Rooted: Family and Nature in Contemporary Children’s Book Illustration

October 14, 2023 - February 25, 2024
Sophie Blackall, illustration for Farmhouse, 2022, collage and mixed media, 10x20 in., lent by the artist.
Cozbi A. Cabrera, Peek-a-Boo 1, illustration for Me & Mama, 2020, acrylic on illustration board, 30x15 in., lent by the artist
Cindy Derby, illustration for Outside In (written by Deborah Underwood), 2020, watercolor on paper, 18x24 in.
Devon Holzwarth, illustration for Papa, Daddy, & Riley, (written by Seamus Kirst), 2020, digital print, lent by the artist
Frank Morrison, illustration for The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver, 2020 (written by Gene Barretta), oil on illustration board
Juana Martinez-Neal, illustration for Zonia’s Rain Forest, 2021, mixed media on hand-made banana bark paper, 13x25 in. Copyright © 2021 Juana Martinez-Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA
Qing Zhuang, illustration for Rainbow Shopping, 2023, pencil, colored pencil, watercolor and crayon, 18x24 in.
Joe Cepeda, illustration for Rafa Counts on Papá, 2022, oil over acrylic, on illustration board, 14x27 in.

This exhibition explores the enduring bonds of nature and family through a lively presentation of original artwork from eight illustrated children’s books. The illustrations on view will feature a diverse group of protagonists who experience compelling moments in their everyday lives, whether it be finding appreciation for the wonders of nature or feeling joy in activities with family in the outdoors. The artists represented are Sophie Blackall, Cozbi A. Cabrerra, Joe Cepeda, Cindy Derby, Devon Holzwarth, Juana Martinez-Neal, Frank Morrison and Qing Zhuang. Visitors of all ages will be immersed in the colorful, lively drawings created with a variety of materials, including acrylic, oil, watercolor, pastels, colored pencils, linocuts, woodcuts, ink and collage.

This exhibition is a continuation of the rich tradition of illustration that is so well represented in Brandywine's collection with works by figures such as N. C. Wyeth and Jesse Wilcox Smith. It also follows on the success of two earlier Brandywine projects centered on children: Get the Picture: Contemporary Children's Book Illustration (2016) and Holidays & Snow Days: Illustrations for Three Children's Books (2018-19).

Rooted: Family and Nature in Contemporary Children’s Book Illustration is co-curated by Shadra Strickland, an award-winning artist and illustration teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Audrey Lewis, Associate Curator at Brandywine.

Featured Artists and Books

Sophie Blackall is a two-time Caldecott award winning author and illustrator of over 50 books for children. In Farmhouse, the book featured in this exhibition, Blackall tells a story based on a real-life family who long ago occupied a farmhouse and dairy farm in the Catskills of New York. Using hand-collaged elements—such as printed wallpaper, old photographs, and remnants of clothes that Blackall salvaged after she purchased the property—she imagines their daily lives in exquisite detail. 

Cozbi A. Cabrera is an author, illustrator, doll maker and clothes designer. Me & Mama (2020) was written and illustrated by Cabrera and was a winner of a 2021 Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award Honor for Illustration. The story and images vividly celebrate a mother and young daughter as they spend a rainy day together enjoying simple but meaningful activities both in their home and outside.

Joe Cepeda is an award-winning illustrator of more than 30 books for children and serves as the president of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles. He is the author and illustrator for Rafa Counts on Papá (2022), a story of a father and son who share a love for numbers and measuring everything from how high their dog can jump to how far they can run. What is immeasurable, they find, is their love for each other. Cepeda’s vibrant, bold and colorful illustrations capture the joyful, dynamic relationship between father and son.

Cindy Derby is an award-winning illustrator whose Outside In (2020, written by Deborah Underwood) received a Caldecott Honor in 2021. Her airy and luminous watercolor illustrations convey the beauty that draws a young girl outside to explore and appreciate the miracles and sensory wonders of nature while also reminding her of how the outside can be found inside in such things as the wood of a chair that cradles the body and the sun, moonlight and shadows that pour through the windows.

Devon Holzwarth is an illustrator, author and painter whose past awards include a Society of Illustrators gold medal and the Schneider Family Book Award. Her expressive illustrations for Papa, Daddy, & Riley (2020, written by Seamus Kirst) convey the love and closeness of Riley and her two dads. When Riley is asked by another child which one of her fathers is her real one, her dads help her understand that families can look different in many ways, but what makes them truly a family is the love they share together.

Juana Martinez-Neal is an award-winning author and illustrator whose Zonia’s Rain Forest (2021) is featured in the exhibition. The story focuses on a young Asháninka girl living in the Amazon rainforest of Peru who on one of her daily adventures encounters an area where many trees have been cut down. She worries about what will happen to her animal friends—the sloths, butterflies and birds—who live in the forest. The book has received high praise for its environmental message and its exuberant illustrations which Martinez-Neal created with woodcut prints and ink and pencil drawn on homemade banana leaf paper that was crafted by indigenous Asháninka women.

Frank Morrison is a three-time Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator and author. His graffiti-based fine art is internationally renowned. In The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver (2020, written by Gene Baretta), Morrison beautifully illustrates the story of how the young botanist’s early love for nature and his curiosity led him to create his own garden, which led to his distinguished career as an agricultural scientist and inventor. Morrison’s lush oil paintings bring Carver’s powerful story to life for young readers.

Qing Zhuang was born in China, emigrating to the United States with her family at the age of seven. An illustrator, author, and elementary and middle school art teacher, she earned a B.F.A. in Illustration from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the School of Visual Arts, New York. Rainbow Shopping is her first writer-illustrator project and has been widely praised. Inspired by weekend grocery trips to Chinatown with her own mother, Zhuang creates a story that is both sweet and funny and reflects on how it feels to move to a completely new country. Through her bright and exuberant illustrations, rendered in color pencil, crayon and watercolor, Zhuang captures the energy of New York City and the lively details of the bustling food market.