We are talking today with Sadagat Aliyeva, a talented up-and-coming picture book author/illustrator. Thank you for being here, Sadagat. Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the country of Azerbaijan. As I remember, I always loved reading and drawing as a child. I have an MA degree in Theatre from my native country. I immigrated to the US with my little family in 2004 and got my Associate degree in Graphic Design here.
I currently live in Des Moines, Iowa with my husband, my three beautiful kids, and my two cats. As a day job, I’m a librarian, but I feel like there is a little girl inside me that tickling me to tell stories and draw.
So, I thought I better listen her since I’m very ticklish.
Pippi Longstocking was one of my favorite characters as a kid! I read those stories over and over again. I love looking at your copy of the book, and that you still have it.
The copy of I read was in a different language and the pictures had a different flavor, but there you & I were, on opposite sides of the world, two little girls reading the same story. It's something that really stops me in my tracks.
How did you come to be an author/illustrator?
As I remember, I always doodled. As a child, it was my getaway from the “real” world around me. I had a hard childhood full of anger, hard labor work, and emotional abuse. Maybe because of that I was attracted to books and drawing. Whenever I was sad, or just full of feelings, I’d draw. I still draw and sketch whenever I’m full of emotions, listening any inspirational music, etc.
I always was and still am in love with theater, and I used to write short clips, theater plays back in my country (Azerbaijan), which were filmed and staged there. I also wrote poetry back then and got published in the paper.
Twelve years ago when I immigrated to the US with my family, I had no language and almost nothing to do. My MA degree in the theater didn’t count, and I wasn’t able to find paying job in that field. I decided to go back to school to earn some diploma that would lead me to a job. Since I liked drawing, I thought it would be a good fit for me to study Graphic Design.
While I was a student, I realized that there is something else in me that pulling me to a different direction. I understood that it’s not for me at all to sit in a cubicle all day and do the same thing over and over again. I have a strong spirit, and I needed something more.
What does it look like to watch you work?
I have read somewhere that life has three parts: first part we learn, next we travel, and last, we tell stories. I have learned from a lot of great teachers. I’ve lived on both sides of the globe. Now is the time for me to tell stories. I have great life experiences to turn into stories.
Stories just come to me. I don’t usually look for them, or try to make up something. They’re everywhere. They can come to me while I’m walking; I’m at work, or in the middle of night. It is as if someone is whispering them to me.
The pictures are a little challenging for me. Although stories come easily and constantly, when it comes to illustrations, I get very picky. I’ve tried colored pencils, watercolors, acrylic, and digital. I feel comfortable with colored pencils, but I mostly enjoy just sketching with pencil. It takes me a long time to decide which way I’ll go with one image. I count myself more a writer than an artist. I don’t have a traditional artist education; I’m self-taught. Illustrating my books is a learning process for me.
Two years ago, one night I woke up with a story pouring out of me. I got up and wrote it down, so I didn’t forget. My first story, The Moon Child was written in 20 minutes. I never thought of it as something that I’d publish, or even show it to someone. I didn’t even know a writer was hiding in me, waiting to be discovered.
I was lucky to get a scholarship to take The Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books course taught by Mira Reisberg last fall. I deeply appreciate Mira’s teachings. The course gave me a clear directions and knowledge about illustrating children’s books that I didn’t know before. I’ve met so many talented people in this course (one is yourself) that inspired and encouraged me to think about publishing seriously.
When I was a graphic design student, one of my classmates once told me that I use swirls in my drawings. She asked why I was drawing everything swirly. My surprise, I never thought about, nor paid attention it before.
I told my friend that this is the way I see the world. Everything is circular, intertwined, and in motion. Everything is energy and energy swirls and is constantly moving.
Tell us a little bit more about your current project.
My story The Moon Child comes from my childhood world. It’s about a little girl who is longing for love and friendship that she finds it in the moon’s companionship.
My main goal in telling stories is to give hope to my readers, my little friends, who might feel lonely, or helpless time to time. I want to take my little readers to an adventure, to a different world; teach them self-love, self-power like once Pippi Longstocking taught me.
What is the best advice that anyone has given you during this process toward becoming a writer and illustrator?
It’s little hard for me to answer this question, Carrie. I’ve learned from many, many teachers. I learn from every person I meet on my life path; it doesn’t matter if they are an adult or a child.
I often listen to lessons from Esther Hicks (Abraham). Once I heard she said to someone, who was struggling to decide when to publish his book: “To write and publish a very good book, you first need to write and publish a very bad one. And that bad book will create your best book.”
You are one of several library workers that I’ve met who is also writing and illustrating for children. I envy you—all the books you must see & the opportunity to see how kids interact with them. What can you tell me about your experience of the intersection of working at the library and becoming a creator of children’s books?
There’s nothing to envy about, but you’re right, working in the library has given me the opportunity to realize the intellectual in children’s mind that we often underestimate. I always amazed at their reactions to specific books. We assume that the parents pick the books for their children, but in reality, kids pick them by themselves. It’s true that parents read to their little ones, but if you pay close attention, you’ll see what book will actually stick with certain little readers.
Every child is different. I have three children of my own. I never push my kids to read or push them to read certain books. I don’t think everyone should be a reader, or even should read. We all have different interests in life.
I was about ten years old, when my father forbade of us reading library books. It made me so very sad as I loved reading so very much. Then I started reading secretly. At night when everyone was asleep, I’d read in a small crack of light that came through a window.
What I want to say is if a child is a reader, there’s nothing can stop him/her from it.
Working at the library is also helps me learn more about different styles and ways of telling stories, and illustrating children’s books.
Diversity is a big word right now in children’s literature. What are your thoughts on how the industry is approaching this question of "diversity"?
Thank you for this question; it’s something that bothers me time to time. I never liked the word “diversity” in the way they use it. In America, if you came from a different country, or your skin has a different color, or you speak a different language, etc. people call it diversity.
No matter where were you born, or what color you are, we all come from the same source of energy and we’ll return there.
My nationality or color of my hair doesn’t stop me from dreaming or understanding as anyone else. I never knew, nor I want to know what is the nationality of Pippi Longstocking, Little Red Riding Hood, etc., but I love to read those stories over and over again and relate to them.
And although I grew up in a somewhat Middle Eastern country, I’ve read a lot of European and American literature and most of them resonated with me. I never differentiated myself from the characters in those books.
To me, our only diversity is in our various desires in life. And it comes from our diverse life experiences. Our experiences always direct us to create a desire for better. Since I have a different life experience than yours, my desire in life is different than yours. So, my way of telling stories, or illustrating will be different than others, which makes human life richer and more interesting.
As I said earlier, every child will pick their reading and will stick with the story that resonates with them.
If there were a book written about your life, what would the title be?
As I said above, The Moon Child comes from my childhood. I think all authors write their life. But there is a book in me that is slowly developing. It’s a chapter book, more like a novel and I’ve already started writing it a little bit. I call it See You Soon.