The Children's Book Council named James Ransome as one of 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know. A member of the Society of Illustrators, Ransome has received both the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Honor Award for his book “The Creation.” He also received the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance award for his book “The Wagon.” Ransome’s work has been shown in group and solo shows throughout the country. He has collaborated with his wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome, on four books. Their latest work together is “Light in the Darkness” (Disney Hyperion Books), a story of slaves and their determination to learn how to read and write.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your book – Gunner: Football Hero?
As a writer, I wanted to address some issues that our children deal with on a daily basis in a positive light. I just chose football, one of my favorite pastimes as the vehicle. Under the theme of "winning isn't everything" I wanted to convey to the reader how hard work and determination can overcome the negative preconceptions based on body image.
Can you tell us about your experience illustrating for the Exquisite Corpse Adventure?
It was challenging to create a single image for an entire story and not know in advance what story I would be illustrating. But to illustrate stories written by some of my favorite writers was a wonderful opportunity.
You have written and illustrated many books. Do you have any special favorites among them?
This may sound cliché, but my books are like my children. It is difficult to love one more than the rest when they all have special qualities.
What challenges do you face in your writing/illustrating process? How do you overcome them?
In my illustration process, the main challenge is finding models to portray the characters in the book and coming up with new ideas. After illustrating so many books, it is always a challenge to find new ways to express my vision artistically. I feel I overcame that challenge by finding new mediums and even changing the style in which I illustrate.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing or illustrating?
Keep a sketchbook or a journal. Both writing and illustrating get stronger when they are practiced every day. As a child, I copied everything in sight-- comic books, images from the Bible and I still draw in my sketchbook whenever I travel.
Can you suggest a fun topic to get them started?
Draw a portrait of each of your family members and try to capture their personality in your portrait.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
- Elijah of Buxton
- Joey Pigza series
- Helen Keller: The World in her Heart
- Back Home
- John Henry
- No, David!
- Satchel Paige
- A Series of Unfortunate Events
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I try to think of things I was interested in as a child and use those interests to guide me.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Research is crucial to the authenticity of my books. The research helps to create the setting which sets each book apart. I typically research throughout the project by looking at books, magazines, DVD's and, when possible, visiting actual locations. I generally start one year prior to illustrating. I collect materials that I toss into a box. Once I begin working on the project, I go over the material I have collected. I am always on the lookout for new material up until the project has been completed.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
I think reading with your children is the greatest gift you can give them. Equally important is the sharing of family stories and discussing books that you enjoy.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
My two most recent projects are two biographies written by my wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome. The first is Before Mozart: the Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George and Words Set Me Free: The Story of young Frederick Douglass.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
I would be a magician.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?