Children’s book author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba lives in Atlanta with her husband and an assortment of adopted fuzzy creatures. “I’m 6 myself,” laughs the creator of Soap Soap Soap. “I’m way too young to have kids.”
Dulemba is only half joking. After a dozen successful years as a graphic designer in the corporate world, she took a chance and followed a childhood dream that had never let her go.
She’s one of the featured authors at this weekend’s seventh annual Savannah Children’s Book Festival.
The Maryland–born Dulemba says she knew she was going to be an artist by the time she was 18 months old. “I shredded my picture books because I stared at them so much,” she remembers. “I didn’t realize that people actually made them.”
Still, she went to the University of Georgia and earned a degree in graphic design. “It wasn’t until I’d been working for quite some time,” she says, “and the stories just would not be quiet – they were in my head saying ‘We want out!’– that I realized I really needed to pursue this.”
Picture books, even though they’re designed for the youngest readers, are tricky. “There are several things you have to take into account when you’re thinking about them,” Dulemba explains. “One, you want to make the idea simple enough for a child to understand, and yet large enough so that it’s speaking to the adults who are going to be buying the book, and hearing it over and over again.”
As in all literary endeavors, story is everything.
“What’s great about a really good picture book is that they actually transcend the story and become something much larger than the book itself,” she says.
“I realize that my art isn’t always a perfect fit for the stories that I write. I have a look, and sometimes a watercolor would be a more appropriate fit. And I don’t do watercolors. It’s about being true to the story, and whatever it needs.”
Based on an American folk tale, Soap Soap Soap was actually the first book that Dulemba has published as both writer and illustrator. Her most famous artwork can be found in Paco and the Giant Chile Plant, with text by Keith Polette, and Stacey R. Kaye’s series Ready to Play, Ready for the Day and Ready for Bed.
Her newest book is The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia. Dulemba and author Susan Rosson Spain are friends – and, strangely enough, that’s more of the exception than the rule. Authors and illustrators generally work independently of one another.
“Usually, I’m sent a manuscript through the publisher,” Dulemba explains. “So oftentimes I don’t even speak to the author.”
Although it looks like layered pastels, Dulemba’s artwork is all done on the computer. Before she could click a mouse, she was an accomplished artist and was rarely seen without a drawing pad tucked under her arm.
Her post–UGA work included a stint designing laser–light animation for Georgia’s Stone Mountain attraction, creating characters for Brach’s Candy, and – for six years – coming up with kid–friendly advertising for Buster Brown Apparel.
Today, she is Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a board member of the Georgia Center for the Book, and an adjunct professor of illustration at UGA (she teaches three times a week).
Her work is featured on the cover of the December issue of Highlights magazine.
She also designed her own website (dulemba.com), which encourages input from her young readers, and even has its own coloring–book pages and other activities.
For Elizabeth Dulemba, one of the most gratifying things to come out of her success began with Paco and the Giant Chile Plant, continued through Soap Soap Soap, and will doubtless color her books in the future.
Both Paco and Soap are fully bilingual.
“Obviously, we have a growing Hispanic community in the United States,” she says. “I happen to adore other cultures and languages, so I wanted to reach out to that community.
“I teamed up with Raven Tree Press, and they specialize in bilingual picture books, but also folk tales. Paco was a wonderful thing for me. I took two years of Spanish lessons at the Latin American Association – I went in thinking ‘I’ll learn some Spanish’ and I left having my life changed.
“These are warm, wonderful people from all over the world, and I’m so glad that I was able to contribute a story to them.”
Savannah Children’s Book Fair
Where: Forsyth Park
When: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13
Addenda: Arts and crafts, food, entertainment, international tent, costumed characters
Rain location: Savannah Civic Center
Author appearances: Anna Dewdney, Elizabeth Dulemba, Brian Jordan, Alan Katz, Melinda Long, Pat Mora, Kyle Puttkamer, Miles and William Rabun, Judy Schachner, Charles R. Smith Jr., Don Tate, Marjory Wentworth