Interview with Illustrator Keith D. Shepherd and Author A. LaFaye
and links for:

Walking Home to Rosie Lee
by A. LaFaye; illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd.
Cinco Puntos, 2011

Mick and Jade
Another interview online, with Keith D. Shepherd. Online at - A Black History Celebration of Children's and YA Literature.

This book was featured in "In the Spotlight," in Library Sparks, February, 2012.  There are many book and curriculum connections suggested in that article.  This page shares the interview with the illustrator of  Walking Home to Rosie Lee, Keith D. Shepherd.

Walking Home to Rosie Lee

An Interview with Keith D. Shepherd (September 19, 2011) by Sharron L. McElmeel

SLM: What was the media that you used for the original illustrations for Walking Home to Rosie Lee?

KS:    All the illustrations are acrylic paint on thick illustration boards. I use acrylics because they dry fast which is helpful when faced with a tight deadline. Thick boards because the illus. can be carefully peeled off the backing then wrapped around a scanner drum for printing.

SLM: When you paint illustrations such as  these do you utilize models and photography to give you the form and shadows etc.?

    KS: Yes, I use quite a bit of photography combined with digital graphics. Once I compose the page based on the prose I set my subject and take a picture. Then I scan the image into my computer and place the figures into a setting. Sometimes that can be an actual sketch or a vintage photo. Once there I can manipulate the direction, color, light or shadow in Photoshop to fit my needs. Then I print it out and transfer to the board with graphite paper. Tweak the drawing a bit more, spray fix the image then began painting. Laborious but preparation is key.

    SLM: If so, do you use family and friends as models?

    KS: My models were kids of friends and family and students when I taught school. Family were of my brothers and myself as children. Though well fed we tended to have that malnourished look. Mom just said we had a high metabolism. Dad said we were just high strung.

    SLM: What type of research did you have to do to "picture" the setting in post-Civil War Tennessee (and Cleveland)?

    KS: I consider myself somewhat a history buff especially African American. Movies, documentaries, the internet and still one of my favorite places to go, the LIBRARY proved invaluable to my research. Black folks still have so many stories to tell in our journey. When I first read Alexandria manuscript I'm not ashamed to say I got choked up. I'm amazed there's never been anything done before that told such a heart wrenching segment of Reconstruction in America.

    SLM:  Do you have any picture books in the works?

    KS: Walking Home To Rosie Lee is the first official children's book to feature my artwork. I have a few small, small, very small press things I've done for my church but that's it. I'm now writing and illustrating a story about my special needs little brother when we were children. It's all about unconditional love and family. No publisher as of yet but I'm hopeful.

    Final comment from KS

    I'm a painter, illustrator, educator and graphic designer residing in Kansas City Missouri. I'm part of a Kansas City based art collective called 'The Light In The Room' that feature writers, painters and sculptors. I work out of a few galleries mostly here in the city including the American Jazz Museum and the Negro League Baseball Museum. My artistic influences are too numerous to mention but Archibald Motley, Fletcher Martin, Thomas Blackshear, Ernie Barnes, NC Wyeth and Thomas Hart Benton to name a few. Art, music and faith offers me a way out of no way! I feel honored and blessed to have Cinco Puntos Press to deem me worthy to bring Ms. LaFaye's words to life.

    An Interview with A. LaFaye (September 19, 2011) by Sharron L. McElmeel

    Interviewers Note: A. LaFaye maintains a website at <> where information about all of her books and information that develops after this interview may be found.  The first day I read Walking Home to Rosie Lee I knew I wanted more people to know about it.  The book is the focus in my column "In the Spotlight" in Library Sparks, February 2012.

    SLM: I LOVE the lyrical prose and was intrigued with the topic.  As many years as I taught US History to young scholars, I never once focused on the separation of families -- what an oversight.  I think this is a very important topic and this book is so wonderfully written (and illustrated) I would like others to know about the book.

    ALaFaye: You touched on the exact reason I wrote the book and fought to find a publisher. So many publishers rejected the book saying, "We already have two many books on this subject" meaning slavery.  To me, Reconstruction and reunification of families is a new topic that hasn't been adequately covered at all.  I addressed the issue in my novel Stella Stands Alone as a subplot, but I really thought that it should be featured in a picture book to introduce the topic to a younger audience who need to know about the courageous and determined family members who did so much to find their kin.

    SLM: Did Gabe and Rosie Lee actually exist or are they representative?

    ALaFaye: They are representative of so many folks who made similar journeys.  I remember how struck I was by the story of William Stillwell whose mother escaped slavery when she was pregnant with him, but had to leave her older sons behind because they'd been caught every time they tried to run free together.  As an adult, Stillwell helped families reunite and one day a man came to him to find his mother and Stillwell slowly realized the man was his own brother. I'll never forget that story. Unfortunately, it didn't end well. The brother was abducted and returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act and Stillwell spent the rest of his brother's life trying, unsuccessfully to get him free.

    SLM: I know you address the subject of separated families in Stella Stands Alone.  Specifically is Gabe's story based directly on one of the stories you found?  And if so, in what type of resource did you find his story (or others)?

    ALaFaye: The topic of reunification of families is addressed in most of the books about Reconstruction, but there is usually only a sentence or two in various entries.  For instance, in a section on Freedman's Bureaus, they might mention that one of the roles they had was in helping families who were trying to find lost members.  There was also a good deal about the role of African American Newspapers --Abolitionist and Reconstruction era--in helping African American's find family members and the fact that so many of them were separated for so long, they only remembered things like first names, scars, places of birth or sale and number of family members at the time of the separation.

    SLM:  The research I found about separated children says: "Michael Tadman's well-researched adult reference Speculators And Slaves: Masters, Traders, And Slaves In The Old South (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) tells us that 50% of the children under 14 were separated from their family, by the slave trade." Does this match with your findings -- and any idea of how many families were reunited after slavery ends?

    ALaFaye: I didn't come across any statistics of that kind.  Reunification doesn't generate any documents, so there's no clear way to track that.  Here are some books that might be helpful:

      • The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) by Dylan C. Penningroth (Hardcover - Dec 9, 2002) Buy new: $69.95
      • In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South (New Narratives in American History) by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger
      • From Slavery to Freedom, John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss, Jr. McGraw Hill

    SLM: I know you have written many novels -- and this is your first picture book, what books are you working on now?  Any new picture books coming?

    ALaFaye: Right now (September 2011), I'm working on a novel in verse that's a retelling of the myth of Cassandra set in a Southern coal mining community in 1911, but it's not under contract with any publisher.  I'd love to do more picture books, but I don't have anything lined up at the moment.
    A Final Note from the Author Alexandria LaFaye: It's important for the "silenced" parts of history to be uncovered, understood, and shared.  This is an amazing chapter in the history of African American families and I hope my book will inspire other folks to come forward to share their stories about this period in history.

My appreciation to both Keith D. Shepherd and Alexandria LaFaye for their gracious and thoughtful responses to the interview questions.  I hope each of you will find reading the interview AND their book to be of great interest.  It  IS a chapter in history that must not be missed.  Excerpts from these interviews were the basis for comments included in an "In the Spotlight" feature in Library Sparks, February 2012.  More information including a critical review of the title and curriculum ideas can be located in that issue; and a summary of the title is included on an entry on <>.  Please seek out the Library Sparks article.

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