How a community kitchen inspired Jillian Tamaki to create the picture book Our Little Kitchen
Jillian Tamaki is an award-winning illustrator and comics artist. She is the author of graphic novel Boundless. She's twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration, in 2018 for the picture book They Say Blue and in 2014 for her work in the YA graphic novel This One Summer, written by her cousin and graphic novelist Mariko Tamaki.
Her latest is a picture book Our Little Kitchen. The book features a neighbourhood with colourful characters who come together in the kitchen to share a meal. Our Little Kitchen is a celebration of food, community and laughter.
Food brings people together
"For about four years, I volunteered at a community kitchen and hunger program in Brooklyn. That was a very special and formative experience for me. It was really an attempt to learn more about my community, get to know my neighbours outside of people my own age and really feel more rooted to the place that I was living.
A place like a community kitchen is very complex. There's a lot of different social issues at play. There are a lot of big personalities at play.
"A place like a community kitchen is very complex. There's a lot of different social issues at play. There are a lot of big personalities at play. It's not a frictionless space, but it is so important that we learn who our neighbours are, talk to our neighbours, learn about the struggles — because that is like the first step to standing together against those struggles.
"It's not just about feeling good, touchy-feely there, although there is that. I think it's vitally important work to be doing."
A comic book feel
"I knew I wanted to fuse the comic book language with the picture book language. I thought that that was a powerful way of depicting a group and the way that group dynamics work. It's not one protagonist, it's many speaking with and over each other. I felt that that was a very effective and fun way of depicting group dynamics.
I wanted the book to be very fun. It's very colourful. It's the kind of book that I would want to read when I was a kid.
"I wanted the book to be very fun. It's very colourful. It's the kind of book that I would want to read when I was a kid. That's really what guides my decisions around a picture book. I know a lot of kids these days are very into cooking, and that was something that I really wanted to emphasize and bring that sensory experience of cooking and teamwork into a picture book."
Jillian Tamaki's comments have been edited for length and clarity.