Kayla Harren is a children’s book illustrator who lives with her husband and dog in Minnesota and illustrates books for children. She especially loves animals, nature, and chocolate chip cookies with frosting.
How did you get started as an illustrator?
I studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I learned a lot in school and made some connections in the art world. After graduating I got my first freelance job illustrating short stories for the children’s book app FarFaria.
What inspires you to create for children?
I am inspired by their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. They are like sponges, constantly soaking up information. I want to keep them excited about books and reading so they can continue to learn throughout their lives.
What are you working on now? What was your favorite part of creating it?
I am currently illustrating a narrative nonfiction picture book about the Chicago fire of 1871 called Fiery Night that will be released in 2020.
My favorite part of creating Fiery Night so far has been the research. I never liked history class in school because I have a terrible memory for names and dates. But focusing on one historical event and diving deep into what life was like during this specific time period has been fascinating and I discovered I really do love history!
My most recent picture book was released in July titled A Boy Like You.
My favorite part of creating A Boy Like You was getting into a flow state when coloring. Once the work of sketching and getting feedback from the art director and revising was all worked out, I could just put some podcasts on and lose myself in coloring.
When you’re not creating, what do you enjoy doing?
I love walking in the woods with my dog. I also like playing volleyball, watching movies, and reading.
What does a day in the life of YOU look like?
Most days I start by exercising, taking my dog to the dog park, then getting down to work. I spend a big chunk of the day drawing on my computer with a Cintiq tablet while my dog sleeps under my desk. I am usually working on multiple book projects at various stages, so I alternate my tasks throughout the week. Some days I am researching, other days I sketch, and many days I am coloring final art.
Is there a children’s book that holds a special place in your heart?
The Arrival by Shaun Tan is the picture book that made me want to become a children’s book illustrator. It is a beautiful example of storytelling through pictures.
If you could give parents one piece of advice to help their children become better readers, what would it be?
Go to your local library and talk to a librarian about your child’s interests. Librarians are amazing! The librarian will be able to recommend books about the topics your kid loves and that will get them excited to read. Reading should be fun! Let your kid read books that they enjoy, not books you think will make them smart.
Photography by Natalie Champa Jennings