I am SO excited to be featuring an interview with Work it, Girl illustrator Sinem Erkas as well as my reviews of the latest two books in the series (Mae Jemison and Michelle Obama).
About the Work it, Girl series:
Author: Caroline Moss
Illustrator: Sinem Erkas
Each book features an empowering biography of a successful woman. The series launched last year with biographies of J. K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey (see my review here). 3 March 2020 sees the publication of the next two titles, the biographies of Mae Jemison and Michelle Obama and they do not disappoint!
Both Mae and Michelle had to work hard to achieve their goals, they overcame adversity and let life’s obstacles make them stronger. Caroline blends anecdote of their lives with inspirational quotes from the women so that each chapter leaves you with a key takeaway (which are neatly summarised at the back of the book!). One of my favourite quotes was this one by Michelle.
And here is a sneak peak of how Sinem created it!
Each chapter is only a couple of pages and the ratio of text-pages to illustration-pages is 50:50. At key moments in the books, Caroline speaks directly to the young readers which makes the biographies feel more engaging. At the end of the book there is also a page of questions as well as further reading.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I WISH this series had been around when I was young. Work it, Girl truly is an inspirational series that deserves to sit on everyone’s bookshelf!
Before taking a closer look at the latest two books in the series, here is Sinem talking about illustrating the series…
Hello, Sinem! Can you tell us what you thought when you first read the text for the Work it, Girl books?
They’re inspiring! I think Caroline Moss’s style of writing is very engaging and fun, especially for 8–13 year olds. Reading them I’d often have more than one idea to illustrate for each page and so picking one thing to focus on can be challenging!
Do you have a favourite book in the series and which spread did you most enjoy illustrating?
My favourite always changes! I think each new ‘Work It, Girl’ book is better than the last… I love the pleasing colour palette and compositions in the Michelle Obama book and really enjoyed making the birds spread – all those textured layers of feathers! And I had a lot of fun with the conceptual ideas in the Mae Jemison book, particularly the question mark being made up of young girls, which questions the future of our planet.
And I worked at a larger scale! This is a mathematical shape I made (with my head inside) which became a spread about imagination.
Your work is wonderfully bold and bright and your style is really recognisable across your portfolio. Could you share with us a little about your creative process?
Thank you! My main goal is to always have fun creating the visuals because then I hope that means people looking at them are also having fun.
I like to play a lot with ideas and illustrate things that add further context to the text, not just illustrating the text literally.
And then when I start designing the compositions, I like to get to the point as minimally as I can (my style is quite graphic and I think that’s because I come from a graphic design background.) When I work in paper, the physical process can be quite long because I first sketch my ideas, then finesse the compositions in Photoshop before printing them out and using them as a guide to then cut the designs out of paper. And then when that’s done I light and photograph the paper illustrations to put back in the computer. I love working across these analogue and digital platforms!
Do you have a preference for book cover design or fully illustrated book projects?
I love both. Designing book covers means I get to work on a huge variety of books and as the turnaround is so fast – I can be a bit of an ideas machine! Illustrating picture books works on a longer timescale, which means I can really get my teeth into the project. The two compliment each other and often inspire one another.
And finally, which woman has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
J. K. Rowling! Her books were the first books I read without wanting to put them down as a child. They introduced me to books, properly, and I’ve been glued ever since!
Thank you so much, Sinem, for sharing how you designed the series with us!
Now, here’s what I thought of the two new titles…
Title: Mae Jemison, Blast off into space like
Mae Jemison, born in the 1950s, was the first African American woman to go to space and in this biography we get a real sense of the dedication, perseverance and commitment to succeed that it took for a little girl to grow up and achieve her dreams.
There is a strong theme throughout the book, of how Mae never let the stigmas of others hold her back. Caroline explains in a child-friendly way, how even Mae’s teachers, who were trying to be supportive, dismissed her aspirations because of her skin colour and sex. But whenever Mae felt disheartened, her parents lifted her up.
“It does not matter what anyone thinks,” Mae’s mum touched her arm gently. “What matters is that you work hard, set goals and do your best to achieve them. What matters is that you believe in yourself. We believe in you.”
Mae took her parent’s advice seriously. She worked harder than anyone else at school and earned a place at Princeton at only 16 years of age. But even though she was fixed on achieving her goal, Mae did have balance in her life. I think this is really important and I love this spread where we learn about Mae’s passion for dance. I will forever think of her as the dancing astronaut.
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Quarto
Publication date: 3 March 2020
Title: Michelle Obama, Become a leader like
Having read Michelle’s autobiography, Becoming, I was very excited to read this book. Caroline has created a fantastic account of Michelle’s life, thoughts and feelings, that is accessible for children. I loved this double page spread devoted to the message: learning is cool!
Michelle has arguably led the most public life of the women in this series, and is often referred to as “Barrack’s wife”, something Chapter 9 discusses. But Michelle is so much more than just a President’s wife. In fact, Barrack (rightly) doesn’t even feature in the first half of the book. We learn how Michelle grew up in a small bungalow with her extended family and from this humble beginning went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and became a lawyer.
But not long after graduating she lost her best-friend to cancer and her father to MS. She reassessed her values and decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer. This was the start of a new phase in her personal life and career that ultimately saw her go on to become First Lady.
Whilst in the White House, Michelle achieved so much and I loved Sinem’s interpretation of Michelle’s biggest initiative as First Lady, Let’s Move, which promotes healthy lifestyles for children.
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Quarto
Publication date: 3 March 2020
The next two books in the series have also been announced and will be published in October: Ellen Degeneres, Make them laugh like and Beyonce Knowles: Rule the music scene like Queen. I can’t wait to read them!!
Caroline Moss is an author based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan and more. Her first book, “HEY LADIES!” came out in May 2018. She loves scary movies and pickles.
Sinem Erkas is a graphic illustrator and art director with an appetite for experimentation and a good sense of fun. Sinem’s first illustrated book The Girl Guide has been published in 18+ languages and she is currently working on a series of illustrated biographies Work It, Girl. Her practice ranges from digital artworks to 3D photo-illustrations and her favourite projects involve creating playful and bold imagery that make you look twice. Based in London, she graduated from CSM in 2008 and has since acquired numerous design awards and clients that include Profile Books, Elle Decoration, Hachette Publishers, Google, SHOWstudio and Warp Records amongst many others.
You can also follow the Work it, Girl series on Instagram!
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with advanced copies of the books. This spotlight feature contains my honest opinion.