Creator Corner: Author Sarah Howden and illustrator Erika Rodriguez Medina


Welcome to Creator Corner! Every month, we’ll be interviewing the creators of our recent books. This month, we interviewed The Tunnel author Sarah Howden and illustrator Erika Rodriguez Medina. Their spare, powerful picture book about taking space to process difficult feelings published on March 15, 2022. This book has an accompanying discussion guide available for download. For a look at the art of The Tunnel, watch Erika Rodriguez Medina create a spread from the book in this video.

Owlkids Books: Sarah, what inspired the book?

Sarah Howden: I wrote this book because I was reflecting back on some tough times in my childhood, and on the fact that grief is something everyone has to face, no matter their age. I remember so vividly how I felt then, wanting to hide out somewhere small and secret, and then I was struck with the image of burrowing underground. So the idea of The Tunnel was born.

OKB: Erika, which spread did you most enjoy illustrating?

Erika Rodriguez Medina: I would say most of the spreads have little things that were especially satisfying. The plants, vases and toy cars from the first spread and the pose of the protagonist are good examples. The little details of the bedroom were fun too. I’m going to go with the spread where the system of tunnels, bugs and critters are shown for the first time and the one where the kid emerges from the tunnel in the backyard.

Illustration of the boy in the system of tunnels below his room

OKB: What do you both hope readers will take away from this book?

SH: I hope readers will know that it’s okay not to always feel happy, and it’s okay to not be able to put into words what you’re feeling… and to want to be alone, and be with your feelings in your own time. But that sitting in that grief with someone who loves you can ultimately help you through.

ERM: That they can carve a place for themselves to process big emotions and then come back once they feel ready.

OKB: What’s a fun fact that people may not know about you?

SH: I play the piano—I took piano lessons for more than ten years when I was a kid, so I got pretty proficient (I consider my greatest achievement working out the “Linus and Lucy” theme from Charlie Brown Christmas). My piano teacher always insisted I keep my fingernails short (so no nail-clicking when I played), and I suppose the habit stuck, since I do that to this day. (Though nowadays it’s more about no nail-clicking when I type on my laptop.)

ERM: I have really good visual memory, but I struggle to remember people’s names.

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