Having our book, I Soar with Wings, published is an achievement we’ve been celebrating all year. But it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies! It took many hearts, hands, and minds to make it great. From the get-go, we had a few non-negotiables when it came to crafting what we knew would be a teaching tool for educators and a simple way to spread essential life skills to more kids everywhere. Our greatest challenge: capturing the essence of our organization while also bringing the words we use in our programs and curriculum—the foundation of everything we do—to life. Most importantly, we knew we wanted young readers from all backgrounds to see themselves reflected in the pages—because representation matters.
But here’s the thing: finding an illustrator who possessed immense talent and understood our mission proved to be quite the challenge. Someone who could bring the characters to life with authenticity and genuine appreciation for diversity.
Meet Our Illustrator Kayla!
Meet Kayla Victor, an African American Illustrator, born and raised in Los Angeles, who relocated to Las Vegas. Kayla grew up with her mom, dad and older brother, who all encouraged her to pursue her goals and follow her passion for art!
When she’s not drawing or planning her own children’s book, you can find her running after her three dogs, playing video games, reading mystery books, or spending time at museums. All of her hobbies and her identity—being a woman and an African American—influenced her passion. She strives to create fun characters who look like authentic people instead of “two-dot eyes and a smiley face.”
Kayla believes there is not enough representation of Black and Brown characters in animation or illustration and for this reason she followed and achieved her goal to become an illustrator—one who could create the characters she thought the world could relate to. She has illustrated a few children’s books, It All Begins with the ABCs, by Janea Philip, We Are All The Same, by Elizabeth Collard, and an upcoming book called, My First Female President, by Stephanie Owens. She is working on making her own children’s book in the future!
An Interview with the Illustrator
We sat down with Kayla to ask her a few questions and get her perspective on life as an illustrator, artist, and digital media instructor. Here’s what she had to say…
What sparked your interest in illustration?
As a kid, my older brother and my late father used to draw comics and show me their stories. I loved the idea of being able to tell a story with whimsical illustrations. I cherish my childhood and the nostalgic feeling of reading a story with fun pictures that put a smile on my face made me want to do it too!
How did it make you feel to be illustrating a book focused on social-emotional learning skills?
It made me feel important that I could contribute my skills as an illustrator to help students to understand social and emotional skills. While reading, writing, and doing mathematics is pivotal to a student’s success, learning about individual emotions and social emotions within their peer groups is just as, if not equally, important. To be able to recognize, internalize, and appropriately respond to strong emotions was a struggle for me when I was growing up, so when given this opportunity to help students with their social behaviors, it made me feel that I could be an impactful influence to kids that struggled like me with social settings and how to react to them. Ultimately, I am truly honored that I was able to serve those who are in need.
Do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your own classroom? If so, what tools do you use?
I do incorporate SEL in my classroom; primarily, I use social awareness and relationship skills, when my students are engaged in group activities. For example, in my Digital Illustration Class, midway through their assignments, I ask my students to show their work so far on the smart board and I ask my students to critique the current student’s work. I make sure to inform my students of the purpose of critiques—to help improve areas of their work. I stress to my students to show empathy when critiquing other’s work and consider the time and effort it took to complete.
My students acknowledge their classmate’s work and give constructive criticism. Instead of saying “I don’t like that” or “That doesn’t look good” my students learn to approach the critiques with “I think you did a great job with____ though, I think if you focused more on the ____ it would look even better” or, “I think if you spent a little more time in that area, it would be perfect!” Ultimately, teaching my students to show sensitivity in a topic where students feel most vulnerable improves their relationships with each other, as well as strengthens their social awareness skills.
What advice would you give a child with dreams of becoming an illustrator?
If a child wants to become an illustrator, I say there are only two things you must do:
1. Practice. You should let your creativity flow through you every day. Even if the things you like to draw don’t look the way you envisioned, I guarantee that if you keep trying to perfect the areas you struggle in, you will improve. Draw the things you like and the things you aren’t comfortable with drawing. If you like drawing a particular thing, for example animals, you should draw them as much as possible because it’s something that makes you happy. However, if you’re not very good at drawing something, like people for instance, you should practice drawing them anyway. You should always challenge yourself by looking up tutorials and references to make yourself a stronger artist. Eventually, you’ll be able to draw anything you struggle with.
2. Never give up. As an artist, I understand that sometimes it’s discouraging to not see immediate progress in your artwork or when comparing yourself to other artists. It’s hard to ignore those feelings of self-doubt, but you should never give up on your passion! You have to recognize your strengths and your weaknesses to grow from them, so that one day, you can look back on your artwork when you first started and see how much you’ve improved.
What’s the best part about illustrating children’s books?
I love seeing the look on kids’ and parents’ faces when they see characters that look like them! My goal when first starting to create children’s books was to make the selection of books more relatable to the readers. Being able to diversify the characters across pages makes me feel more connected to those who can resonate with them. Knowing that I can make a diverse cast of characters of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, and appearances such as birthmarks or clothing and there could be a child reading my books to smile and say “Hey! That looks like me!” is such an awesome feeling!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
> Interested in getting your own copy of I Soar with Wings? Head to our store!