Creator Corner: How to Be Human author Sophia Kolinas and illustrator Aparna Varma

Welcome to Creator Corner! Each month we interview the creators of one of our recent books. This month, we interviewed How to Be Human: A Bear’s Guide author Sophia Kolinas and illustrator Aparna Varma.

Owlkids Books: When did you know that you wanted to be an author or illustrator?

Sophia Kolinas: I knew I wanted to be an author from very young. I remember during family drives, I would make up stories on the spot and recite them aloud, weaving in whatever I could see from my window. Everything—from store signs and traffic lights to crooked trees and people sitting on their front porches—became part of the tale. What made me believe that I could be an author were four very special teachers: Mr. Malcolm Brown, Mr. John Lanyon, Miss Shirley Shin, and my sister Elaine.  They all made me feel like I had something special to share.

Aparna Varma: As far as I can remember I’ve always loved to draw and tell stories. As a child, I devoured every picture book I could find. I pursued animation in university – I didn’t think of illustration until I met some exchange students who shared the books they had illustrated. I remember thinking, Wow! This is everything I love; I would love to illustrate a book one day. I’ve worked through the years to develop my own unique style and here I am, living my dream!

OKB: Sophia, what inspired you to write this book?

SK: There was a point in my life when I was very sick, but when I’d look out my window into my backyard I instantly cheered up. Little by little, I got better and better until I could go outside. When I did, I remember stepping on the grass with my bare feet, smelling the sky, and thinking how lucky we are to have such a giving home. I also thought this is what it must be like for animals. They feel all of nature all the time—how wonderful would it be if humans did too. I bet they’d find a joy and connection they never knew existed.

I noticed something else too. In my backyard, I have a bird feeder and I’d spend my days watching the cardinals and sparrows zip in and out. Whatever seeds were left on the ground would be eaten by the squirrels. And whatever the squirrels didn’t eat would be left for the ducks. I guess word got out because soon I had rabbits and deer visiting! One little feeder created space for so many creatures. And they all, in their own way, shared.

OKB: Aparna, which spread did you enjoy illustrating the most?

AV: The page where we introduce all the ‘regular’ things the bear does is my favorite. I really enjoyed illustrating the silly expressions and gestures for him. Also, it turned out just the way I imagined it when I first read the manuscript.

OKB: Which spread was the most challenging to illustrate?

AV: The spread where we transition from day to night was challenging. I had to come up with a new night palette that meshed well with the book’s overall look and feel on the left while still conveying the cool ‘moonlit’  feel on the right.

OKB: Sophia, what do you each hope readers will take away from this book?

SK: That everyone— from seed to sunrise, human to bear— breathes together. Our Earth is a place of giving and of sharing.

I hope that readers will be inspired to explore nature more sensorially while discovering all the awesome ways that everyone (plant, animal, human) is interconnected and of the Earth. It’s pretty amazing.

I also hope that young readers will see that there are so many fun ways to create shared space, and invite biodiversity. It doesn’t have to be a lone task! You can round up your friends, sprinkle a smile of seeds into each of their hands, and head out on an adventure to plant a garden, make a bird feeder or do a schoolyard clean-up.

OKB: What is something that readers may not know about you?

SK: Hmmm….I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and played my ukulele at the summit.

AV: I love learning about space. Articles, documentaries, movies, books…if they’re about space and space exploration, you have my attention!


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