A goal for the new picture book Ambitious Girl (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 19, 2020) by New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris, is to cease the limitation of girls’ expectations and opportunities, says the illustrator Marissa Valdez.
“This whole book, Ambitious Girl, is kind of based around Meena’s aunt Kamala Harris and how people were telling her, you know, she was being too ambitious, or she was being too vocal, things like that,” the former graphic designer tells So Booking Cool. “And if you look at where she is now, I mean, first female Vice President in history, so…I think it’s really common to kind of put girls in their place and this book is about doing the opposite of that.”
Valdez, who’s been drawing since she was a youth, remembers when people tried to dissuade her goals. She noticed it was happening to plenty of other girls as well but not boys. Thankfully, she stayed the course and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation from Massachusetts College of Art and Design also known as MassArt. Recently, she left her day job as a graphic designer to pursue illustration full-time. This past summer she won money for art supplies and networked with an art director as an honoree of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Online Summer Spectacular Portfolio Showcase. It was also announced in 2020 that she is the illustrator of the girl-led chapter book series ESME by Lourdes Heuer, due next year.
Valdez believes it is up to adults to remember not to limit people and “not to limit girls, especially because they can do a lot; and girls rule the world, right?”
Ambitious Girl image by Marissa Valdez
“We also need to remember not to limit girls of color and girls from marginalized backgrounds as well because that’s happening at an even higher rate than other groups,” Valdez says. “It’s very important now; and I think the children’s publishing industry’s done a better job of publishing books with girls as the main character, girl-power stories, but we need to keep on doing that and really push that idea.”
Watch the interview to learn more about Valdez including whether she thinks artists should be classically trained or self-taught; her thoughts on artists being a part of a community; what she misses most about being a teacher; her thoughts on social media for creatives and in general; taking risks; how being an illustrator can be a lonely job; her interaction with her cats, and more! For more information, visit Valdez’s official website.