Reviewed by Zetta Elliott
I’m always impressed when writers take matters into their own hands and bring their stories to life by self-publishing. Robert Liu-Trujillo’s first book is a beautifully illustrated story of a boy’s bold decision to change his style; when doubt sets in, his father’s reassurances and recollections of their extended family help Furqan feel confident once more. You can watch the trailer here. Rob was kind enough to share his thoughts with me. Welcome, Rob!
1. This book is dedicated to your son, and I believe you identify as a “Rad Dad.” Can you talk about your decision to write about a father and son, and the challenge of finding representations in kid lit (or popular culture) that reflect your particular reality of childhood/fatherhood?
First off, thank you for inviting me to be your blog and for your support. You rock Zetta!
Ok, so…Being a consumer of books, films, tv, games, the internet, advertising, etc I didn’t realize just how much of my family’s experience was missing from the cannon of popular or widely available stories. I couldn’t find books that I could point to and say “Hey Mijo, he’s just like you” or “that’s how I grew up”. I couldn’t.
As my son got older I found a few books focusing on young mixed brown boys with some similar experience, but he’s too old for a lot of those now you know? He began to read more challenging books with a little help from me, his mom, and his grandparents. And as he got into reading comics, graphic novels, and now chapter books for fun I started to look for more examples of him and who he is in those bookshelves (and forms of media). And to be honest, those reflections don’t existent yet or are hella hard to find. It’s getting better, but its still a hunt.
As Tomas Moniz says, I’m not a Rad Dad. Its something I wanna be, or something I aspire to be. When I became a dad it completely and incredibly altered my sense of being and purpose. When my son was just a year old and starting to walk I realized that much of his and his family’s experience would have to be made. I told myself, “I’m going to be a part of making those new stories” even if it takes me forever to do it, it just feels right. It feels like fighting back, you know? Because we’ve either been written out or completely ignored.
And that was nearly a decade ago. I’m just starting to get to a point where I can present a story that is up to my own expectations or bar of storytelling that is a reflection of my life, his, and hopefully a bunch of other kids. I’m just getting started.
2. I’ve always been struck by your use of watercolor to depict people of color. Initially I worried that everyone seemed light-skinned, but as I’ve spent more time in the Bay Area, I wonder if this might be your take on multiracial identity (the “beiging” of the US). At the same time, there’s something gentle and soothing about watercolor, and it’s nice to see boys and men of color represented this way. Can you talk about what informs your aesthetic and how your visual style complements your storytelling priorities?
Sure, with the lightness it’s kinda of just me learning to use the medium correctly still. Even as I put out a book I’m studying. I’m trying to get better at depicting darker skin tones, backgrounds, lighting, and shadow. A lot of that study is of other painters and cinematographers and photographers. I definitely want to push the color and light a lot more. The light skin tones you see are just a part of my evolution. It wasn’t an intentional statement about being mixed but I see what you mean. My dad’s side of the family is almost all a very light brown and my mom’s side is a mix of darker browns and lighter tones.
In regards to the softness. I started painting with watercolor almost 14 years ago and I still have a lot to learn. But yes! I do try to make the picture feel soft or warm. But you know, as I say that the style might change. I don’t want to stay the same stylistically. I want to evolve as the stories do. Some scenes are chill, laid back, or fun. I’m going to dive into some things that are more fantastical, scary, or dark in tone as I learn how to paint it right. When I first started to work on full scenes with characters I was using a lot of sepia tones, light browns, etc. I don’t know; I just experimented with that. I really like Bradford young’s work. How he lights his films. And through him I discovered Roy Decarava ( he was crazy talented). I really really dig Shaun Tan’s work with shadow and color. I love how LeUyen Pham uses different mediums depending on the story. I have so many influences from every day things I take a picture of, to illustrators, plein air painters, to old books at the library. I’m just getting started.
I cannot wait to get all of the stories I have in my head out. I see so many aspects of my world and that of friends, family, and families from a far that must be put to page, you know? Continue reading.
Furqan's First Flat Top by Robert Liu-Trujillo
Published by Come Bien Books on October 31, 2015
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2, Grades 3-5
Review Source: Zetta Elliott
Publisher's synopsis: Furqan Moreno wakes up and decides that today he wants his hair cut for the first time. His dad has just the style: a flat top fade! He wants his new haircut to be cool but when they get to the barbershop, he's a bit nervous about his decision. He begins to worry that his hair will look funny, imagining all the flat objects in his day to day life. Before he knows it, his haircut is done and he realizes that his dad was right -- Furqan's first flat top is the freshest!