The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Maria Giron & Review of Arthur the Forgetful Elephant

Maria Girón was born in Barcelona in 1983. She grew up in a fairytale house in the heart of the forest, among the trees and surrounded by brushes, sketchbooks, paintings and clay figures.


She studied Fine Arts at the University of Barcelona, the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna and she graduated at the University of Sevilla. During those years she fell in love with painting, drawing and engraving, so she decided to specialize in illustration at the School of Arts and Crafts Llotja, in Barcelona.


She decided to dedicate her professional life to illustration when in 2010 the jury of the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair selected her work to participate in a collective exhibition dedicated to Gianni Rodari.


She is the illustrator of 12 picture books: Mi Lazarilla, Mi Capitán (2020), Facciamo finta di essere (2019), L'Espera (2018), Nueve FORMAS de NO pisar un CHARCO (2017), Questa non è una papera (2017), El charco del rey Olaf (2017), Yoga (2016), Una Bugia Vera (2016), La mia invenzione (2015), Inseparables (2015), Rula busca su lugar (2015), and Cuento-juego Famílium (2011).

Her author/illustrator debut picture book, Arthur the Forgetful Elephant, releases March 2nd.


*[Note - as I am not fluent in Spanish, nor able to arrange a professional translation, I have included Maria's original answers. In case there are any problems with the translation.]*


Maria, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and writing.


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?)


I have to confess, I feel more illustrator than a writer. I think in images and when I am asked what my profession is, I answer that I am an illustrator.


When I was a kid, I liked to write, it was like a game, but I never took it too seriously. It was from the moment that I began to illustrate stories of other authors, that the desire to write my own stories awoke in me.


I write at home. My work is lonely. I like silence and with it I've learned to know myself. When I want to write, it helps to go for a walk in the woods and write down phrases or ideas in a small notebook.


For me, a good book is one where images and text go hand in hand, in a dialogue, complementing each other, adding up to the whole.


Tengo que confesar que me siento más ilustradora que escritora. Pienso en imágenes y cuando me preguntan cuál es mi profesión respondo que soy ilustradora.

De pequeña me gustaba escribir, era como un juego, pero nunca me lo tomé demasiado en serio. Fue a partir del momento en que empecé a ilustrar historias de otros autores, cuando se despertó en mí el deseo de escribir mis propios cuentos.

Escribo en casa, mi trabajo es solitario, me gusta el silencio y con él aprendo a conocerme. Cuando quiero escribir también me ayuda salir a pasear por el bosque y anotar frases o ideas en una pequeña libreta.

Para mí, un buen libro es aquél donde las imágenes y el texto van de la mano, dialogan, se complementan, suman.


Great definition of a picture book, Maria! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Since I've been a mother, I have a completely different perception of my work. I have a much deeper sense of my profession. I think I understand my readers a lot better. My children are great teachers. I feel very lucky.


Desde que soy madre, tengo una percepción completamente distinta de mi labor. Mi profesión ha tomado un sentido mucho más profundo. Creo entender mucho mejor a mis lectores. Mis hijos son grandes maestros. Me siento muy afortunada.


What inspired you to write Arthur the Forgetful Elephant? How long did it take from the spark of inspiration until you got a contract?

Back then, I still had a grandmother to share, laugh, talk to. She was my father's mother, and she was beginning to forget things, to feel tired and old. My uncle died of Alzheimer's, too. It was a tough process. My family lived closely on the wear and tear of disease and the horror of oblivion. My grandmother's old age and my uncle's illness inspired me. They made me understand the importance of memory. Without memory, we're nobody. Without memory, we have no identity.


The story came out pretty quickly. The international book fair of Bologna was approaching and I thought it was the perfect place to present my idea. I'd been working for a few weeks. I focused mostly on building the text. And I made some not-too-defined sketches. I went to Italy and presented a dummy to some Catalan publishers with whom I had already published. Despite the little finished appearance of the drawings, they instantly decided that they were interested and wanted to publish it. They told me it was an arrow, a love at first sight.


Por aquél entonces todavía me quedaba una abuela con la que poder compartir, reír, hablar. Era la madre de mi padre, y empezaba a olvidar cosas, a sentirse cansada y mayor. También murió de Alzheimer mi tío. Fue un proceso duro. Mi familia vivió de cerca el desgaste de la enfermedad y el horror del olvido.

La vejez de mi abuela y la enfermedad de mi tío me inspiraron. Me hicieron entender la importancia de la memoria. Sin memoria no somos nadie. Sin memoria no tenemos identidad.


La historia me salió bastante rápidamente. Se acercaba la feria internacional del libro de Boloña y pensé que era el lugar perfecto donde presentar mi idea. Estuve unas semanas trabajando. Me concentré sobre todo en construir el texto. Hice unos esbozos no demasiado definidos. Me fui a Italia y presenté una maqueta a unos editores catalanes con los que ya había publicado. A pesar del aspecto poco terminado de los dibujos, decidieron al instante que sí, que les interesaba y que lo querían publicar. Me dijeron que fue un flechazo, un amor a primera vista.


Wow! That speak volumes about the heart in your story. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? How about creating Arthur the Forgetful Elephant in particular? Which comes first – the text, a title, or an illustration idea?


The hardest part is getting to the essence. To say a lot with almost nothing and make it look easy. With Arthur, first came the image of a tiny child on top of an immense animal. I wanted to talk about grandparents and I thought an elephant was the perfect animal if I wanted to talk about memory. In addition, elephants have always seemed fascinating to me, because of their size, wrinkled skin, strength, and goodness. The text came later.


Lo más difícil es llegar a la esencia. Decir mucho con casi nada. Hacer que parezca fácil. Con Arturo vino primero la imagen de un niño minúsculo encima de un animal inmenso. Quería hablar de los abuelos y me pareció que un elefante era el animal perfecto si quería hablar sobre la memoria. Además, los elefantes siempre me han parecido fascinantes, por su tamaño, su piel de árbol, su fuerza y su bondad.

El texto llegó después.


I think you did an awesome job finding the essence of this book. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)


The world is many things, but also wonderful. When I open my heart, I find inspiration everywhere: in the shapes of a plant, in the light that enters through a window and floods everything, in a fragrance, in a film, in children, in a song, in an emotion.


I guess the secret is to be on a permanent state of alert. Inspiration can come anytime from anywhere or any person. Sometimes, the less I look for it is when ideas flow the most. I am also greatly inspired by illustrators such as Isabelle Arsenault, Simona Ciraolo, Kaatje Vermeire, Benji Davies, Oliver Jeffers, and Maria Chiara di Giorgio.


El mundo es muchas cosas, también maravilloso. Cuando abro bien el corazón encuentro inspiración por todas partes: en las formas de una planta, en la luz que entra por una ventana y lo inunda todo, en una fragancia, en una película, en los niños, en una canción, en una emoción.


Supongo que el secreto es estar en un estado de alerta permanente. La inspiración puede llegar en cualquier momento de cualquier lugar o persona. A veces, cuando menos busco es cuando más fluyen las ideas.

También me inspiran enormemente ilustradores como Isabelle Arsenault, Simona Ciraolo, Kaatje Vermeire, Benji Davies, Oliver Jeffers o Maria Chiara di Giorgio.


Our muses definitely can't be forced to give us ideas on cue! Do you prefer being an author/illustrator or illustrator? Will you continue to illustrate other’s books?


I'd love to write more books and I'm sure more will come, but I have to admit that it's much more natural for me to tell stories from drawings. Creating something from scratch takes time and most often publishers contact me to collaborate on projects where I have to put images that accompany the words of others.


Now my new personal challenge is to create a wordless book, a silent book. I have the storyboard done and I just have to find a hole in my schedule to get down to business.


Me encantará escribir más libros y estoy segura que llegarán más, pero tengo que reconocer que me es mucho más natural contar historias a partir de dibujos. Crear algo des de cero requiere tiempo y muchas veces las editoriales me contactan para colaborar en proyectos donde tengo que poner imágenes que acompañen las palabras de otros.


Ahora mi nuevo reto personal es crear un libro sin palabras, a silent book. Tengo el storyboard hecho y sólo tengo que encontrar un hueco en mi agenda para ponerme manos a la obra.


I do hope you find that space. I'd love to see a wordless picture book by you. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?


I love that you're asking me this question. I'm the mother of Teo, a 5-year-old boy, and Maia, a 2-year-old girl. And I often wonder what I want to give or pass on to them. I've made a point of making them laugh, every day. Even if it's just for a moment, but every day. Laughing relativizes problems. The strength of a gesture is impressive.


I propose a game: Close your eyes and smile, even if it is a forced smile. And while you're smiling, think of something negative. You'll see that your smile protects you, gives you strength.


Me encanta que me hagas esta pregunta. Soy madre de Teo, un niño de 5 años, y de Maia, una niña de 2 años. Y a menudo me pregunto qué es lo que quiero dar o transmitirles. Me he hecho un propósito, hacerles reír, cada día. Aunque sólo sea un momento, pero cada día. Reírse relativiza los problemas. Es impresionante la fuerza de un gesto.


Te propongo un juego: Cierra los ojos y sonríe, aunque sea una sonrisa forzada. Y mientras sonrías, piensa en algo negativo. Verás que tu sonrisa te protege, te da fuerza.


I love your goal and that game. Thank you for sharing it. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave a story throughout the illustrations. Did any or all of you do this in Arthur the Forgetful Elephant? If so, could you share one or more with us?


I like to play with the pictures and tell things that the text doesn't say. In the case of this book, I found it interesting to start with muted tones to accompany the sadness of the elephant, the emptiness of space was like memory emptying everything.


As friendship with the child is built, the elephant cheers, calms down. Then I use more variety of colors and they are more vibrant, more intense.


Me gusta jugar con las imágenes, y contar cosas que el texto no dice. En el caso de este libro, me pareció interesante empezar con tonos apagados para acompañar la tristeza del elefante, el vacío del espacio era como la memoria que lo vacía todo.


A medida que se va construyendo la amistad con el niño, el elefante se anima, se tranquiliza. Entonces utilizo más variedad de colores y son más vibrantes, más intensos.


I really liked how you used color to help establish the character's emotions. Do you have a favorite spread in Arthur the Forgetful Elephant? Why?

© Maria Girón, 2021.


My favorite moment in the book is the scene in which children paint the elephant in colors. I find it poetic, impossible, magical, symbolic, and endearing.


Mi momento favorito del libro es la escena en la que los niños y niñas pintan de colores el elefante. Me parece poética, imposible, mágica, simbólica, entrañable.


The elephant's smile and obvious joy is so heartfelt. It is such a great moment in the story. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was your favorite book as a child?


When I was little, I was in love with Richard Scarry's books and now I enjoy them again with my children. It is fantastic and inspiring this world populated by humanized animals and cars in the form of carrot, pencil, egg or cheese. It's impossible not to smile when you open one of his books.


Cuando era pequeña estaba enamorada de los libros de Richard Scarry y ahora vuelvo a disfrutar de ellos con mis hijos. Es fantástico e inspirador su mundo poblado por animalitos humanizados y los coches en forma de zanahoria, de lápiz, de huevo o de queso. Es imposible no sonreír cuando abres uno de sus libros.


I totally agree with you there. Is there something you want your readers to know about Arthur the Forgetful Elephant?


I don't want them to think it's too innocent a book. I don't mean to give a solution. It is simply a tool that can be useful to talk about family or friendship. After reading, you can talk about the elderly, old age, diseases such as Alzheimer's, lack of memory, or even about death.


No quiero que piensen que es un libro demasiado inocente. No pretendo dar una solución. Simplemente es una herramienta que puede ser útil para hablar de la familia o de la amistad. Después de su lectura se puede conversar sobre los ancianos, sobre la vejez, sobre enfermedades como el Alzheimer, sobre la falta de memoria, o incluso sobre la muerte.


You definitely succeeded in creating a book that is both entertaining and important. How have you been staying creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you’ve done to “prime the well”?

During quarantine, I was busy finishing the illustrations of My Lazarilla, My Captain, a beautiful story written by Gonzalo Moure and published by Kalandraka. Despite the harshness of the moment I was able to immerse myself in a world full of cheerful animals walking in the middle of a city, where a blind father accompanies his daughter on his way to school. The girl's imagination was a good way to escape my reality.


At the moment, it is receiving very good reviews, according to the New York Public Library it is among the top 10 books of 2020 for ages 0-12 and has won the Four Cats Foundation Award.


The last project I have illustrated, is a delicious poem written by Sara Bueno, about and for grandparents, which will soon be published by Baobab. It was thought and written in the wake of the pandemic.


Durante la cuarentena estuve ocupada terminando las ilustraciones de "Mi Lazarilla, Mi Capitán", una historia preciosa escrita por Gonzalo Moure y publicada por Kalandraka. A pesar de la dureza del momento yo me pude sumergir en un mundo lleno de alegres animales que paseaban en medio de una ciudad, donde un padre ciego acompaña a su hija camino a la escuela. La imaginación de la niña fue una buena forma de escapar de mi realidad.

De momento está recibiendo muy buenas críticas, según la New York Public Library está entre los 10 mejores libros del 2020 para edades 0-12, y ha ganado el Premio Fundación Cuatro Gatos.

El último proyecto que he ilustrado es un delicioso poema escrito por Sara Bueno, sobre y para los abuelos, que será próximamente publicado por Baobab. Fue pensado y escrito a raíz de la pandemia.

Congratulations, Maria! I love that cover! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Right now a book of poetry in Catalan for children is in print with which I am very satisfied. It is a cheerful, dynamic illustrated poem with hints of humor.


Ahora mismo está en imprenta un libro de poesía en catalán para niños con el que estoy muy satisfecha. Es un poemario ilustrado alegre, dinámico y con toques de humor.


Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?


I've been drawing a lot of tigers lately. They are exotic, wild, and beautiful.


Últimamente he estado dibujando bastantes tigres. Son exóticos, salvajes y bellísimos.


Thank you, Maria for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

To find out more about Maria Girón, or get in touch with her:

Website: http://www.mariagiron.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariagironfiguerola?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/_mariagiron

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_mariagiron/

Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/mariagir/



Review of Arthur and the Forgetful Elephant


I am so excited for this post. I get to provide you with a sneak peek at a wonderfully tender and poignant story about the pain of fleeing memories and intergenerational friendships. It's a beautiful book about loving, laughing, and living through Alzheimer's, Dementia, or other memory problems. One that will not only be a treasure but will likely spark many discussions.



Arthur and the Forgetful Elephant


Author/Illustrator: Maria Girón


Publisher: Flyaway Books (2021)


Ages: 3-7


Fiction


Themes:

Memory, age, friendships, and empathy.


Synopsis:

"Maybe I can help!" exclaimed Arthur.


At least he hopes he can. But how? What does this forgetful elephant need? Arthur doesn't know, but he's determined to find out as he and the elephant share a playful and colorful day.


Arthur and the Forgetful Elephant explores memory loss from the perspective of both those who forget and those around them. With spare writing and poignant art, this story reminds us that compassion and togetherness can make even elephant-sized problems seem a little smaller.


Opening Lines:

Is it raining? Arthur thought.

But it’s sunny!

Then he looked up.


"Hi, up there!” he called.

“My name’s Arthur.

What’s yours?”


“I forget,” sobbed the elephant. . . .


What I LIKED about this book:

When Arthur meets an older elephant who doesn't remember his name (he doesn't remember anything, actually), he strikes up a friendship with the elephant. Remembering how he feels to forget where he put his toys or his lines in a school play, Arthur wonders "what if I forgot really important things?"

© Maria Girón, 2021.


Using a very subtle and muted pallet, Maria Girón beautifully focuses on the sadness that forgetting things brings to older relatives and easily connects it to the sadness a child can understand. This book is a beautiful introduction to the issue of aging and memory loss, or dementia, as well as empathy and friendship. Using child-like wisdom, Arthur suggests that thinking about something else - like playing - can make problems seem smaller. His hug - reminiscent of a child wrapped around a parent's leg - is such a tender moment.

© Maria Girón, 2021.


Arthur and his new friend embark on a mission to cheer themselves up by playing. Before long, smiles and colors begin to creep into the spreads as they travel through green trees, splash in a swimming hole, snack on a red berry bush, and finally find some of Arthur's friends making chalk drawings. With enthusiasm and a ton of creativity, the kids decorate the elephant, which brings the biggest smile yet. And lots of new friends.

© Maria Girón, 2021.


As the day winds to an end, Arthur introduces the elephant to his multi-generational family. This triggers a memory for the elephant. I don't want to spoil it, but you really need to see the ending and I dare you not to have tears. This is a heartfelt, touching tale of friendship, family, and a great opening for talking about memory issues and older family members. It is a very precious and beautiful look at the power of friendship and playfulness.


Resources:

- make your own origami elephant and color it to make you smile (http://www.origami-instructions.com/easy-origami-elephant.html). Here's mine.


- what do you do if you forget something? Try to write down, or draw, the steps you take to remember.


- spend time with an older relative or friend - take a walk together and look for treasures, plant seeds or seedlings, play a game, make a drawing together, or swap stories.

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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