Today Is Different: Perspectives from a Debut Author & Debut Illustrator

By Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

The picture book Today Is Different is a powerful look at protest, solidarity, and social justice. Written in the aftermath of the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder, the book is also a touching portrait of a friendship between two young girls. As the book’s editor, I was so impressed by how enthusiastic and collaborative debut author Doua Moua and debut illustrator Kim Holt were throughout the book-making process. Read on to hear from both Doua and Kim about what this book means to them!

In the following video, Hmong American actor, screenwriter, and author Doua Moua shares his inspiration for Today Is Different and his hopes that it will spark intergenerational conversations about justice.

And the following Q&A provides a look at illustrator Kim Holt‘s perspective and process, along with a peek at the interior art.

Kim Holt

Q: What did you think when you read this manuscript for the first time?

Kim: I thought the manuscript was very touching and sweet. It resonated with me because I like stories where friends stay friends, and the conflict isn’t between them. This was refreshing because of the empathy that Mai has for Kiara and the community.

A page featuring Mai and Kiara from early in the book

Q: This is your first picture book. What was the most challenging part of illustrating it?

Kim: Honestly, the most challenging part of illustrating this book was making sure I included enough details in the scenery. Another challenge was making sure that the characters were consistent and checking that their emotions carried through to the drawings.

Mai and her older brother creating a protest sign

Q: How did you go about developing the characters of Mai and Kiara?

Kim: To develop Mai and Kiara, I spent time with the manuscript. I imagined moments they might have together that weren’t described in the text. I thought about what sleepovers might be like, the jokes they would tell, and what their general interests might be. I also did research and explored various faces for girls their age. I love candid photos of children, so I looked through pictures of family and friends when we were younger. I wanted to see how we were captured in candid moments and use that in scenes in the book. 

A protest scene near the end of the book

Q: Describe the process you use to create your art.

Kim: When I am creating art, I do a lot of research to be well informed about the setting, time frame, costuming, environment, and anything culturally relevant.  Because the main character in Today is Different is Hmong, I wanted to make sure that elements for Hmong culture were appropriately reflected and in a contemporary setting. I got a chance to talk to Doua and get initial feedback about colors, imagery, and small nods that would appear in the home. I felt like I learned so much along the way.

After researching, I collect reference photos and catalog things based on patterns, mood, colors, clothing styles, food, accessories, and general environment. In my head, I have a small backstory for all of the characters. I think about how they are feeling based on the moment they are depicted in the story. I guess you could say I treat them like they are people I could pass on the street or have a conversation with, even if it is very brief.

I particularly enjoyed pulling together the color palette and having everything revolve around the colors Mai and Kiara are wearing.

Mai in her classroom at school

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Kim: I hope readers will see that they can do more than stand on the sidelines and that they can participate in activism in some way. It is the way we make our voices heard and engage in our communities. I hope that readers develop empathy for others. I would like people to understand the ripple effects and impacts when people are treated less than and how that impacts us all. As a Black woman, I am proud to be a part of this book and bring the imagery to life. It means a lot to me for people to stand side by side as a unified front and fight for the rights we deserve as a people and community.  

The final spread in Today Is Different

Praise for Today Is Different

“[O]ffers a reassuring and relatable narrative for kids who have been confused by recent news coverage.”—Booklist

“Moua positively portrays a cross-cultural friendship and explores how racial violence impacts children. . . . An important story about how marginalized groups can work together for social justice . . .”—Kirkus Reviews

“With simple yet poignant prose, Today Is Different fosters compassion and connection among young readers.” —Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre and Newbery Honor-winning book Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

“[W]ritten with both nuance and directness by Doua Moua, and beautifully illustrated by Kim Holt, Today is Different adds to a very necessary conversation we should all be having.” —Bao Phi, author of A Different Pond

Connect with Doua

Connect with Kim

For more behind the scenes posts on the Lerner blog, click here!

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