What They’re Reading: Writer-illustrator Selina Alko
As a child, Selina Alko says libraries were “my haven.”
“I can remember spending hours just pulling books off the shelf,” she says. “Judy Blume. Beverly Cleary. That was a big part of my childhood.”
Today, Alko is in libraries 24/7 – or at least, her work is. In her books, the award-winning children’s book author and illustrator explores a diverse range of topics, from racial justice and Black history to the life of Joni Mitchell.
As a guest artist for The Library’s annual Joan Y. Leopold Children’s Book Week, November 9 to 15, Alko will share “Why Am I Me?” Her collaboration with Paige Britt and Sean Qualls follows two children pondering the same question about what makes them unique and the same.
The Brooklyn resident also presents student programs for the Brooklyn Public Library and joined six artists who produced its Youth Wing mural in 2019. Alko’s contribution, she says, is the panel of a brownstone with the “neighborhood-y” feel.
What are you reading? My book club loved Elana Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet so much that we went back to one of her first books, “The Days of Abandonment.” We also read a few books on race relations this summer. “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead is excellent. I’ve been touching my hands into “White Fragility” and “How To Be an Antiracist.” I read “Just Mercy.” Ironically, I watched the movie while visiting Harrisburg for the first time this summer. The book was much better.
Why those books? It’s the current moment. It’s essential to self-educate and learn as much as I can. Even though I thought I had explored a lot by researching and doing the works I’ve been doing for years and years, I realized there was so much more to learn and understand and so many more layers to the situation.
What’s your favorite thing about libraries? They’re open to the public, and it’s an even playing field. People there are from all walks of life. I’ve done free art projects at the Brooklyn Public Library that get kids excited about creating. There are many kids whose caregivers bring them to the library after school, and that’s their programming. They can’t afford fancy after-school programs or different classes. I think it’s wonderful that libraries provide readings and programs for kids and adults, too.