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Saturday June 25th

UNC art major Maggie Shibley helps bring a children's book to life

In this illustration, a teacher is lighting a pot belly stove in Chapter Three of "Little School in the Woods." Courtesy of Maggie Shibley.
Buy Photos In this illustration, a teacher is lighting a pot belly stove in Chapter Three of "Little School in the Woods." Courtesy of Maggie Shibley.

Maggie Shibley, UNC senior and studio art major, illustrated Emily Brewer's newest children's book, "Little School in the Woods." The book tells the history of a rural North Carolina schoolhouse for African-American children.

Staff writer Rebecca Fiely talked to Shibley about her experience illustrating the book.

"Little School in the Woods" can be purchased on Amazon

The Daily Tar Heel: Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with “Little School in the Woods.” 

Maggie Shibley: I am a studio art major, so I take a lot of art classes, and I’ve always been interested in illustration and particularly children’s book illustration. We got an email through the art department for an opportunity to illustrate a book for an internship, and we just had to send in our artwork to apply. I did that, and I got an email back saying I’ve been chosen to illustrate the book. 

DTH: What about this book speaks to you personally? 

MS: Well, when I first applied to do the illustrations for it, I didn’t know what the book was about. But when I found out about the story behind the book, I just thought it was such an amazing story, and I was shocked that the story hadn’t been told already because it seemed like something that so clearly needed to be told. I was excited to be a part of that.

DTH: Could you tell me about the story? 

MS: The book follows a few generations, but it starts with an enslaved woman who ends up running away from her slave master, and she stays with a man who she ends up marrying. And their son, when he’s an adult — this is post-slavery, but there is no education available for African-American children — he ends up building a school for his children to be educated. It’s hidden in the woods because it had to be this hidden secret thing. They educate their children like that. And eventually that school becomes abandoned and forgotten when integration happens, and now it’s being restored to bring awareness to that history. 

DTH: How long did it take you to illustrate the book?

MS: I ended up doing 20-25 illustrations over the course of about a year — a year and a few months. 

DTH: Did you have a specific process that you adopted for illustrating the book?

MS: I got the illustrations in parts, so the author would give me a few chapters to illustrate. She would tell me what she wanted illustrated. I would illustrate those, and then send them to her. And she would get feedback from the women who was having the book be created. And from there I would get revisions, and I would do those while doing the next round of illustrations, so it was just a matter of illustrating, getting feedback, editing, getting more feedback. A lot of the times there were pretty specific instructions on what the illustrations were supposed to be, so I was trying to bring that vision to life. 

DTH: What was your creative process? 

MS: I guess the main creative freedom that I had in the book was the style. So I went for a more cartoonish style because I felt like that was more accessible for kids since it was about getting the story for children. So I just wanted to make it as inviting as possible and kind of — especially the beginning of the story — there were some serious topics in there but still trying to make it accessible. So it was kind of a process of how to make the characters really warm and inviting while dealing with — some parts were of a darker sort. 

DTH: What advice do you have for UNC students who hope to have careers in visual art?

MS: I would just say take every opportunity you can and look out for opportunities and things you’re interested in because a lot of the times you don’t know what’s out there. I was pretty fortunate that we got emailed this, but a lot of time there are opportunities to do this sort of work in the fields you like. You just have to seek them out. Make sure you have a portfolio ready. 

DTH: Next steps in art career? 

MS: I’m graduating this year, and I’m hoping to eventually get into the animation field in the art side of that, hopefully visual development.  


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