Creator Corner: Meet author Ella Russell and illustrator Udayana Lugo
Welcome to Creator Corner! Every month, we’ll be interviewing the creators of our recent books. This month, we interviewed Pink Is for Everybody author Ella Russell and illustrator Udayana Lugo. Their playful yet powerful picture book celebrating self-expression publishes April 15, 2022. This book also has an accompanying coloring sheet available for download.
Owlkids Books: When did you know that you wanted to be an author or illustrator?
Ella Russell: Forever! When I was little, “author” was my go-to what I want to be when I grow up answer. Well, that and international gold-medal-winning gymnast, but becoming one of those two things is definitely a dream-come-true.
Udayana Lugo: I have always loved drawing and painting. I studied Product Design and worked for many years in that, but after two maternity leaves and moving abroad for my husband’s PhD I found myself out of the design world for good. I started feeling that I needed something to do, and I had a very specific wish list: it had to allow me to draw, I should be able to work from home (anywhere in the world), and preferably I would read a lot. The option was pretty obvious, and I was almost 40 years old.
OKB: Ella, what inspired you to write this book?
ER: When I was little my siblings and I shared a big box that we called “the dress-up box.” It was filled with costumes, outfits, and bips-and-bops that the four of us had collected over the years. We would pull from it to dress as all kinds of characters in games of pretend. That box was definitely the inspiration for the treasure chest full of pink costumes, which the kids discover in the book. On a bigger, more thematic level, there’s also a link there in the exploration of who you are, who you can be, and what you like through the different outfits you put on. Both my childhood dress-up box and the treasure chest in the book create(d) a safe space for defying boundaries—from arbitrary gender roles to who you get to be when you grow up.
OKB: Udayana, which spread was the most challenging to illustrate and why?
UL: The last spread, where the kids are parading in their costumes in the rain! I did so many tests for the pavement, the puddles and the umbrellas! I didn’t want the umbrellas to obscure the characters, so I did some of them transparent while keeping them different. There also had to be a balance in the mixed up costumes. I put the astronaut helmet on Sherlock so she could play in the rain without an umbrella.
OKB: What do you both hope readers will take away from this book?
ER: A few things! The first is obvious because it’s in the title—that pink is for everybody who likes it! I also hope this book will provide a framework for readers to think through the snap judgements that are made about the things they or their peers are allowed to participate in. If their friend likes pink and they don’t, hopefully they can find security and joy in their own preferences by celebrating each other’s differences rather than rejecting them. Above all, I want readers to know that they are valid and worthy of celebration, no matter what their preferences are!
UL: I hope that kids will see themselves in the characters and will feel confident to express themselves, perhaps feel inspired to become an astronaut, or a pilot or a dancer.
OKB: What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?
ER: My childhood house, where my siblings and I shared that magical dress-up box so long ago, is over 250 years old! This meant it was a very cool (and sometimes creaky and creepy) place to grow up. My bedroom had a secret back-stairway to the basement where, according to my very convincing granny, a ghost lived!
UL: I don’t wear pink! I will gladly wear magenta, which is more like a purplish red, but you won’t catch me dead in a pink, rose or blush t-shirt. The cat in the story is my soulmate, although I don’t wear bowties either.