Creator Corner: Thao Lam
Welcome to Creator Corner! Every month, we’ll be interviewing the creators of our recent books. This month, we interviewed The Line in the Sand author Thao Lam. Her new wordless picture book about conflict resolution publishes September 15, 2022.
Owlkids Books: How did you begin writing and illustrating children’s books?
Thao Lam: I used to be an art buyer for educational publishing; my job was to commission illustrations for your language, math, history, science and social studies books. I spent a lot of times looking at illustrations and had the privilege to work with some amazing illustrators. Their creativity was so infectious and inspiring that, by the end of the work day I was itching to create my own art.
When the design studio I worked for went out of business, it was the push I need to pursue something I really wanted to do since I was kid, illustrating children’s books. With nothing to lose, I sent out samples of a book I have been working on, my version of Little Red Riding Hood. I’m not sure what was harder, the waiting or the rejection letters. Eventually, Owlkids Books reached out: the sample I sent out piqued their interest, but unfortunately a similar concept was already published else where. Having come so far, only to see my hopes and dreams evaporate, my survival instincts kicked in and I made a last minute pitch for a skunk tied to balloon. That was all I had to the story and I was given two weeks to pull it all together. That basically has been my working model for all my books, one line pitches and cross my fingers that the rest will follow.
OKB: What themes or topics do you enjoy exploring in your work?
TL: All my books explore issues that I am currently dealing with or have been trying to solve in my life, so it is a long list of topics. I tend to bury myself in work when things in my personal life get too crazy (I was very productive during the pandemic). Art is not only a great way to express yourself. It can also help you release stress. Time flies and so does your worries, when you are immersed in the world you are creating.
OKB: What was the inspiration for this book?
TL: My little one and I spend a lot of time at different parks throughout the city. Parks are a microcosm of our larger society. A great cross section of little people learning how to interact with each other. It was during one of these outings that we observed an altercation. At the end, Maddie wanted to know who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. Not knowing the root of the altercation, I tried to explain to her that sometimes things are not always black and white. That there are often many interpretations or different perspectives to a problem (or solution).
OKB: What was the most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life? What was the most challenging part of the process?
TL: The most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life was creating all the little monsters. It was very different from what I normal do so it gave me the opportunity to flex my creativity.
The most challenging… well, that’s a long list. This was my first time working digitally, so the learning curve was steep. I think it took way longer for me to work digitally than traditionally because you can make changes so easily in Photoshop that you end up going down this rabbit hole trying to pick a color for a shovel. Working traditional is often confined to the papers I have at hand so my decisions are more concise. There are endless possibilities when working digitally so I learned that I must practice greater restraints.
OKB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
TL: I intentionally made The Line In The Sand a wordless picture book because misunderstandings are often due to a lack of communication. By not including text, readers are now left to their own interpretation of the situation; will they be right or wrong? Or do they just have a different perspective? Without clarification through text, readers can empathized with the two main characters and understand how two friends could end up in such an altercation.
OKB: What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?
TL: I space out really easily. I think I live more in my head than the real world. It comes in handy when I am waiting in line or have a long commute, not so handy when I was in school. I have report cards going back to kindergarten from my teachers praising this talent of mine.
Watch the book trailer for The Line in the Sand below!