Blog Tour Interview with Illustrator Kristina Swarner

I am proud to take part in the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! During the week of February 11-15, 2013 you can find interviews with gold and silver medalists all over the blogosphere. Check out my earlier post (January 31, 2013) for the full schedule.

Kristina Swarner is the illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin, a 2013 Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category. She is no stranger to the Sydney Taylor, having won a gold medal in 2008 for The Bedtime Sh'ma by Sarah Gershman, a silver medal for Gershman's 2011 sequel, Modeh Ani, and another gold medal in 2011 for Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz. She also illustrated Schwartz's book Before You Were Born, a 2006 Sydney Taylor Notable Book and winner of the 2006 Koret Jewish Book Award.

TBoL: Kristina, what medium do you use for your illustrations?

KS: I use a combination of printmaking, watercolor, and colored pencil on heavyweight paper.

TBoL: Zayde Comes to Live makes me cry (in a good way). How did you keep the illustrations from being too sad? Was it difficult to work on a book with such a potentially depressing topic?

The more I sketched, the more it grew on me that the story is actually very peaceful and accepting--more about finding joy in Zayde's life than mourning his imminent demise. I tried to show that sense of happiness in the artwork.

TBoL: You have illustrated many Jewish picture books – yet you yourself are not Jewish. How did you become the go-to person for spiritual Jewish picture books?

KS: An editor at Chronicle Books once contacted me after seeing a tiny illustration I'd done for Utne Magazine, and wanted me to illustrate a book of Yiddish sayings called Yiddish Wisdom. She wanted a Chagall-like feeling to the illustrations, which sounded like a lovely idea to me, and Yiddish Wisdombecame a series, and it just kind of snowballed from there. I love doing Jewish books, and I love the stories in the books I've done. By the way,I study genealogy, and recently took a DNA test that shows that I have some Sephardic ancestors somewhere on my mother's side. Interesting!

TBoL: You’ve won gold or silver Sydney Taylor Book Award medals several times now. Is it still exciting, even though you’ve won before? 

KS: YES! It's always such a great honor. After I get the phone call, I walk around for a week or so with a huge smile on my face.

TBoL: What’s your next project?

KS: I'm just starting on a couple of books right now--they're still in stick-figure stage, though.

TBoL: Kristina, thanks so much and mazel tov on winning yet another Sydney Taylor medal for your outstanding work!

Check out Kristina's illustrations at