top of page

The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Teresa Robeson and Angela Poon Plus Review of Who Is Tibet's Exiled Leader?

I have the distinct honor to interview the talented and creative duo Teresa Robeson and Angela Poon who collaborated on the graphic biography of the Dalai Lama.

Teresa Robeson 何顥思 is an author of children's books, and an occasional illustrator, with a focus on science and her cultural heritage. A nonfiction winner of the We Need Diverse Books mentorship program, Teresa advocates for greater scientific and cultural literacy.


She was born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada, and now writes and creates from her mini-farm in southern Indiana where she lives with her scientist husband on 27-acres, raising chickens for twenty+ years and growing and processing much of their own vegetables. When not writing or washing veggies for hours on end, Teresa enjoys knitting, soap-making, sewing, and doing art.

Teresa's the APALA Picture Book Award-winning author of Queen Of Physics (also ILA Nonfiction PB Honor and NCTE Orbis Pictus Nonfiction Recommended Book), illustrated by Rebecca Huang (2019), Two Bicycles In Beijing illustrated by Junyi Wu (2020). She also has an essay in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep, edited by Melissa Stewart, and a nonfiction poem in No World Too Big, edited by Keila Dawson, Lindsay Metcalf, and Jeanette Bradley.


Angela Poon is a freelance illustrator and comic artist based in Mississauga, just outside of Toronto. Contrary to popular belief, she loves dogs as much as rabbits.


She is the illustrator of the graphic picture book Fred & Marjorie: A Dog, a Doctor, And the Discovery of Insulin by Deborah Kerbel (2021).



Their newest book Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?: The 14th Dalai Lama, releases on April 4th.


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? )


TERESA - I’d say that I began writing right after I learned, and mostly mastered, English in 4th grade. I probably penned more (mediocre to bad) poems in that year than in the next 50 years. But I didn’t start writing for publication until the early 1990s. I wrote mainly short stories and poetry (yes, more poems…but they were much better than my first attempts) for magazines because I didn’t think I had full-length books in me. The thrill of the first byline is something I’ll never forget.


After taking time off to homeschool and raise my kids, I returned to writing in 2010. This time, I was determined to tackle picture books and novels.


For a long time, I wrote in our living room which has large windows and a gorgeous view, but as of late last year, I finally cleared off the table in my art/sewing/craft room and am now writing there. The windows aren’t as large, but it’s less distracting that way.


I usually work on my writing projects—I juggle several at a time—a little bit in the morning before exercising and more in the afternoon and early evenings.


ANGELA - I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator since I graduated from Sheridan College in 2018, and I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon! I was one of those kids who could easily entertain themselves so long as I had some paper (or napkins) and a pen handy. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I considered studying illustration for post-secondary and turning it into a career.


I usually work on illustrations from a humble desk set up in my bedroom, and live at home with my family. Although, I wouldn’t recommend working and sleeping in the same space—it makes work-life balance tough!


Living rooms or bedrooms, we work were we can. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

TERESA - I was one of those kids who was determined to read every book in the school library and so I had many favorites. Snow Day by Ezra Jack Keats might be one of my top favorite books but I also loved the Betsy-Tacy series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and most things by Beverly Cleary. Plus, I devoured all the fairy tales…Grimm, Andersen, and Lang!

ANGELA – One of my favourite books growing up was the Geronimo Stilton series. For a few years I collected each new release once it was available through the Scholastic book ordering or in book fairs at school! I loved that it was filled with illustrations throughout and the interesting use of fonts.


Teresa, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?: The 14th Dalai Lama?

TERESA - The subject, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, was from a list of people that Penguin Workshop wanted graphic biographies on. Once they accepted my sample proposal, I chose two people to write about—His Holiness because I’ve always felt a connection to Buddhism due to my paternal grandparents being Buddhists (and Bruce Lee because we’re both Hong Kong natives!). As for the very specific segment of the Dalai Lama’s life that is in the book, I focused on that, with my editor’s approval and guidance, because I thought it was a significant and pivotal moment that also had action and adventure which would appeal to kids.


I'm so glad they accepted your proposal. Angela, what about the Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?: The 14th Dalai Lama manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

ANGELA - When I was approached by the book’s designer with the project, I was hesitant but up for the challenge. I didn’t know very much about Tibetan history and culture, but was interested in learning more and about the life of the Dalai Lama. When I received the manuscript, I was happy to find that Teresa’s writing made it very clear and easy to visualize the scenes and action taking place. She even prepared a giant image bank with a wealth of links and references to use!


What a wonderful gift for an illustrator. Teresa, how different was it to research and write this illustrated chapter book versus your previous nonfiction picture books? How many drafts/revisions did it take?


TERESA - The research on His Holiness’s life was the same as for any of my other biography manuscripts but I did have to learn how to write the graphic format because I hadn’t done it before. My then-agent recommended some books for guidance. From there, I read online resources and borrowed and bought a number of how-to books. What was the biggest help was taking the Kids Comics Intensive taught by agent Janna Morishima and author-illustrator Rivkah LaFille.


I went through two drafts of the outline and then four of the script to get it to the final form. This included a 2-hour Zoom call with my editor where we went through everything in great detail.


That sounds like a great class, thanks for giving us the link. Angela, how many revisions did it take to create the illustrations for Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader? What was the trickiest or hardest part?


ANGELA - The art schedule involved concept art, thumbnails, pencils, inks, and final colour, with notes for revisions following each stage. However, there were some delays in the early stages and the schedule needed to be condensed. So I found myself a bit pressed for time—I’d be almost finishing a stage but then just receiving feedback for revisions for the previous stage! But to my surprise, I received very few queries for the final art. I found that spending more time adding detail and clarity to the early art helped my editors and art directors to see what were the major changes that needed to be made early on, leaving the final stages a relatively smooth process.


As for the hardest part, I have always found drawing decorative and highly detailed architecture and environments overwhelming. And crowds and horses. But I think all the crowds and horses I drew helped me to overcome my fear of drawing them!


Necessity has a way of doing that sometimes. Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from, Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?


TERESA - It feels like the world is fraught with strife and antagonism these days and it’s distressing. I hope readers will gain some comfort when they see that it was also a dangerous time for the Dalai Lama but he got through it with courage and came out with his integrity intact. Despite all the hardships he’s faced, he teaches—and lives as an example of—compassion. Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., His Holiness shows us that we need to solve our problems with love and empathy.


ANGELA - I hope that young readers will be encouraged by how the Dalai Lama persevered through uncertainty and opposition. He couldn’t have made the journey to India safely alone! His story reminds us of how we also need to rely on one another, and the kindness and grace we receive and give in times of hardship.


It definitely takes 'a village' to survive and thrive. Angela, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or special elements) throughout the illustrations. Although it’s nonfiction, did you do this in Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader? Could you share one or more with us?


ANGELA - I don’t think I wove any special elements for this story, or at least none come to mind! With nonfiction stories, I tend to place emphasis (sometimes too much) on the historical and representational accuracy in the illustrations. Even for small details like the floral carpet design in Norbulingka palace I felt the need to replicate the original design as closely as possible! In future work, I would like to try adding some more personal touches like hidden easter eggs throughout the illustrations.


Angela, you did such an amazing job with the illustrations! Teresa, what is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing children’s books? How about with Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader? in particular?


TERESA - For me, trying to find that balance between writing what I’m passionate about (and think that today’s kids should know) and what the publishing world deems worthy is one of the most challenging things. And, of course, the interminable waiting. LOL!


The hardest part of writing this particular book was learning a whole new format while keeping the story in mind. Another difficulty stemmed from trying to align my vision with the editor’s/series’ vision. It’s not a regular book where I came up with my own idea and perspective; there’s a specific scope and particular guidelines that books in this series need to adhere to.


A new format alone could be daunting, but adding a series' specifications makes it such an impressive accomplishment. Teresa, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Angela’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Teresa Robeson, 2023. Image © Angela Poon, 2023.


TERESA – As soon as I laid eyes on Angela’s luminous concept art, I knew the book was going stunning beyond my dreams…and I was right! It’s hard to choose a favorite spread because all the illustrations are brilliant, but I do love the one where the Dalai Lama enters the Shrine of Mahakala to say prayers. It is so, so beautiful, I still get a bit teary-eyed looking at it.


You're right, that's stunning! Angela, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Teresa Robeson, 2023. Image © Angela Poon, 2023.


ANGELA - My favourite spreads are the last two showing the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India. Even though there is not much action going on, I enjoy the lightheartedness and hope that is portrayed in his interactions with others. There is something about the relief and excitement about the end of the Dalai Lama’s journey that coincided with my own feelings working on the last pages of the book and the excitement of its near completion!


There is a fun contrast between the two spreads you and Teresa have chosen. And I do love the hope and happiness in the final spreads. So, are there any new projects you both are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


TERESA – I just did a count the other day and I’m in varying stages on six book projects (four of which still haven’t been announced yet) and three on-spec book projects. They are all so very different from each other and are all very fun in their own way. What I can share is that they are all connected to me via my own culture or my interest, and background, in science and nature.

ANGELA - Not at the moment, but I do have a picture book coming out that I worked on alongside Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader? last year. Vee in Between by Valerie Kaiyang Wood is about a young transracial adoptee who struggles with feeling like she doesn’t belong. It’ll be on shelves on May 9th!


What a gorgeous cover, Angela! Teresa, we'll just have to keep our eyes open for your next amazing books. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?


TERESA – Bryce Canyon! We’ve been to many of the National Parks in the contiguous states and Bryce Canyon is our favorite by far. It’s so otherworldly beautiful that when you’re hiking through it, you feel like you’re on Mars.


ANGELA – I have many fond memories of going to Bruce Peninsula National Park as a child! I remember exploring the rocky shoreline, hiking along the Niagara Escarpment, and relaxing on the nearby beaches. There is a wide variety of activities and sights to see, and I’d love to visit again!


Thank you Teresa & Angela for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your newest book.


Thanks so much for inviting us to be guests on your blog, Maria! I'm delighted to have this chance to share our new book about an incredible man.


To find out more about Teresa Robeson 何顥思, or to contact her:


To find out more about Angela Poon, or contact her:


Review of Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?: The 14th Dalai Lama


I'm really excited to give you a sneak peek into this stunning graphic novel. As part of the new "Who Graphic Novel" series, this is an engaging and poignant accounting of the 14th Dalai Lama's escape into India.

Who is Tibet’s Exiled Leader?: The 14th Dalai Lama


Author: Teresa Robeson


Illustrator: Angela Poon


Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group


Ages: 8-12


Nonfiction:


Themes:

Tibet, Chinese oppression, biography, community, kindness, and hope.


Synopsis:

Discover the story behind the Fourteenth Dalai Lama's journey from Tibet to permanent exile in India in this captivating graphic novel written by 2020 APALA Award-winning author Teresa Robeson and illustrator Angela Poon.


Presenting Who HQ Graphic Novels: an exciting addition to the #1 New York Times Best-Selling Who Was? series!


Follow the Fourteenth Dalai Lama's harrowing escape to India in 1959, as he fled Chinese suppression of a national uprising in Tibet. A story of risk and political tension, this graphic novel invites readers to immerse themselves in the incredible story of the Tibetan spiritual and political leader — brought to life by gripping narrative and vivid full-color illustrations that jump off the page.


Opening Lines:

March 5, 1959


Precious Protector!

Precious Protector!


To Your Health!

How blessed we are to see you!


I wished I could have walked around the festival

to look at the Torma and the puppet shows.


Phuntsog Tashi Taklha didn't think it would be safe.


I understand.

I'm glad to be finished with my exams and back home, anyway.

The rooms in the Jokhangare are so old and dusty.


What I LOVED about this book: I am so impressed with Teresa's ability to learn this graphic book format and create such a lively and touching story of the 14th Dalai Lama! Between her text and Angela Poon's intricate illustrations, we are immediately captivated by the longing, responsibility, and concern of the twenty-three-year-old Dalai Lama and the "two-faced" schemes of the Chinese.

Text © Teresa Robeson, 2023. Image © Angela Poon, 2023.

After it became evident to his counsel, if not immediately to the Dalai Lama, that the Chinese "invitation" to a dance performance was a ruse to capture and attempt to control him, they spurred an uprising of the Tibetan population. Vowing to guard and defend their Precious Protector, a crowd surrounded the palace and blocked incoming roads.


After attempting to calm the crowds the Dalai Lama sought out spiritual advice from the Nechung Oracle - "My heart says to do one thing and my head tells me to do another." In a very emotionally charged scene, the Oracle tells him to leave Tibet immediately. And a daring plan of subterfuge, disguises, and stealth is put quickly into motion.

Text © Teresa Robeson, 2023. Image © Angela Poon, 2023.


Facing a long, hilly, and treacherously grueling journey the Dalai Lama, his family, Lord Chamberlain, counsel, and guards head through the mountains to India. Hoping that the formerly friendly Prime Minister Nehru will provide them refuge. Surviving near accidents, close calls, and dysentery the entire group finally makes it to the Indian border to be welcomed with open arms and hearts.


The muted illustrations, even in the predominately red-based temple spread, enhance the feelings of urgency, emergency, and danger inherent in this journey. The one scene with a golden glow, and a pink and light blue tinged sky, is the heart-breaking moment when the Dalai Lama looks back on his home in Lhasa and prays that someday he will be able to return. Though still somber, both the illustration and the text beautifully reflects his ray of hope.

Text © Teresa Robeson, 2023. Image © Angela Poon, 2023.


Teresa Robeson provides "footnotes" as well as a couple of side bars throughout the novel to explain "Tibetan Oracles," "The Seventeen-Point Agreement," the "Lord Chamberlain," and a bit about Tibetan history. I loved the way Angela decorated these side bars to resemble hand-stitched hangings. She also used these same borders to highlight the introduction and conclusion. Which unfortunately notes that despite being awarded the Noble Peace Prize, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his government leaders, and many Tibetan nationals still live in exile in India.


A timeline and a selection of books for young readers offer additional information for those who want to learn more. This book, and this series, will captivate and encourage young readers to explore history and the fascinating people who have influenced it. It is an engaging, stunning, fun, and sobering book about a very special man and the fate of his entire nation.

Resources:

- learn about and create your own Tibetan Mandala.


- could leave your home and country, knowing you might never return? Would it matter if your life or the lives of those you loved were in danger?


- check out the TIBETAN MONGOLIAN BUDDHIST CULTURAL CENTER in Bloomington, IN.


- pair this with The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, illustrated by Bao Luu.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Follow Me

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • 1473394675_goodreads
  • Pinterest

Archive

Categories

bottom of page