Alumna draws on talents to bring new perspectives to children’s literature
To reach an ultimate career goal early in one’s professional journey is a very rare thing. No one understands – or appreciates – this more than Chelsea Charles (Bachelor of Illustration ’16), whose incredible talent and serendipitous string of opportunities lined up at just the right time to make her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator a reality.
Already in 2023, two books featuring Charles’ work have been released: Little Black Lives Matter written by Khodi Dill, and The Hockey Jersey by Jael Richardson. The Trailblazing Life of Viola Desmond: A Civil Rights Icon by Rachel Kehoe with Wanda Desmond is set to be released in September. Each book is filled with her illustrations for children to flip through, enjoy with their loved ones and, ultimately, be inspired by.
“It's pretty surreal,” she says. “It's a coincidence that they all happened at the same time and it's just really exciting that they’re all coming out this year.”
Each opportunity came about in its own way. The Hockey Jersey, sponsored by Scotiabank, was a direct collaboration with the author Jael Richardson, who, like Charles, is a Brampton, Ontario native.
“I reached out to Jael when I graduated because I was trying to find freelance work. I just sent her a cold email and told her I was from Brampton as well, and that I wanted to potentially work on a project with her,” Charles says. “When she was reached out to by Scotiabank to work on The Hockey Jersey, she then asked if I wanted to illustrate the book. And once I heard what the story was about, it really resonated with me. I wanted to be a part of a book that helps showcase diversity.”
Charles says working on this project, which aims to create a new hockey story for the next generation of players, was very fulfilling as she says its purpose is to “get children of colour to feel inspired to join the sport by seeing themselves depicted on each page.” As an illustrator, it brings her great joy to know she could be a part of someone’s journey into discovering Canada’s national winter sport.
“Working on books that focus on diversity and showcasing Black stories is very important to me.”– Chelsea Charles
The other stories came to Charles directly through publishers familiar with her already lengthy resume creating editorial illustrations for publications like Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail and The Walrus, as well as her social media pages that expertly highlight her various published works and personal projects.
“For the other two books, it was different,” she recalls. “For Little Black Lives Matter, the author and the publishers were involved. Everyone had their own say, and I would work around that. The illustrating process is typically done that way. For Viola Desmond, just the publisher was involved, only me and one other person, whereas the other two are me and a bigger group of people. So every job ends up being completely different.”
Charles says these unique experiences keep her engaged creatively. From a young age she knew drawing and creating art was what she wanted to do, calling it “the only constant in my life” and that she “just knew that it would end up being my career.” Now, being able to work on three books with Black stories at the centre is something that means a lot to Charles.
“As a person of colour growing up, I never really saw myself in a lot of media. Working on books that focus on diversity and showcasing Black stories is very important to me. I'm glad I was able to help and make it so that children will read them and feel like they're able to make a change in the future and that their lives are important as well.”