Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Featured Illustrator: Sean Qualls

As I near the end of my first school year blogging here at The Logonauts, I have come to realize that illustrators are incredibly powerful people. I have always paid attention to authors, found favorites, and sought out new books by them, but over the past year I have been surprised at how I sometimes have overlooked the illustrators.

In an effort to remedy that (and as a sure-fire way to find amazing books I may have overlooked), I have decided to start a monthly feature focusing on the books and work of a particular illustrator. For May I have been reading and enjoying the work of illustrator Sean Qualls. (Read part 2 in this series here.)

Introducing Sean Qualls 

Sean Qualls first appeared on my radar a few months back when I won a copy of Emmanuel's Dream (read more about the book in this post). This powerful true story comes to life through the powerful painting and distinct style of the illustrations.

Sean Qualls has illustrated many children's books in the 10 years since his first book, Baby on the Way, was published. He has illustrated books on a wide range of topics, many of which feature diverse characters, both fictional and biographical. His art is a combination of painting and collage, and he often collages different paintings and pieces together to create a dimensional look.

Some of my favorite stories illustrated by Sean Qualls are presented below. Part 2 in this series will cover some of his many picture book biographies.

Want to know more? Read a 2008 interview with Sean Qualls over at The Brown Bookshelf or a recent Q&A from Publisher's Weekly with both Sean Qualls and his wife Selina Alko. Or, you can follow Sean Qualls on Facebook for news and updates.

Stories and Traditional Tales illustrated by Sean Qualls


The Baby on the Way (2005) by Karen English. This book is Sean Qualls's first picture book for children, and it is a tender story of a grandmother and grandson. The grandmother relates the story of her own birth, and the illustrations alternate between the present day and the events being narrated in the story. The story concludes as a bit of a circular story, as the boy asks about his own birth story and the grandmother prepares to tell it. Be prepared when sharing this book to immediately follow it up with your own telling of your listener's birth story.

Who Will I Be, Lord? (2009) by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. This family-history story begins with the narrator's great-grandpap who was a mailman and played banjo and her great-grandma who was white and a housewife. The story continues with the refrain of the young narrator asking "And who will I be, Lord? What will I be?" as she describes different members of her family. It's an interesting book and concept, but I think the Lord references might make it a hard one to use in schools.

Songs and Traditional Tales

Lullaby (for a Black Mother) is a poem by Langston Hughes published as a picture book in 2013 illustrated by Sean Qualls. The illustrations are a wonderful enchanting combination of realistic and imaginative, including scenes of the mother and child getting ready for bed but also scenes of pure abstraction and joy. The end notes about the poet even include a photograph of him as a young baby with his mother. A precious book for any new mother.

Little Cloud and Lady Wind (2010) by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This folktale-like original story has its roots in Aesop's fable about a competition between the sun and the wind. Here, Little Cloud does not want to join the other clouds in terrorizing the people of earth, but it is only through the intervention of Lady Wind does she learn the other powers of being a cloud. The muted palette of blues and grays works wonderfully here to convey the world and feelings of our shy main character.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, covering some of the many inspiring picture book biographies illustrated by Sean Qualls.


  1. I had never heard of him before. Thanks for the information.

    1. Thanks, Tammy. He's done some amazing work and has really picked great authors too.

  2. New web site is looking good. Thanks for the great effort. illustrator


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