Monday, November 4, 2019

November #cbadspotlight - Spotlight on The Field with Author Baptiste Paul & Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara

Today I'm shining the spotlight on
Baptiste Paul & Jacqueline Alcántara,
author & illustrator of #cbadspotlight pick The Field 
and also co-authored by Baptise with Miranda Paul I Am Farmer & Adventures to School
and also illustrated by Jacqueline Freedom Soup
The Field
The world’s most popular and inclusive sport has found its spirited, poetic, and authentic voice in Baptiste Paul’s debut picture book—highlighting the joys of the game along with its universal themes: teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance. Creole words (as spoken in St. Lucia, the author’s birthplace island in the Caribbean) add spice to the story and are a strong reminder of the sport’s world fame. Bright and brilliant illustrations by debut children’s book illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara—winner of the We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship Award—capture the grit and glory of the game and the beauty of the island setting where this particular field was inspired. Soccer fan or not, the call of The Field is irresistible.

Thank you, Baptiste & Jacqueline, for joining me for a #cbadspotlight interview today!

An interview with Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara

Kids play soccer all around the world, but the kids in The Field are playing their soccer game on a Caribbean island (St. Lucia) - can you point out any elements in the text or illustrations where you were specifically evoking that setting? Or could this story be anywhere?

BP: Wow! What a great question. I definitely wanted the story to have a tropical feel but at the same time the story could have taken place anywhere in the world. There are many areas where I tried to create the setting or at least make the story feel a little different.  For me, the use language, more precisely the Creole words like Vini played and important role in setting up the story to be different. Did you know that while writing this book, I included only a single illustrator note? I just wanted to see an illustration of a kid chasing a cow. That made the story more authentic and giving it that tropical setting feel that I wanted.

JA: I have been to the Caribbean a lot and it has such a specific feeling with the colorful houses, the tropical foliage, the mix of backgrounds and skin tones, the lively culture, the strong, mid-day heat, and the relief that a little rain brings - so upon first reading the manuscript, I could “see” the place and people and knew what I wanted the book to feel like overall. However, I haven’t been specifically to St. Lucia (yet!) so I took a lot of YouTube trips across the island to explore the landscape, foliage, people, and music. Then I knew immediately I wanted the first spread to have the character playing in a tropical forest that opened up to see the field itself, with the ocean in the distance to place us immediately on a tropical island. Other details such as the houses on stilts, the mix of characters, clothing, and coconuts help to place us in the Caribbean! But in my research I also watched soccer games from around the world and used screenshots of people playing soccer on rooftops in Tokyo, floating fields in Thailand, to dusty fields in Mozambique. It was really interesting to see similarities and differences in games across the world but my goal was to subtly incorporate elements of these different places/people while overall feeling very genuinely Caribbean.

Did either of you play soccer as children? How about now?

JA: A bit! But not as much as the kids in “The Field” ( I was more of a gymnastics and dance kid) but I played with my dad growing up and pick-up games with friends during high school. While the Chicago suburbs are a far cry from life on a tropical island, I drew upon stories from my dad - who grew up in Honduras and played soccer every day, just like the kids in The Field. I also drew upon a favorite childhood memory of mine from a trip to Honduras - visiting my family in the mountains and playing a nighttime soccer game with some other kids from the village there. Everyone running on the uneven “field” (also a cow pasture!) in different shoes - cowboy boots, flip flops, gym shoes. I felt like the sky was so close that you could just grab a star from the sky. That moment came to me immediately when I read Baptiste’s manuscript the first time. Although my daily life wasn’t like these kids, I felt I had a lot from my own experience to draw upon to make it feel authentic.

BP: Yes, as a child I played futbol (soccer) almost everyday barefoot. Today, my soccer playing is limited. However, when I see  kids or anyone playing with a soccer ball, the magic crawls right back in and I feel like a kid all over again.  As a child, playing in the rain and the mud was just magical.

I remembered the day I tried soccer cleats on for the first time. It felt weird and I struggled to even kick a ball properly. It was in primary school (middle school). The rules were that you had to play with shoes on.  We were no match for the other team. The final score was 12 to 0. I often reflect on this day as one of the most humbling moments of my life. It is often said that you learn a lot through failure and defeat than always succeeding. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t think about quitting but I didn’t.

Kids learn through play. Do you think the kids in this story learn anything? What does playing "the beautiful game" teach them?

BP: I know from my own experiences that learning through play helped shaped the individual I am today. The story, The Field mirrors my own life. The Field was the place where l learned some of the toughest and most beautiful lessons in life.  Lessons such as, failure/defeat, love/hate, unity, motivation/determination and sportsmanship to name a few. The lessons are many and I want my readers to take this story and make it their own, find those hidden lessons and build better communities.

JA: Of course! For me, the main driving force for the character to start gathering all her friends to play, is simply that - just to play. To have fun, to be together, to enjoy the day. So I thought a lot about what the teams would look like and who would score the goal in the end -as I really wanted the whole story to be about the entire community of characters, not just the main kid. So I carefully created the teams and decided the little brother would score in the end. But I love how Baptiste continues the story after the goal and the game really ends in just this great anticipation of the characters wanting more. I think that helped the book feel light, carefree, and fun but also to teach us that winning or scoring isn’t the reason for doing anything - it’s just for the love of the game, bringing people together from different moments in their day to enjoy life and each other. I think we can all learn a lot from remembering that!

How does "the Field" in the book draw the community together?

JA: One thing I like about soccer is that you can play it by yourself, with one person, or a whole team and have just as much fun in either situation. I wanted to show this with the main character playing by themselves in the beginning, but then as the ball flies onto the open field, getting the idea of gathering friends and organizing a game. I drew upon stories from my dad’s childhood for some of the characters - the referee / coconut stand guy is based upon a character from my dad’s life who was named, “Pollo”, who was the town nurse, and also organized all the games in his neighborhood. He was also the only one with a television, so everyone would gather in his living room to watch soccer games. Also he told me about 2 guys (the twins) who were the best soccer players around - one who went on to play for the national Honduran soccer team. So I got the idea of 2 older kids who were clearly amazing soccer players. Many other characters in the book are based off ideas like this - but what I loved was that the game incorporated the whole community - soccer brought people together from different moments in their day - on their way home from school, on a work lunch break, taking a nap under a tree, whatever! I tried to make it feel like the community drew together by including different ages, talents, levels of seriousness in the players. 

BP: The Field was and still is the central meeting place in the community. It is the place where the kids were allowed to be kids. My friends and I often talk about how were the actors performing  on the biggest stage. Just like the kids in the book, the community came out to watch us play — they laughed, they smiled and they cheered us on.

One of the young soccer players in the book has alternately been described in reviews as a boy or a girl. What do you think about that as an author or an illustrator? Was that a purposeful illustration choice or something that just happened organically? 

BP: I’ll let Jackie decide, however, I’m gender neutral. Adding that label - boy or girl is not important to me because I wrote the story for all kids even the big kids. I want every child boy or girl to see themselves in The Field. When I played as a child, there were girls in the village who played futbol (soccer) with me. This is as much they story as it is mine.

JA: Well, both really! I wanted all the characters to come to the game from different moments in their day, therefore I dressed them in a wide range of outfits - to really show the community coming together at the drop of a hat for the pick-up game. But I really wanted the main character to be obviously a huge soccer fan so I wanted him/her to be dressed ready for the game. I draw many, many different possible people (from research photos and screenshots from movies) when I started working on my character sketches and eventually, they started to morph into one person - picking features I liked from different sketches. I had found one kid I just loved the look of in a music video (from St. Lucia) and I think it was a boy but I couldn’t be sure! I borrowed a lot of features from that boy and another character who had started out being more girly started to get a bit more boyish. But once in the soccer uniform - everyone automatically assumed it was a boy when I showed them! I thought that was really interesting because the same character in a more girly outfit would obviously be a girl - yet when we see a kid playing soccer in a soccer uniform, our brains automatically say “ boy”. So I really liked this tension and felt it worked perfectly for the story as I was really trying to appeal to everyone - old and young, girls and boys, and represent every shade of skin tone through the characters playing. 

Be sure to check out all of the #cbadspotlight choices for this school year!
Visit for more information on #classroombookaday,
a goal to read aloud a picture book every day of the school year, at any grade,
inspired by Donalyn Miller's #bookaday.

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