“Why am I” by Colleen McCarthy-Evans
“Why am I” by Colleen McCarthy-Evans
Longtime Santa Barbara Creation Discusses New Children’s Book and Seven Seas Press
By Matt Kettmann
Colleen McCarthy-Evans’ creative life ranges from improv theater and charter schools to board games and, most recently, writing and illustrating children’s books.
His latest is Why am i, a book on big questions illustrated by Sarah Dietz from Germany. The book, which was named “Book of the Year” by Creative kid’s magazine, was published by Seven Seas Press, a three-year, Santa Barbara-based non-profit organization that donates English and bilingual books both locally and internationally.
McCarthy-Evans tells us more below.
What is your background in Santa Barbara?
I came to UCSB in 1975, fresh out of a theology and arts based girls’ school in Los Angeles. Creative collaboration, largely with women, continued as a theme of my four plus decades of living in Santa Barbara.
In the late ’70s I performed in theater including Santa Barbara’s first improv / comedy group, Potatohead Playhouse. I made a transition to graphics, including a stint with the talented team at Patagonia. While my husband and I were raising our young family, I co-founded Santa Barbara Charter School with other dedicated parents and teachers (its focus: the arts, academics, and relationships) and served as Director of Operations.
In the early 2000s, the call to return to creative work was strong. Over the next decade, mostly in partnership with game inventor Joyce Johnson, I co-created and licensed dozens of family board games to local and international game companies, including the million sellers In in Pickle. Then children’s books came into my life.
What are you doing today?
Now I teach yoga and work with the Seven Seas Press Dream Team. As a non-profit organization, we fundraise to create timely and inspiring English and bilingual books and donate them to children through organizations such as Girls Inc., HeadStart, Storyteller, Boys and Girls Clubs, SB / Goleta Libraries and ArtesanÃa Para La Familia; also through international organizations serving immigrant families, including several on the border between the United States and Mexico. In our first three years, we raised $ 15,000 and donated over 800 books.
How did you get interested in children’s books?
In 2010, author Janet Lucy invited me to illustrate her book with an inspiring message for children navigating our modern world. I had immersed myself in the watercolor technique, and since this book project would be my first, I offered to take it one painting at a time and see how it unfolded.
It was a joyful collaboration, and in 2011, The Three Sunflowers was published and won several awards, including the Santa Barbara Beautiful Book of the Year. Ten years later, I have enjoyed writing and / or illustrating other award-winning children’s books, including The little blue dragon, Mermaid dreams, and now Why am i.
Tell us about the latest book. What is it and why did you decide to focus on it?
Bev Abrams, an educator who endorsed the book, says it best: âEven little kids have big questions. “
I woke up one morning with the beginning of the poem “Why am I” in my head – maybe I was wondering my own reason for being?
I imagined different characters proposing this question: âWhy am I? To heaven, and what heaven might say. The book guides readers on a winding walk through a dreamy day, starting at dewy dawn and ending with a dance in the moonlight. Adorable characters remind us that we are all precious, even if for the simple reason that we exist.
Illustrations are so essential to children’s books. How did you work together with the illustrator on this project?
For Why am i, for a few months, I ordered a test illustration from several talented artists, and I just didn’t get the playful feeling I had hoped for and imagined for the book.
Then one lucky day on Instagram, I bumped into Sarah Dietz from Leipzig, Germany, and was again inspired by her whimsical work. Our initial conversation was promising, and I offered him my simple vision for each illustration, giving him plenty of room to bring his own wit and magic to them. The illustration of Sarah’s test blew me away.
We made a fun and effortless collaboration, 100% via email and during a pandemic! It was a miracle. She brought everything I had hoped for and more to the project.
What do you hope children and maybe even parents learn from this book?
I hope we can all be easier on ourselves and others, and remember that just by being ourselves we are offering something of value to the world – and we are full of potential every moment!
Tell us more about the prize awarded to you.
Creative kid’s magazine is a national publication on parenting, which promotes children’s creativity and well-being. They sponsor a rewards program for children’s products: games, toys, books, etc. Each year, for two days at a convention center in Henderson, Nevada, 60 parents and educators test and evaluate the submitted products.
Why am i received the 2021 Book of the Year award for a children’s storybook. It is deeply gratifying when something that we have imagined, created and offered to the world turns out to have meaning and value to others.