Rafael López is an award-winning illustrator and artist. He has received three Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Medals for his work in Book Fiesta, Drum Dream Girl (2016), and Dancing Hands (2020). His work has also garnered him 3 Pura Belpré Honor Medals, 2 Américas Awards, and the 2017 Tomás Rivera Children's Book Award, and the Society of Illustrators Original Art Silver Medal.
Rafael López will be one of the featured authors at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. L.A. Libros Fest will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, September 24 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Our theme this year is Imagine a Better World. How do you think your books and stories help us accomplish this?
I like to choose stories about characters real or imagined that overcome challenges. I believe in stories that reflect our daily struggles and hopefully, young readers can see themselves in them and use them as inspiration.
What are some of the things you do to bring to life the world you’ve imagined?
Being an illustrator is like being a magician. Your imagination and what you have learned through the years give you the ability to make anything you imagine possible. But it also requires having a supportive and creative group behind you collaborating and nurturing the team’s vision.
What stories inspired you as a young reader?
Anything about characters overcoming challenges. I am the father of a young man with Autism with many challenges ahead for him. I try to go back to those stories and find the strength, calm, and clarity to face the future together.
If your book was turned into a movie/series, who would you cast?
I have many favorite characters in the books I have illustrated. I would love to give a chance to talented minority actors to portray them that haven’t been given the same opportunity as other actors.
What advice would you give to young writers/illustrators?
It’s a long journey but if you love and feel passionate about what you do, you’ll see it as a beautiful journey full of different and fresh challenges every day. Ask yourself, do I feel happy about what I do? And if you do, don't worry about how long it takes to make a name. Enjoy the process of getting there.
How did you feel the first time your work was published? How was your publishing journey?
A bit of a shock, the process took a while to sink in that I was now a published illustrator in what is a very competitive field. I was approached by a small publishing company in Northern Arizona willing to take some creative chances and gave me the freedom to create images that were very surreal. The name of my first book is My Name is Celia. The book won a Pura Belpré Honor that year.
"Being an illustrator is like being a magician. Your imagination and what you have learned through the years give you the ability to make anything you imagine possible."
What are the challenges of writing/illustrating for young readers?
Fear of failure, lack of confidence. I believe and make clear to the team I’m collaborating with that my ideas will be very conceptual and they can always reign me in. It’s incredibly hard to start safe and literal, pretty much at the bottom and then try to bring the book to a more imaginative level.
Forgetting that kids are very imaginative and their minds are very sophisticated. Young readers can handle more than many adults give them credit for. Besides, you need to create teachable moments in your books.
What was your experience like getting your book translated into Spanish or English?
I have worked with very talented translators and they have done an incredible job. They shared with me the Spanish version to see if I could change a word here or there but never had anything but praise for them.
How do you think libraries make our world a better place?
By creating a nurturing place for everyone to come and learn about themselves, people like them and discover windows to other worlds and people different from them. Falling in love with reading and books makes you hungry to learn something new every day and hopefully a more worldly and compassionate human.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a large project for the Smithsonian in DC, something to do with a new Latino Gallery, very exciting but I can only share limited information, I just signed a deal to illustrate a book with 2 very important world leaders but can't disclose their names yet and just finished my second collaboration with the amazing Jacquline Woodson.
Books by Rafael López
Rafael López at L.A. Libros Fest