art invokes the message I describe above about gentle-cooking, adding a layer of cohesion that is symmetric and mirroring the story. It’s a beautiful offering.


I definitely agree with you. Vikki, many illustrators weave (or hide) treasures in their illustrations. If you did this, can you share one or more with us? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Hunter Liguore, 2021. Image © Vikki Zhang, 2021.


Vikki: Yes. I enjoy leaving secrets for readers to discover inadvertently. In the last spread, you could find those pedestrians I had shown in the previous spreads, some as the secondary roles that readers might have ignored during the first reading.


My favorite one is the moon and sun dancing together with the little girl. I think I captured the melody full of joy of life and growth inside a seed, nurtured by sunshine and moonlight.


That was one of my favorites as well. What was the hardest part of The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup to illustrate or write? Why? How did it differ from other books you’ve created?


Hunter: It is an effortless creation and offering. (A rumination on our interconnection with all people.)


Vikki: At the beginning, it was the character design. And generally the tough part is how to draw the scene happening in a pot that grandma made up. I tried to avoid just depict a busy scene in a garden or a market that looks like it could be seen in any other books. I hope to add an iconic expression or symbol exclusively belonging to this story. Then you find the pot in outline throughout the book.


It’s my first time combining the hand drawn watercolor painting with digital iPad drawing together, which differs from any other book I've created. It turned out into a surprising and satisfying effect; everyone loves it.


I really enjoyed the whimsy and unusualness of your illustrations. If you could meet anyone, real or imaginary, who would that be and why?


Vikki: I wish to meet Miss Tomato, a vegetable lady with a giant head of a plant with the body of a human; a character I drew in a picture book in my thesis project.


Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Hunter: Writing is a way of life, so yes, there are other books, and readers can learn more and grow the circle with me: hunterliguore.org.


Vikki: There are usually several projects going on at the same time, varying from publishing, fashion, and toy design. These days, I am trying to figure out how to draw a character that could represent my artistic voice, and then turn it into a sculpture. Most of my work is made in 2D format. It’s fresh and challenging to add another dimension.


Thank you, Hunter and Vikki for stopping by and sharing about your writing and illustrating and your picture book The Whole World in Nan’s Soup with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.

To find out more about Hunter Liguore and Vikki Zhang, or get in touch with them:

Hunter Liguore

Website: https://www.hunterliguore.org/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Skytale_Writer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WarriorsWanted/


Vikki Zhang

Website: http://www.vikkizhang.com/

Behance: https://www.behance.net/Vicky_Zhang?ilo0=1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/0717vikki/



Review of The Whole World in Nan’s Soup


Some books just capture your heart from the moment you gaze at the cover. This gorgeous, softly colored image of a girl's lunch/party with the cat and stuffed bear is one of those covers. But neither this image nor the title truly prepare you for the magnificent illustrations and story behind Nan's soup.


The Whole World in Nan’s Soup


Author: Hunter Liguore


Illustrator: Vikki Zhang


Publisher: Yeehoo Press (2021)


Ages: 6-8 Fiction



Themes:

Connectedness, family, community, kindness, and diversity.


Synopsis:

A rumination on our ability to recognize our interconnectedness with all people, that in order to eat a single meal, it takes the whole world to make it.


There's something special bubbling in Nanni's big metal pot. And it smells delicious! What ingredients might be inside? When Nanni lifts the lid on her soup, she reveals the whole world inside: from the seeds that grew into vegetables, to the gardeners who lovingly tended to the plants, to the sun, moon, and stars that shone its light above them. And, of course, no meal is complete without a recipe passed down generations of family, topped and finished with Nanni's love.


In this tender tale by award-winning author Hunter Liguore and artist Vikki Zhang, readers will marvel at how a community and world can come together to put on an unforgettable meal between a granddaughter and her Nanni.


Opening Lines:

"Seeds," said Nanni when I asked her

what was inside the big metal pot she was

stirring on the stove.


It was the same one handed down from

her Nanni. It smelled so good. I couldn't wait

to taste it.


"Seeds?" I asked. "How can seeds be inside the pot?"


What I Liked about this book:

The opening spread is a mix of the most amazing kitchen ever, filled with flowers, treats, warmth, and love, where the young narrator (with that adorable panda purse) and her Nanni interact over a pot of soup, The opposite side feels like a Golden Book image of the pot, Nanni as a child, and her own grandmother. It is such a fun way to juxtapose time.

Text © Hunter Liguore, 2021. Image © Vikki Zhang, 2021.


Interspersed with a sense of whimsy, Nanni explains how seeds - planted by gardener's "with gentle hands," watered by rain, and helped by the sun, stars, the moon, and bees - grew to be the vegetables in her pot. As she does, the young girl imagines such things as a whicker pot creating a walled garden of vegetables . . .

Text © Hunter Liguore, 2021. Image © Vikki Zhang, 2021.


fairies tending the soil and watering the plants (along with a rabbit in a jacket), a dance of celestial bodies, other anthropomorphized animals (such as bees with backpacks), and then the pot as a café with employees receiving vegetables.

Text © Hunter Liguore, 2021. Image © Vikki Zhang, 2021.


Except for four full-color spreads (occurring at significant moments), this fascinating dichotomy between the two tonally and artistically different images continues through to the end. There is so much to "read" and discover in each image, it will surely captivate adults, as well as children. Realism interacts with fantastical, as Vikki Zhang manages to encapsulate the world in her illustrations. Showcasing numerous architectural styles and physical environments, it really feels like she's taken the reader on a quick tour of the world.


While the text originally appears to be loosely following a cumulative tale from the seed to pot, which thankfully avoided the pitfall of merely being a repetitive list of building actions, it totally changes track about mid-way through as Nanni explains that laborers, delivery drivers, vehicles, as well as a bus and its passengers are all in her soup. The ending text and illustrations are really touching and sweet. Overall, it is a thought provoking tale reminding us of the interconnectedness of our food and how family traditions and love flow through time and our favorite meals.


Resources:

- what is your favorite family recipe? Do you eat all year-round or only at special times? Can you list or draw what is in it?

- do you have a favorite soup? Can you describe it or draw a picture of it?

- where are the ingredients for your favorite soup grown and/or raised? What about the spices? Mark the locations on a map and see how big a community helps make your soup.

- read Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, Stone Soup by John J Muth, [ and/or some global variations Cactus Soup by Eric A. Kimmel, Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls: A Passover Tale in Chelm by Linda Glaser, Quill Soup: A Stone Soup Story by Alan Durant]. How are these stories similar or different to The Whole World in Nan’s Soup?

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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