A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides

In “A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides,” you’ll get the chance to hear directly from the author and illustrator behind this poignant and beautiful book. Nancy shares her childhood experiences, revealing how she developed a passion for illustrating. Tam, on the other hand, discusses her own childhood and the reasons why she became a writer. They both open up about their creative processes and their future goals in their respective fields. This conversation also touches on the profound personal significance of “Grief Is An Elephant” to the creators, as well as who they would want to be stuck with on a desert island. Plus, they both express their desires to work together again. Get ready for a heartfelt and insightful conversation that sheds light on the inspirations and motivations behind this remarkable book.

A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides

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Who were Nancy and Tam as children?

Nancy’s childhood experiences

Nancy describes herself as a sickly child, but despite that, she loved playing outside in the rice fields and climbing the tamarind tree behind her grandpa’s house. These activities posed a dilemma for her mother, but Nancy’s love for drawing was also a prominent part of her childhood. She recalls how even in grade school, she would draw robots and animals and give them to her classmates. Drawing has always been a natural and enjoyable activity for Nancy, which eventually led her to pursue a career as an illustrator.

Nancy’s love for drawing

Nancy became an illustrator because it was her dream job. Throughout her life, she has always loved drawing and used it as a means of communication. In fact, one of Nancy’s friends from her previous job remembers her answering work memos with drawings. Drawing has been a natural and integral part of Nancy’s life, and becoming an illustrator is the realization of her lifelong dream.

Tam’s childhood experiences

Tam reflects on her childhood through a poem by Louise Glück titled “October.” She describes feeling like she was in a dark tunnel filled with anxieties and fears. Reading became a lifeline for her, helping her find solace and escape from her struggles. Eventually, Tam discovered writing as a way to process her thoughts and emotions, much like reading had done for her.

Tam’s love for reading and writing

Tam became a writer to explore the questions she had, some of which she had held for years and others that came to her in a moment of inspiration. She wanted to write in a way that left room for her readers to explore their own questions and find answers collectively. Writing novels and picture books allows Tam to dive into various topics and convey her thoughts and feelings to a wider audience. She hopes to continue writing at a faster pace and is eager to collaborate with Nancy again.

Nancy’s illustration process and goals

Imagining and creating the world

Nancy’s illustration process starts with her imagination and creating the world in her mind. She envisions the scene and then sketches it out before using watercolor, pencils, and digital media to add color and bring her creations to life. Nancy’s ability to imagine and visualize scenes allows her to capture the essence of a story in her illustrations.

Using watercolor, pencils, and digital media

Nancy employs a variety of art mediums in her illustrations, including watercolor, pencils, and digital media. Each medium offers its own unique qualities and allows Nancy to experiment with different techniques to achieve the desired effect. Watercolor lends a soft and ethereal feel to her illustrations, while pencils add depth and texture. Digital media provides flexibility and allows Nancy to refine her art digitally.

Future illustration goals

Nancy has numerous illustration aspirations for the future. She hopes to work with Tam again and continue collaborating on projects that involve animals and nature, subjects that resonate with her. Nancy’s passion for illustrating extends beyond a single book or project, and she looks forward to exploring more opportunities in the field.

A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides

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Tam’s writing process and goals

Writing to explore questions

Tam uses writing as a means to explore the questions she has, both long-held and newly sparked. Writing allows her to delve deep into these questions, examine them from different angles, and seek answers. Through her writing, Tam invites readers to embark on their own journeys of exploration and introspection.

Hopes for readers

Tam aims to write in a way that leaves room for her readers to engage with the questions she presents in her work. She hopes that her writing will encourage readers to reflect on their own lives, beliefs, and experiences. By creating space for contemplation, Tam aspires to inspire personal growth and the pursuit of knowledge.

Finishing the middle grade novel

Tam has a specific writing goal she is currently focused on: finishing the middle grade novel she is working on. This particular project has been a long-term endeavor, one that has held many questions for Tam over the years. Completing this novel will mark a significant accomplishment for her and bring a sense of fulfillment.

Continuing to write novels and picture books

Beyond the middle grade novel, Tam expresses her desire to continue writing novels and picture books. Writing in both formats allows her to explore different themes and story structures. Tam’s passion for storytelling is evident in her works, and she aims to continue honing her craft and producing stories that resonate with readers of all ages.

Writing goals

In addition to finishing her current projects, Tam has general writing goals for the future. She hopes to write at a faster pace and work on multiple projects simultaneously. By expanding her body of work, Tam aspires to reach a wider audience and share her unique voice and stories with others.

Importance of ‘Grief is an Elephant’

Nancy’s perspective on the book

Nancy views the book, “Grief is an Elephant,” as an important and beautiful piece of work. As an illustrator, she was able to channel her personal experience of losing a parent into the art she created for the book. Nancy believes it is crucial to share stories about grief and loss with children, as it helps them navigate these difficult emotions and find hope and love amidst their pain.

Tam’s perspective on the book

For Tam, “Grief is an Elephant” holds tremendous personal significance. While she was working on the book, her father unexpectedly passed away, and she poured her questions, struggles, and emotions about loss and grief into the story. Tam’s connection to the book is deeply rooted in her own experience, making it a profound and meaningful creation for her.

A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides

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Preferred company on an island

Nancy’s choice: Jane Goodall

If Nancy were to be stuck on an island, her preferred company would be Jane Goodall. Nancy considers Goodall a personal hero and would relish the opportunity to study and observe the animals they encounter on the island alongside her. Nancy’s admiration for Goodall’s work and the chance to learn from her make her an ideal companion in such a situation.

Tam’s choice: Heather Cox Richardson

Tam would choose to be stuck on an island with Heather Cox Richardson. Tam begins each day by reading Richardson’s “Letters from an American” and has countless questions she would love to discuss with her. Tam’s admiration for Richardson’s insights and knowledge makes her an engaging companion for intellectual conversations and discussions about societal and political issues.

Desired conversation with someone (alive or passed)

Nancy’s desired conversation: her dad

Nancy expresses her longing to have a conversation with her father. She would love to talk to him about her work as an illustrator and convey her gratitude for the love and support he provided throughout her life. Nancy acknowledges the profound impact her father had on shaping her into the person she is today and cherishes the opportunity to express her gratitude directly.

Tam’s desired conversation: her father

Similar to Nancy, Tam also desires to have a conversation with her father. Before bidding him farewell, Tam would discuss the importance of perseverance, a theme that defined her father’s life. She would also broach the topic of how his final moments align with his belief in resilience and adaptation. Despite the sorrowful nature of the conversation, Tam wishes her father well, just as he always did when saying goodbye.

A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides

Tamara Ellis Smith’s background

Living in Vermont

Tam resides in Vermont with her family, creating a nurturing environment for her writing endeavors. Living in a rural area provides her with natural beauty and solitude, offering inspiration for her stories. Vermont’s rich literary culture also contributes to Tam’s growth as a writer.

Trail running and hobbies

Aside from writing, Tam enjoys trail running on a river trail with her friends and dogs. Engaging in outdoor activities helps her stay connected with nature and clear her mind. Tam’s hobbies complement her writing by providing her with a balanced lifestyle and fostering creativity.

Social media presence and website

Tam maintains an active presence on social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, where she shares updates about her writing journey and engages with her followers. Tam also has a dedicated website where readers can learn more about her and explore her body of work.

Nancy Whitesides’ background

Birth in Manila and move to the US

Nancy was born in Manila before later moving to the United States. Her multicultural background influences and enriches her artwork, infusing it with diversity and unique perspectives. Nancy’s experiences in both countries shape her artistic style and thematic choices.

Colorful and emotional artwork

Nancy’s illustrations are characterized by vibrant colors and emotional depth. Her art evokes feelings and immerses viewers in the depicted scenes. Nancy’s ability to invoke emotions through her artwork adds another layer of storytelling to the books she illustrates.

Participation in the Original Art Show

Nancy’s talent and artistic prowess have been recognized through her participation in the prestigious Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York. This recognition solidifies her standing as a talented illustrator and showcases her ability to captivate audiences with her artwork.

Illustrations for other books

In addition to “Grief is an Elephant,” Nancy has illustrated other books, expanding her repertoire and sharing her artistic vision with a wider audience. Her illustrations enhance the narratives of these books and contribute to the overall storytelling experience.

Online presence and website

Nancy maintains an online presence through her website, where readers and art enthusiasts can explore her portfolio and learn more about her artistic journey. Nancy also engages with her audience on Instagram, showcasing her artwork and providing updates on her projects.

A Conversation with the Creators of Grief Is An Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith and Nancy Whitesides