ILLUSTRATING A CHILDREN’S BOOK ABOUT HURRICANE IRMA IN PUERTO RICO
At FIT, Ashley Vargas studied children’s book illustration in hopes of breaking into that incredibly competitive field. After graduation, the 2021 Illustration alumna responded to countless open calls without success. But a tweet turned out to be her ticket in—an illustrator had sent out a call for a Puerto Rican artist after declining the project.
Our Roof Is Blue (Charlesbridge, 2023), illustrated by the 2021 Illustration grad, tells the story of a family in Puerto Rico whose roof is torn off by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Lacking the resources to repair the roof, they cover their house with a blue tarp. When the youngest child responds to his fear and confusion by becoming nonverbal, his sister helps him through his trauma. She uses her imagination to turn the tarp into an ocean full of aquatic life and a parachute for an aerial journey. The book, for children ages 4–7, identifies actions kids can take to help fight climate change, like recycling and starting a school awareness group.
As inspiration for the drawings, Vargas turned to old family photos and snapshots of friends’ houses in Puerto Rico. Early sketches were too literal, and the book’s designer advised her to “go beyond the text.”
“She said, ‘You can put them in a dark blue forest. They’re kids. It’s nighttime. They can be dreaming anything they want,’” Vargas recalls. “That unlocked something for me.”
The book, published in both English and Spanish, has garnered lots of praise. Kirkus Reviews wrote that “Vargas’s art has a scribbly, childlike feeling that makes the tale relatable despite its potentially scary subject.”
She recently signed with the CAT Agency, a boutique agency for children’s book artists—Vargas’ longtime dream. “Now that I have a book under my belt, they took me more seriously.” —Jonathan Vatner