black lives, hispanic, social-emotional

Author Spotlight: Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson grew up in situations very similar to the characters in the stories he illustrates. He grew up in Los Angeles, raised by his grandmother in a one-bedroom home shared by six people. Christian credits his high school art teacher, Elizabeth Kim, as his greatest influence in working full-time in the visual arts. She helped him build a portfolio and even drove him to college campuses for tours and interviews. At first, Christian wanted to pursue animation. Ben Butcher, an writer/illustrator, made adaptations of Disney films that helped mentor the young man in this new medium. Additionally, Christian’s boyfriend is a 4th-grade teacher and has helped the artist interview children in pieces used in the books’ trailers. One of the lessons I see from Christian’s life and his work is the importance of community & mentorship. Everyone needs a helping hand, and in turn, they should be that for someone else in the future.

Leo: A Ghost Story (Chronicle Books)
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Leo is the very definition of a friendly ghost. When a new family moves into his house, he wants to welcome them and does so with some fresh mint tea. However, he’s invisible, and seeing a floating tea tray and pot terrifies these people who spend the night hiding in the bathroom. So Leo leaves the house and goes searching for a friend. He eventually finds one and discovers how nice it feels to be accepted. Christian’s illustrations perfectly fit the text’s tone, mainly in blues and whites. It recalls older styles of picture book drawings, which are ever-present in the artist’s work. His pages make us remember books that were old when we were children yet are filled with details that place them in our period. 

Carmela Full of Wishes (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

It’s 7-year-old Carmela’s birthday, and she wants to make a wish. What’s most exciting for her is that Carmela is old enough to tag along with her older brother on his errands. Mom cleans a fancy hotel, and Dad is a day laborer who lives far away because of his work. Carmela’s wishes center on her family’s status. Christian has one fantastic sequence here where he uses papel picado, a perforated decorative paper. The wish is for Carmela’s father to be able to get his papers so he can live with the family. This book is a beautiful text to have in your classroom, especially if you teach the children of immigrants and refugees. It’s not surprising that their family often gets fragmented, and the children certainly have these sorts of dreams & desires. 

Last Stop on Market Street (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

One influence I can see in Christian’s work is that of Ezra Jack Keats (A Very Snowy Day). Like Keats, Christian loves employing a paper-cut style of illustration. And like Keats, the fashion, hairstyles, and environment reflect contemporary styles. This way, the text engages children who can see their world represented. Little CJ finds his city boring, but a bus trip with Grandma after church helps open his eyes to much more. This is Christian’s strongest work to date and my personal favorite. Students will love to see CJ’s imagination opening up and as a result, so does his empathy. The people and places he didn’t think much of come alive in ways he’d never considered. Last Stop is an excellent text to remind our students that dreaming is essential and that we can experience the world in such a greater capacity through our imagination.

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