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JIL Spotlight: Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s art begs to be examined carefully. In her picture books and picture book biographies, she combines paint and collage to bring her subjects to life, from singer Lena Horne to Barack Obama. With an artist’s eye for the right materials, she works with fabric, photographs, textured papers, and even plastic bags to create illustrations that seem to glow from within.

My first look at Liz’s work was the picture book biography One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, written by Miranda Paul. Ceesay started a women’s cooperative to turn discarded plastic shopping bags into woven purses. The women earned enough by selling the bags to open a center where they take classes in business and learn new skills. Liz’s collage technique was a natural fit for this story, in which plastic bags themselves tell the story of pollution, innovation, and hope.

Perhaps her best-known work is the picture book version of William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written with Bryan Mealer. Kamkwamba brought power to his village in rural Malawi by teaching himself the principles of electricity and building wind turbines from material he found in scrap yards. Again, this was the perfect project for Liz, whose paper and oil paint collages lend depth and texture to the landscape, people, and the young William’s engineering projects. Interesting to note: Kamkwamba himself visited Clarkson in 2016 to deliver the Van Sickle Endowed Lecture.

As soon as I joined the Journey into Literacy committee, I knew I wanted to invite Liz to speak, having seen her presentation at a regional conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Not only was it fascinating to learn about her creative process and how she conducts school visits, but her connection with students was evident. We’re lucky to have Liz come and speak to us and co-lead a workshop for schoolchildren with one of our other guest authors, Steve Sheinkin. Don’t miss her--Liz’s books are like mentor texts for student art projects!

Guest Blogger, Local Author & Committee Member: Rebecca Donnelly

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