Monday, February 6, 2012

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour: Interview with Ron Mazellan, Illustrator

I am very excited to welcome Ron Mazellan to The Children’s War as part of the second stop of the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour.

Ron is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Older Readers category for his illustrations in Marcia Vaughan’s Irena’s Jars of Secrets, the story of Irena Sendler, a young woman who managed to smuggle 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and certain death during the Holocaust (see my review here.)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to “outstanding books for children and teen that authentically portray the Jewish experience.”  Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award “encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature.”
Ron, congratulations on winning the 2011 Sydney Taylor Honor Award.  It must be a great honor to win an award for your work.  I was wondering if you would share some personal history about yourself with us? Have you
always wanted to be an illustrator? And how did you get started
Ever since I was a child I loved to draw. I knew even then I desired to
create for a living, I just didn’t know what to call it.  Eventually, the life of
an illustrator took hold of me and since 1982 I have been practicing my
Professionally,my career began following graduation from Wheaton College. Naively, I
moved to California and began my search for a career in Southern California.
I began as a layout artist with the Yellow Pages and then moving on to The
Disneyland Hotel as a graphic designer
I thought the the illustrations in Irena’s Jars of Secrets are so reflective of the what was happening to the Polish Jews.  On the one hand, they capture the feelings of fear and of secrecy that shrouded the lives of the families giving up their children, of the children themselves and of Irena Sendler.  On the other hand, there is still a feeling of hope.  Perhaps you would share a little about your creative process, for instance, how do you prepare for illustrating a book such as Irena’s Jars of Secrets?
My preparation includes personal reading regarding Irena, the time period
described and research regarding World War II and the Holocaust.  Also
included are hundreds of drawing studies regarding composition, design,
conceptual ideas, clothing, uniforms, hairstyles all of which contribute to
the narrative.
I proceed first with absorbing the manuscript.  I then move into making
small compositional studies, followed by more research, which then triggers something
to inspire the content of my paintings.

Once the idea is generated, a larger slightly refined drawing is made and
submitted for approval.  If approved, a much more refined drawing is made and
resubmitted.  Once again if the drawings are approved, I then think
through a color palette which will describe the emotion of the text and
painting through a layered process in oils. 
Perhaps you could tell us what you find to be the most challenging
aspects about your work? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspects of my work is the excellence I demand of
myself, and the conflict of embracing what is possible for a painting it in
the midst of an advancing deadline.
The most rewarding aspect of my work is the pure joy of doing what you
I know that you have previously illustrated two other books about World
War II and the Holocaust - The Harmonica by Tony Johnston and There Come a
Soldier by Peggy Mercer. Can you tell us what interested you in illustrating
Marcia Vaughan’s book Irena’s Jars of Secrets?
I was excited about illustrating this book based on the three objectives:
subject matter, manuscript and cultural impact.  But what intrigued me most
was the truthful description of a telling narrative, which surrounds the
life of Irena Sendler.  Her life is an inspiration me.  Irena’s actions describe
what is possible when someone chooses to act for good on behalf of another.
She models multiple selfless acts of kindness and courage towards those who
had no hope of survival.

Could you tell us about any of your upcoming projects?
I am working on my own project called Dream Once, Dream Again.  The primary
intent is to encourage 8-15 year old students to dream big, but dream beyond
one dream.  It is my hope to create a thought-provoking book using written
and visual narrative to motivate young student athletes who aspire to dream
against the odds. 
The broader initiative is to honor players/coaches who continue to beat the
odds beyond football.  The selected men will be those who strive to create
positive impact and make extraordinary contributions to culture outside
The book will use the metaphor of professional football and training camp in
particular to communicate the concept of adjusting vision and dreams into
new and unexplored possibilities highlighting a select group of men of
Thank you, Ron, for giving us some insider information about life of such a creative artist.  I am sure everyone is looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future.
There are so many more interesting authors and illustrators on the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour and I hope you will visit all of them this week.  The schedule can be found at 
the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted by Capstone Connect


  1. I interviewed author Marcia Vaughan today, and you’re hosting illustrator, Ron Mazellan - now we have the complete look at this wonderful book!

  2. Hi Alex, I have not had a chance to read Irena's Jars of Secrets yet - but will definitely look for it in our library. I recalled your review and remembered being fascinated by it. This insider look with your interview of the illustrator solidified that interest further. :)

  3. Thanks so much for this fantastic interview. I love the dark illustrations, they seem to reflect the time and subject perfectly. What a great title as well, makes me want to know more.

  4. Powerful images!

    Congrats to you, Ron and all the best with the dream project.

  5. Shelf-employed, I enjoyed your interview with Marcia Vaughan very much and it does indeed help to provide a complete look at Irena's Jars of Secrets.

    Myra, I hope you get a chance to read this book about such a truly extraordinary lady.

    Medea, I completely agree about the illustrations. They are wonderful.

    Joyce I agree, Ron's images are very powerful and his dream project sounds great.

  6. I loved this interview and I would definitely like to read this book. My husband's family is from Poland and two years ago we went to visit some of the concentration camps. It was such a powerful experience. Talking with his family in Poland has really helped me gain a deeper understanding of the WWII era. I find books about this time period fascinating. The illustrations look amazing and I found it interesting to learn about the illustrator!

  7. Ron is an amazing artist, and I'd like to note that this is not his first Sydney Taylor Honor. I was fortunate to collaborate with Ron on A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet.

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