Like a Bird Q&A

Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song will be released on September 1 (tomorrow!), and in preparation for the release, Cynthia Grady, the book’s author, and Michele Wood, the book’s illustrator, interviewed each other.

Questions from Michele to Cynthia: 

Hope is embedded in the songs in this book. Do you think it is a different sort of hope from the hope we have today?

Hope in these songs is closely tied to faith and belief. I’ve always been a very hopeful, optimistic person, with a strong religious foundation within my family, so for me, the hope expressed by these songs makes complete sense. Beneath chaos and tragedy, there is always a light that permeates the darkness. There is always something beautiful.

Did you struggle with the history of any of these songs?

Aye! I struggled with EVERY song and its history. The written record on the the history of these songs is very contradictory. So much is hearsay, so much is missing, so much is forgotten. I have absolute admiration and respect for anyone writing nonfiction today. The research process is grueling.

What was your greatest joy during the course of writing Like A Bird?

Ah. That’s easy. Working with editor Carol Hinz on revision. I usually think and write with an older audience in mind than this book is intended for, so learning how to adjust my writing and still keep the main threads of information coming through was a joyful challenge.

Interior spread for the song “Jacob’s Ladder”–click image to enlarge.

Questions from Cynthia to Michele:

What did you especially enjoy or learn during the course of illustrating Like a Bird?

Spiritual songs are emotionally inspiring. I enjoyed learning the history of the each song.

Is illustrating songs different than illustrating poems or stories? That is, is your process the same for each project you do, or does your process change with each book? 

No, there is no difference–a story is a story. With regard to approach, yes, there is a difference in approach to each subject matter. If you sing a song the same way, you wouldn’t know the intended rhythm, melody, beat, tone, and pitch.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be doing instead? 

Well, I would be a baker. I love to bake so much that when I open my next studio I will be baking specially named biscuits after my great grandfather and a family bread pudding recipe from my grandfather on Saturday mornings to offer to my guests!

Bonus fun fact: The woman depicted on the book’s cover is Harriet Tubman. After the book had been sent to the printer last spring, we were delighted to learn that Tubman will be featured on the redesigned $20 bill.

For more about the story behind this picture book collaboration, check out this blog post.