Shane W. Evans’ Underground, a spare and dramatic depiction of the Underground Railroad, is highlighted as part of February’s Black History Month picture book roundup. Reviewer Robin Smith praises the "stunning simplicity" of the illustrations, writing: "[Evans] respects the young audience and makes us want to join in with the book’s closing words, ‘Freedom. I am free. He is free. She is free. We are free.’ "
Evans took the time to answer a few questions for BookPage on inspiration, Black History Month and what he’s working on next.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I would have to say that I was a fan of The Snowy Day and Where the Wild Things Are.
What’s the best part of creating books for a younger audience?
There are SO MANY . . . knowing that you are touching the life of young readers is a great privilege and a blessing. I look at all of the great stories there are to share and it is a BIG inspiration to me. I can often see in the eyes of children the JOY that they have when they learn that they too can tell stories through pictures and words. I always encourage them to share their creative ideas.
What artists inspire you?
The world is a BIG inspiration. I have traveled to MANY countries and seen many cultural expressions through those travels. One of my most favorite places to explore is the continent of Africa. It is so rich with stories that inspire so many feelings that I have shared through my work.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I was invited to the Kennedy Center and asked to share the book Olu’s Dream with an audience of hundreds. In addition I wrote a song to go along with the book and to hear the audience sing along . . . that was a GREAT TREAT!
What sort of research did you do when working on Underground?
I wanted to go on the journey of “underground” myself, so I wanted to use my existing knowledge on the topic so that I could explore more of the FEELING of the experience through the art. I can only imagine what it would feel like from ALL of the stories that I have heard and read. This book is about the feeling of simple actions and feelings like fear, running, crawling, making friends, etc.; this is the essence and the spirit of the underground.
At the end of the book I researched facts to give a starting direction for readers to go deeper and learn more about the people and times. I also focused on the idea of the “underground” and the spirit of this story still living with us today and the importance of us helping our neighbors to freedom.
Do you have a favorite book to read in honor of Black History Month?
That is a GREAT question . . . there are so MANY. The one that comes to mind actually is The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings . . . this is more about FEELING and when I pick this book up I have to go into a sad and scary part of my imagination . . . this helps me truly appreciate all of the work that has been put into building this history of ALL people.
Continuing to create! That is a must . . . I have a great book coming out with a friend and TV/film star Mr. Taye Diggs called Chocolate Me! We are both very excited about the project. In addition I completed a book that I view as my “follow up” to Underground called We March which highlights the march on Washington, D.C., in 1963. Also two exciting projects working with Olu. The first is Olu’s Dream . . . The Musical . . . !!! which will be a stage production of the book Olu’s Dream. Oluizumz.com is a website that will showcase the MANY faces of Olu and offers a fun way to learn. This month we launch 28 “Faces of Black History” to commemorate the incredible offerings of wonderful people creating wonderful stories.