Local color Amy Córdova
Amy Córdova’s illustrations are a fiesta of color, and their effect is uplifting rather than cloying. It all makes sense when you meet Córdova in person. She exudes the vibrancy of her colors. “I see colors and I know which colors like to lie next to each other,” she told Pasatiempo. “Color has energy. I use a lot of blues. Color is life.”
In the early ’80s, Córdova began exhibiting paintings in Elaine Horwich’s gallery in Santa Fe. She has been illustrating books since 1994 and has illustrated more than 20, including one she wrote ( Abuelita’s
Heart) and five authored by Rudolfo Anaya, including the popular bilingual story, The Santero’s Miracle. “He’s a very gentle, kind soul,” Córdova said. “He never appears to have a lot of ego or power.” The same could be said of Córdova and her work.
Namaste! is a dream of a children’s book that introduces the meaning of the word “namaste”— “the light in me meets the light in you” — through the story of a Nepalese girl whose father is a Sherpa. The illustrations sparkle with the discovery of a new culture. To research the book, Córdova went to Nepal on a 10-day trip with the book’s author, Diana Cohn. “We hooked up with the Mountain Institute in Kathmandu,” Córdova said. “We hiked to Namche Bazaar and stayed there for a few days, and we walked up to the base of Everest. We also went to a village where a Sherpa friend lived.” All the while, she studied details — shrines, butter lamps, and children going to school — and sketched them. “The people I met in Nepal are the most blessed, open-hearted people I’ve ever met,” she said. After her sketches were done, she shared them with her contacts at the Mountain Institute, who said she had done a “very nice” job. The approval meant a lot. “I wanted people to feel that I had respected them.”
Dream Carver, another collaboration with Cohn, begins with a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” The book tells the story of a Mexican boy who comes from a family of woodcarvers, and who daydreams of pink goats and jackrabbits in orange capes; one day, he summons up the courage to quietly carve animals from wood as he sees them, not how they have always been done. Córdova’s illustrations bring the boy’s whimsical dream- animals to life. “I love animals; they’re the heart of the spirit of being alive,” she said. “My world isn’t realistic, my illustrations maybe aren’t sophisticated, but they show my childlike wonder of the natural world.” Outside her house, she keeps a birdfeeder well stocked. “I call my place ‘Birdland,’” she laughed. “Once, I found a roadrunner looking into my kitchen! A sense of place is important to me.”
One of her most delightful books is Fiesta Babies, written by Carmen Tafolla (2015 Texas State Poet Laureate), which was an 2011 American Library Association Pura Belpré Honor Book. The award is given annually to a Latino/a writer and illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of children’s literature. The book’s spare text — “Fiesta Babies dance two by two — the cha- cha- cha ... and the choochoo- choo!” — jumps to life with illustrations of partying babies, butterflies, and coronas that “Mama has made.” The children sing mariachi songs and later collapse into a much-needed siesta. It’s about as happy a book as can be. — Priyanka Kumar
“I love animals; they’re the heart of the spirit of being alive. My world isn’t realistic, my illustrations maybe aren’t sophisticated, but they show my childlike wonder of the natural world.”