Mylo Freeman is Dutch/American and grew up in The Hague, Holland. She attended the art academy in Amsterdam where she majored in illustration and painting. After a short career as a singer, she started illustrating again after the birth of her son David. Her first book Potty! received a prize for Best Toddler Book of the Year at the time. Of the approximately 60 books she has made, the Princess Arabella series is among her most well-known. There are thirteen books about Arabella, and the titles are published in more than ten countries. There is an app and a theatre play in the making. In all it proves there is a huge demand for books with diversity!
Mylo, your illustrations celebrate young black children with beautiful and colorful images and clearly highlight your painting and visual arts background. Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
I did attend art school; in fact, there were two academies where I studied: one for graphic design fashion and illustration, the Rietveld Academy, and one for painting, the Rijks Academy. I’d like to think that I’m at a point right now where I’m able to combine all these different disciplines. All my books begin with a story, so I have to make sure that I have a more-or-less complete story to start off with. Then I start sketching some of the scenes of the story. After that I always start with making the cover of the book first! Somehow that gives me confidence that I’ll be able to finish the book as a whole.
The basis of all my illustrations is water-inks because the colors are so fabulous. There’s really nothing like it! For different effects with water-ink, I use techniques like bleach and sea salt. These are great techniques to make the paint come to life! To finish the drawings off I use materials like pastels, gel pens, markers, and pencils. After I finish all the illustrations, I put them in my drawer and try not to touch them for a few weeks or so. Then I take them out again and see if there’s something that needs to be improved or not. It’s important to take some distance and have a fresh look at the work you’ve done!
This was such a shock to me that I decided then and there to create a book around a little black princess!
The characters of Zaza, Macy, and Princess Arabella are filled with confidence and are not afraid to express themselves. They are wonderful role models for young readers. What inspired you to write their stories?
The books about Princess Arabella I started writing some 15 years ago after I heard a story about a little black girl who couldn’t believe that black princesses also existed. This was such a shock to me that I decided then and there to create a book around a little black princess!
But I also decided that she should be a normal child like any other child. A little girl who discovers the world and her own place in it. I guess I was also inspired by my own children at the time. I have two girls and a boy. They’re all grown up now, but when they were little, it was always interesting to see the dynamics between them. They were absolutely an inspiration to a lot of my stories.
Before becoming an author and illustrator, your life took many directions, including a career in music. Why did you ultimately decide to turn to the world of children’s picture books?
When I left school there were so many things I loved to do, I just couldn’t make up my mind. And making music was definitely one of them. My da was a jazz musician, so I must have inherited some of his musical genes. I had a short-lived musical career, not so much because I didn’t love singing or composing songs, but mainly because I didn’t really enjoy the whole process of performing. I think you really have to love that whole thing of being in the public eye and everything.
With my books I always say I’d love for Princess Arabella to be famous, not me!
Are there any discussion questions, curriculum, videos, or other materials that would help readers engage with your picture books?
Here are some links to clips on YouTube: an illustration demonstration, a tour around my studio and a lovely interview with Mia in London!
How to draw Princess Arabella:
A tour around Mylo’s studio:
An interview with Mia and Mylo:
What do you find to be the most difficult part of creating children’s books today and what is the most rewarding?
Well, with so many books coming out every season you could say that it’s not easy to find your own little spot in there. But what works best for me is to stay close to my own passions and interests to find my place in a natural way. For instance, I love fashion and I started a series for older girls and grown-ups called ‘On Ladies and Bags.’ It’s a series where famous and not-so-famous women are linked to a famous bag. They are all role models and inspiring in their own way.
The reward is always the reaction you get from people that are so grateful you made this book. Either for themselves or for their children!
Are you working on anything now? What’s next for you?
I like to work on several books, sometimes up to two or three books at the same time. But first this year there’s another Princess Arabella book coming out. This time for age six and up. It’s a book with several different reading levels, so you can learn to read with Princess Arabella! Then there’s a sequel to the ‘On Ladies and Bags’ which is called ‘On Ladies and Jewelry’ that I just finished. And of course, another sequel to the ‘Macy’s World’ books that is called ’Smile with African Style.’
My next plan is to make a picture book about a little black girl who lived in the era of Rembrandt.
What is your favorite childhood book?
My favorite children’s book at the moment would have to be Julian is a Mermaid. I love the story, the illustrations, and the message behind it!