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• January 8, 2024 TopicsBook Clubs Book Fairs books illustration illustrator interview January

Interview with Ruth Ohi, Illustrator of ‘We Belong Here’

What inspired you to illustrate the book? Where did you draw inspiration from?

Frieda’s manuscript was inspired by conversations she and I shared about our family histories. We were both thrilled when Scholastic Canada accepted her story and I got the chance to illustrate it! A lot of what appears in Mark’s home are things from my own family and Grandparent’s home. Can you find my Grandmother’s red vase on Mark’s shelf? Frieda generously sent photos from her family history as well.

What did you enjoy most about illustrating it? What were some challenges that you faced while illustrating?

I enjoyed the chance to illustrate a story based on a specific time in history. And it was exciting to meet Frieda’s characters, Eve and Mark, for the first time! One challenge I had was knowing the story was a personal one for Frieda and so I wanted her to like how I portrayed the story through my illustrations. I was so happy when she saw the book and let me know how much she loved it!

What books have had the biggest impact on your life? What books were your favourite to read growing up? What books inspired you and your illustrations while growing up?

Growing up I looked forward to weekly family visits to the library and choosing my own books. I think being exposed to so many different stories and illustration approaches helped fuel my own imagination. I loved stories about creatures and animals who talked like the ones by P.D.Eastman, Dr. Seuss, and William Steig. I enjoyed the serenity and comfort of Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day”.

How do you come up with the characters’ illustrations?

I researched home life in the 1950’s and looked at children’s clothing and hairstyles – I think that Eve grew a bit from seeing Frieda’s childhood photos – her personality, her energy in real life, I wanted to capture that.

What’s your illustration process look like?

I read the story many times to get the feel of the words and give Eve and Mark a chance to live in my imagination. I then began doodling very tiny loose sketches, more like scribbles and stick figures to see how they could play on the page. The sketches are then drawn larger and with more detail. I show everything to the editor and art director who write their feedback and we go back and forth from there until I get the green light to begin the final artwork.

What’s something about this book that most people don’t know?

Near the beginning of the book, Mark gifts Eve a tiny wooden carving of a turtle that he made. I had fun placing more of Mark’s tiny sculptures (a crane, a rabbit, a fox) throughout the book. Frieda’s story didn’t tell me to do this. How many of Mark’s carvings can you find?