I am so excited to share an interview with the talented Veronica Miller Jamison, the illustrator of the new book, This is a School.
What is one of your most memorable experiences in school?
There’s a spread in the book showing the kids in music class, and the teacher on the far right of the spread is inspired by my elementary school music teacher, Ms. Plake. She taught us the building blocks of sheet music – the staff, time signature, and notes. One day, I decided I was going to “write” some music – which was basically just me randomly putting notes on a staff I drew in my notebook. I took it to Ms. Plake the next day and asked her to play it. This is where I tell you my “sheet music” was utterly unplayable – but she said okay, put the music in front of her, and began playing some of the notes on her piano anyway, and then began to improvise to play something that actually sounded nice!
What was your favorite subject/class?
It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that my favorite class was art class. I remember our teacher, Mr. Pietsch, letting us explore and experiment with different materials, and giving us the space to draw what we liked. I would gather with my friends and we would draw superheroes together, imagining them as our own comic book characters. I was particularly interested in fashion and would have fun creating different outfits for my characters to wear.
Who or what made your school experience feel enjoyable?
I’ve dedicated THIS IS A SCHOOL, in part, to my elementary school science teacher, Mrs. Simmers. I always loved being in her class. Learning in her science room was a communal experience with my friends, as we’d do experiments and explorations together, and work with one another to try to find the answers. Mrs. Simmers gave us a lot of encouragement and allowed room for mistakes, and always made science fun.
Can you talk a little about the “look” of the school building? What are some words you would use to describe the images of the building?
The school in This Is A School is large, bright, warm, and inviting. The outside is made of bright blue bricks with orange doors and window frames. The inside has large hallways and classrooms with a lot of light pouring in.
What is a hope you have for this book?
I hope this book lets kids know that school should be a safe, nurturing, and affirming space for them. I want kids to remember it’s okay to feel nervous about going to school. It’s okay to feel unsure sometimes, and your friends and teachers, and helpers around the school are there to support you.
Where did some of your inspiration come from for the illustrations?
I was inspired by my own memories as an elementary school student and the experiences of my friends who are educators. In remembering my school as a warm place where I was excited about learning, I used a color palette to create a sense of nurturing, optimism and possibility. The characters are inspired by people from my own life, and some of the scenes draw directly from my own experiences as a student. The spreads where teachers are helping and aiding students are inspired by my educator friends and their commitment to helping kids thrive.
Can you talk a bit about the process of illustrating a children’s book?
It’s a long process! I started sketches for This is A School in September 2020, and finalized the art more than a year later.
When I first start working on a book, I’m usually inspired by a passage somewhere in the middle of the manuscript. The words from that passage instantly create a scene in my mind, so I start with that and begin to build the book around it.
I do a ton of rough sketches to get all my ideas out and then work with the art director and/or editor to decide what works and what doesn’t. I also play with mixing paints to create a color palette for the story. The last (and longest!) step is putting all those pieces together to create the final, finished artwork that you see in the book.
What is your favorite page(s) in the book?
The author John Schu and I share the same favorite page – the scene with the students in the theater. My elementary school put on a talent show every year, and I performed in it four years in a row. So I have a lot of memories of rehearsals and preparing for shows backstage, and I thought it would be so fun to show the school community coming together to put on a performance.
Kathleen mentioned that you may have named the children as you illustrated them. Can you talk about that?
Yes! Every child in the book has their own experience at school, and naming them helped me learn about them and how they feel about their experiences. DJ is the first character I came up with. DJ is based on my husband and his childhood experiences. Noah, the child in the blue striped shirt and yellow pants, is shy and nervous. Callie, the student with the star t-shirt and turquoise tutu, is based on my niece, who is outgoing and very spirited, and she has to readjust when she can’t be at school with her friends. Evan wears an orange shirt and is a good-natured friend who has some of his own struggles. Imani wears green and loves turtles, and gets to show off that love for turtles when it’s time for the school play. Ava is an eager helper who is also a bit mischievous. Sam and Nat are a pair of energetic twins, and Evie is a sports fan, as you can see with her baseball shirt.
You can find This is a School at your local bookstore or order here online!