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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Narisa Togo

Today I have the distinct pleasure to introduce you to a talented author/illustrator from Japan.

Narisa Togo loves nature and sketching birds, plants and nature scenery. After graduating from the Department of Regional Ecosystems, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Narisa complete her MA Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.

She’s the author/illustrator of [titles translated] White Wagtails in the Night (2021), Ring the Bell on New Year's Eve (2017), A Perfect Day for Traveling (2017), Heron, the Fisher (2015), Weihnachtsspuren im Winterwald (2014). And she's the illustrator of 6 books including, Fly, Cherokee, Fly (Japanese Version, 2021), Oiseaux - Des alliés à protéger (2020), Hedgehog and Mole Go Ballooning (2020), Magnificent Birds (2017), and Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories (2014).

Narisa’s newest book, When the Sakura Bloom, releases tomorrow in North America.

Welcome Narisa, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.

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

I write at my favorite wooden desk, which is made of recycled old scaffold planks, in a corner of my home. With a three-year-old daughter, I have to use any spare moment I can find for my writing and drawing.

When I was around twelve, I wrote and illustrated some kind of stories but those were just for fun. Then I began to make picture books when I was studying at the Children’s Book Illustration course. My first published picture book came out in 2014 from a Swiss publisher whom I met at the Bologna Book Fair.

I am a birdwatcher and often find ideas in nature and tend to write nonfiction stories about nature.

I love that birds and nature are your muses. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Of all the species and breeds of Sakura, the Yoshino Cherry, the one I drew in this picture book, is, in fact, one of my least favorite ones.

I always prefer wild species! My favorite cherry species is the Oshima Cherry (Prunus speciosa) which produces bigger white blossoms.

They may not be your favorite to draw, but you did a gorgeous job with them. Where did the idea for When the Sakura Bloom come from?

First, it was from an editor whom I chatted with during my master course’s graduation exhibition in London. She casually mentioned that if I am a Japanese who likes drawing nature, I should make a book about Sakura.

After returning to Japan, I gave a thought to the idea and went out to see cherry blossoms in my area. I found many people, young and old, including those who normally wouldn’t care for walking around nature, were outside by the river or in the field, appreciating cherry blossoms. I also suspected that most of them would never look at the trees when the season is over. And that was the start of this book.

Their clouds of flowers have an amazing ability to capture attention. My University has a walk-way lined with - I'm sorry to say Yoshino - cherry trees that draw a crowd once a year and then, as you said, are largely ignored except on really hot days. How many drafts, or revisions, did When the Sakura Bloom take? Which took the most work - the text or the illustrations?

I worked on this picture book on and off for four years. The basic sequence of the book didn’t change much from the first dummy but I revised small details in rough images and text countless times. Drawing the final images took nine months.

Which was the hardest image to complete? Why? What is your favorite spread in When the Sakura Bloom?

Text & Image © Narisa Togo, 2020.

The hardest image was the festival scene simply because there are more people in there.

My favorite scene is the one of the storm.

I made the images in watercolor. People and birds were drawn first, masked, and then I spattered the background and blossom area using a brush and a screen. Tree trunks and branches were drawn afterwards.

Thank you for sharing your process. Not an illustrator, I always it fascinating how the images are created. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from When the Sakura Bloom?

Appreciate nature in your neighborhood and feel the change of seasons from it.

I think you succeed in showing the trees year-round beauty and that many people need to look around more. Many illustrators leave (hide) treasures in their illustrations. Did you do this? If so, can you share one or more with us?

There are my daughter, my mom, and myself in the illustration. Can you find them? The clue is, she was seven-month old when I was making this book.

Great clue! What fun it must be to be able to include your family in the illustration. How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?

I get inspiration from nature. So the best activity for me is to go out to nature parks with my daughter. Watching what she finds and how she plays there is a great source of ideas.

Being able to see nature through the eyes of a child is an amazing gift. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I am remaking a picture book about Moorhens, which I made during my master course.

In case any of you were unfamiliar with this bird, too. I found a fun picture. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?

Maybe wild hedgehogs? I enjoyed watching them from our kitchen window of our flat in Cambridge and I read a lot about them in order to illustrate two books. Too bad we don’t have them in Japan.

Thank you, Narisa for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

Please be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of When the Sakura Bloom.

To find out more about Narisa Togo, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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