Behind the Book: You Are Loved
last updated 20 March 2023
Interview by Nina Fiol
We sat down with Bright artist Sofia Cardoso to chat about her newest book YOU ARE LOVED written by Maraget O’Hair. The lovely companion to YOU ARE ENOUGH, and inspired by Down Syndrome advocate and viral sensation Sofia Sanchez, YOU ARE LOVED is all about love and family, and how each family is different. Sofia has been part of the Bright team for several years, and has worked with her agent, Alex Gehringer, on some fantastic projects throuhgout those years. Here’s what Alex had to say about working with Sofia and her new book:
“Sofia’s dedication to and enthusiasm for the titles she works on is boundless, and her collaboration with Margaret O’Hair and Sofia Sanchez is no exception. YOU ARE LOVED is a gorgeous love letter to family, and Sofia’s art beautifully reflects the many different shapes and sizes that safe haven can take.”
What inspired the artistic style in YOU ARE LOVED?
You Are Loved is the heartwarming companion of You Are Enough which means the art style we’re seeing on this one was explored and polished during the first book. It all started back in 2019 with Sofia Sanchez, the person who inspired Margaret’s writing and both books. After sending the first character samples over to Scholastic, the tweaking process took a little over a month. Agent Alex Gehringer was a star throughout the entire process and so was the Art Director Katie Fitch and the Editor Samantha Swank. Scholastic was really happy to move forward with the project, but the team first wanted to ensure Sofia’s appearance, especially her facial features, matched as much as possible her real ones. You see, it was really important that the character could be clearly recognizable as having Down syndrome since that was a big key aspect. Illustrating realistic looking features was a bit of a challenge. I’m happy we found a way to merge my art style with what they were looking for and in the end we managed to capture Sofia’s joyful essence in full, along with her sweet and confident personality. Once everyone in the team was happy with Sofia’s character, it was full steam ahead! From here and with the message of the first book in mind the inspiration for the entire art style bloomed.
What inspired the character design?
Much like the first book, inclusion and diversity were two main keywords that influenced the creation process of these characters. Most of the kids that were featured in the first book appear in You Are Loved which means that once again most of the inspiration started there, although this time we get to meet their families too. Since this book is centered about how families come in many different shapes and forms, the art brief allowed us to include as many examples as possible, so for example themes like adoption, LGBT parenting and multiracial families are represented in this book. Pretty much all of these are imagined families, except for Sofia’s family and two that were inspired by people Sofia’s mom shared about that are part of their community. I basically spent an entire week scribbling down family trees for all these kids (which was quite fun let me tell you) before I committed myself to actual sketching. Not only did this step helped ensuring that the book featured a good variety of family structures, it also made them more relatable and lovable, something that I always try to achieve through all my illustration work. Getting to know the characters and thinking of their likes and dislikes, what kind of background and interactions they could potential have with each other, researching their culture, exploring their clothing choices, all of this is a must during my illustration process and my secret ingredient for characters full of personality.
What do you love most about illustrating books?
Process wise, it tends to fluctuate from project to project, but one thing that always remains a favorite about illustrating books is bringing its character(s) to life and then experiencing the story vicariously through them. I put a lot of myself into the creative process, especially in picture books that allow me to tap into my own childhood for inspiration. I also really love illustrating endpapers - so much potential to surprise the reader with a little bit of extra fun and joy!
What was your favorite part of working on YOU ARE LOVED in particular?
There isn’t necessarily a favorite part, because the whole journey has been truly enjoyable. I love how collaborative, kind and thoughtful everyone involved in this project was and I’m very proud and happy with what we managed to create together.
Do you personally resonate with the theme of the book? If so, what are some things you do to achieve that? Is there anything specific you hope readers take away after reading YOU ARE LOVED?
It does resonate, especially the part that reminds us that families are also the people outside our actual family circles. Sometimes we can’t change the people around us, but we can always choose the ones we want to be around. Something I’ve learned in my adulthood that I hope readers take away from not only You Are Loved but also You Are Enough is the importance of surrounding ourselves with people that accepts us and love us for who we are, people that inspire us instead of draining us. Empowering picture books with key themes like empathy, diversity and inclusion that celebrate messages like how to embrace one’s differences and be proud of them are so beneficial. As a children’s book illustrator it brings me joy seeing how much the younger generation is being so receptive to these kind of books.