Tales for Tots Inspired By A World Of Culture, Q&A with Author Susie Jaramillo

Based on a popular nursery rhymes in the Spanish speaking world, "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos" is a cheerful board book, one side in Spanish, the other side in English. The lift the flap and reversible design makes this bilingual adaptation of the song engaging and fun for young audiences. And much like the adorable hungry chickies and their resourceful mama hen, this book parallels the insatiable curiosity of children 0-4 and and the unconditional love, care, and warmth given to them by their mommies and daddies. I'm thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with author/illustrator Susie Jaramillo.

What were you like as a little girl? 

I was talkative and hyper with the attention span of a fly. I had flair for the dramatic and wanted to be an actress, and a ballet dancer, and a nun. I never thought of my future as tied to a job. It was more a question of what I wanted to do and less a question of how I would make money doing it. 

What did you do prior to becoming a book author and illustrator? 

When I graduated from Pratt, I knew I could draw, but not much else. So I started freelancing in various animation studios. Later, I gravitated towards advertising. I loved all the strategy and story telling for brands. You could really put a smile on someones face by inspiring them with more then a product. Advertising taught me the craft of the the story to complement my drawing and painting skills. It also taught me what was possible in story telling and the many platforms beyond the printed space. 

What was that ah-ha moment that inspired you to take that leap as a writer & illustrator? 

After 12 years in advertising, I drew less and less and I really missed it. Then I had my children who are half Venezuelan/American and half Colombian. They're growing up in a very Latin household and yet there were few resources to share my culture with my kid. I love my culture and I know there is so much to share. There’s a wonderful saying by Beverly Cleary (I’m a fan.) “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” I decided it was time to make the leap and combine my artistic chops with everything I had learned in advertising about design, production and storytelling. It was my “Now or Never” moment. Simon and Schuster gave me my first offer but I wouldn’t have been able to do it the way I wanted to. It was really important to me to create something special with these books, especially as they were the first children's board books for a market that doesn’t have much representing them. Instead, I took an alternative path by finding a partner who shared my vision and we launched our own publishing entity, found a distribution partner, and put everything we’d collectively learned to work for us!

Who inspired you to create your picture book "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos”? 

With out a doubt, my children and my people. The hard working Latin community, most of whom either come here looking to provide a better future for their families or are the children of such people. They quietly work harder then everybody else. They take on the menial jobs. They don’t protest. They are an intricate part of what makes up “affordable living” in the United States. They love their families and their traditions, their language and their traditions. I wanted to help them share these traditions with their children and bring these traditions to an extended non-Latin audience so that they too could appreciate the culture more. I started with "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos" because it is the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” of Latin America and it didn’t exist as a board book. Ultimately, my goal is to create a library of these wonderful songs that children and families will cherish.

What is the best advice you ever got to become an author-illustrator for children’s books?

I never got advice here. I get the best advice from the quotes I find online and from quotes great people say. This is my inspiration board.

What is it about the 0-4 year old age group appeals to you? 

This is an awesome age! In addition to being very open and silly, loving big bold visuals, and books that don’t require a whole lot of words to tell a story - they have incredibly flexible brains at this age and are just starting to develop their language skills. It’s the perfect time to start introducing another culture and language to them; to prepare them for a smaller world; to be creative thinkers and to learn how to indulge their curiosity & empathy; and most importantly to choose wisely. The CANTICOS Books will be fun for their characters and stories and hopefully they will help create bonds in the community by giving children songs to sing and share with relatives who already know these old favorites. They will also teach phonics and rhythm in two languages, while cultivating motor skills with their interactive components.  Their are other projects in the pipeline that address some of the other issues mentioned above.

Beyond the book publication, I hear you also have the LOS POLLITOS app. Can you tell me more about that?

Tablet devices and smart phones are a wonderful platform for child engagement and a welcome substitute for the passive activity of watching TV. With the Little Chickies app we now expose children to the song in eight different languages sung by wonderful,  and some grammy winning talent. We also build in play experiences designed to stimulate motor skills, creative play, musical engagement and curiosity with many elements to surprise and delight toddlers. Here we also have the platform to bring these chickies to life a bit more, give them personalities, voices. You can now find the app on iTunes.

What are the causes that speak to your heart? 

Social inequality and the way women and children are treated around the world are issues close to my heart. With Canticos, my goal is to help women and children have access to more by creating meaningful media that makes the world a better place for kids of all ages. For every Canticos book or app purchased, a portion of the proceeds goes to help provide books and apps to low-income communities in need.

Will there be more books like this?

Absolutely! Stay tuned for a whole line of beautiful Canticos board books, apps, and sing-a-long videos featuring little animals and catchy songs. I want to create a whole world for Canticos. You can get a better sense of what this will look like here: canticosworld.com

Susie Jaramillo is a Brooklyn-base author/illustrator of a "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos” and the creator of CANTICOS