For Juana Martinez-Neal, being a children’s book author and illustrator is about more than just creating colorful imagery – it’s about telling a story. During her visit to King’s Lower School, Martinez-Neal shared a presentation that painted a picture of life growing up in Peru and how her upbringing and culture have influenced her interests and career path as an author and illustrator. Using paintings and drawings that spanned her career, Martinez-Neal shared the progression of her experience with various art mediums to tell her own story.
“For me, it takes more time to sketch than it does to paint. It took me approximately six to eight months to sketch and about two months to paint,” Martinez-Neal said about her debut book, “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” which she authored and illustrated. The book won the Caldecott Award in 2019, an honor awarded annually that recognizes the most distinguished American picture book for children.
Before the visit, students had been exploring the origins of their own names under the guidance of Library Learning Common Specialist Leigh Roberts. “In the book, Alma learns that each of her names comes from a different ancestor. As she reflects on her family’s history, she begins connecting with her name in creating her own story,” said Roberts. “The kids enjoyed exploring how the origins of their name contribute to their identity,” she added.
Martinez-Neal also received the 2020 Sibert Medal and the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for her illustrative work in “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” and “La Princesa and the Pea,” respectively.
“There is so much to be learned from Juana Martinez-Neal’s story. It’s important for students to know that they can develop their skills by trying new things and working at them to get better. Like Juana, they, too, can turn their passions into meaningful experiences,” said Head of Lower School Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff.
Growing up in Lima, Peru, Martinez-Neal hoped to become a painter like her father and grandfather. In her twenties, she moved to the United States to pursue new opportunities.
“I thought her personal story was awesome because she persevered. In Peru, there were many challenges to becoming a children’s book illustrator but she had a passion for it and she really overcame those challenges to follow her dreams,” said fourth grade student Ozzie Weisser.
Student Giana Maz loved to see Martinez-Neal’s skills evolve from that of a young painter to the mastery featured in the illustrations of her books today. “Her illustrations are realistic. There is so much detail in the leaves, and the flowers and animals. I love how bright and beautiful the drawings are,” said Giana about Martinez-Neal’s book, “Zonia’s Rain Forest.”
The Lower School will be hosting another Author Visit Day on February 25, when author Christina Soontornvat visits King’s Grade 5.