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IR Approved Author Odeta Xheka: “All art rests in the gap between that which is aesthetically pleasing and that which truly captivates you.

Here Comes Ingo received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Odeta Xheka.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

My debuting wordless picture book Here Comes Ingo was published in January 2019.

What’s the book’s first line?

Whatever the reader wants it to be. The purpose of Here Comes Ingo is to expand picture books norms to allocate self-directed agency to young readers by offering them an interactive space where they can write, draw and color ON the page in order to create their own story and flesh it out each time they return to it.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

Here Comes Ingo offers a unique picture book experience in that it is open ended allowing readers to add to the story via writing, painting, drawing, coloring and collaging on the actual pages of the book with the goal to encourage exploration, self-expression, logical thinking, imagination, and creativity. More importantly, this beautifully crafted visual story exemplifies a progression of thinking leading towards love, kindness and inclusion because the world needs more empathetic, understanding and tolerant children.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

There is this line in Optic Nerve which I find speaks to my attitude toward Here Comes Ingo: All art rests in the gap between that which is aesthetically pleasing and that which truly captivates you. Generally speaking, art is an instrument to encourage the process of thinking in an innovative way. More specifically, my research on early childhood development has taught me that art-related activities have been proven to boost a child’s self-image by instilling a sense of pride on the self-directed project, not to speak of the myriad articles on the benefits of drawing to enrich learning, growth mindset, the joy of creativity and interpretive discussion alongside emancipatory pedagogy.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

I believe that all books for children should offer a truthful depiction of reality all the while promoting a positive worldview. Here Comes Ingo is my honest attempt as an artist and a parent to provide young readers with a set of creative tools that can serve them well in the future to push back against intolerance stemming from the fear of the unknown. After all, it is not every day that picture books provide them with the opportunity to come face to face with a shark eating cupcakes or a merry band of birds & frogs piggybacking on a chubby fish or even a solitary wolf wrapped in a rainbow. Yet, page after page, children are encouraged to resist feeling discouraged or confused in front of the unexpected and the unknown. Much like Ingo, they are to rely on their ability to embrace what at first may seem strange in order to fully enjoy the book. Equally important, Ingo’s flying adventures invite children to put their thinking hats on and figure out what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing in order to progress toward a mindset of love, kindness and inclusion because the world needs more empathetic, understanding and tolerant children.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

Macaws are loud and their screeching voices make their presence known in dense rain forest. They are also famous for their bright colors, which seem bold to us but actually blend in well with the colors of the forest homes. In this sense, the scarlet macaw Ingo, the main character of my book becomes a stand in for the vivaciouness of inhibited childhood exuberance.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I am currently running an art-based workshop Art With Odeta at Il Centro, FIAO (Federation of Italian American Organizations) here which engages children in open ended creative experiences here as well as storytelling here in order to combat the much feared summer slide via incorporating visual literacy elements into the National Core Standards using Here Comes Ingo as the starting point. I also research and write about the influence of process art in early childhood education here. I also write about motherhood as a multifaceted endeavour here. Moreover, ArtWorks, The Naomi Cohain Foundation, ArtAccess Brooklyn Art Council, FIAO and Albanian American Women Organization are some of the organizations I have gladly worked with and/or offered my artwork in support of the causes they promote in helping various facets of community heal.

How much time did you spend on writing your book?

Although Here Comes Ingo is technically a wordless picture book for children, it can easily qualify as an art book in its aim to familiarize children with figurative collage. Each illustration is a “painting made with scissors” as Henri Matisse famously put it (referring to his paper cutouts series). These multilayered paper collages rely on the meticulously orchestrated arrangement of various cutouts of animals, insects, birds, grass and trees drenched in a Disney-like palette. Each illustration is purposefully imbued with suggestive possibilities bordering on the surreal in order to provide Here Comes Ingo with an artistic language that is very inclusive and issues an open invitation for readers to  stretch the visual story in front of them as far as their imagination permits. While the actual process of crafting and photographing each collage took only a few days, the process of selecting the cutouts took much longer. I have this long held habit of cutting and setting aside different bits and pieces that catch my eye for various reasons. Sometimes it is the unexpected texture on a patch of color in one of my kids drawings, at other times I preserve a section from a magazine, yet another time I select small bits from my own art prints and wall decals. It is an ongoing process which in this case came to fruition in the best possible way

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie? 

I decided to go the self-publishing route in order to have complete artistic control over the aesthetics of what is, for all intents and purposes, an art book for children. Indeed, I am very happy with the way each collage stands out as a unique illustration drenched in superb colors thanks to the high quality of printing. There is definitely a sense of gratification when your vision translates into the page faithfully steering clear of any “proposed” modifications.

On the other hand, this sense of creative freedom comes at the expense of a supporting network. At least in my experience, I found the delayed correspondence and general lack of promptness in acknowledging my concerns very taxing. There is also the issue of marketing efforts; I find myself at the helm of my own ship in terms of PR reach out but I understand most authors engage in similar solo acts. What I find disheartening as an indie author is the fact that most reviewers, school librarians and libraries won’t take a chance on an indie book. There are, of course, a few remarkable exceptions but, as a general rule, a non-traditionally published book has a very tough battle to fight in order to gain (well deserved) recognition.

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

I am very motivated to build meaningful and lasting relationships with various schools and worthy organizations that are focused on connecting childhood education and open ended creativity. As Philip Pullman, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award recipient said: Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.

I feel hopeful that at a time when old and young alike are continuously asked to think of the immigrant, the gender fluid, the poor, the “other” in terms that instill fear and confusion, Here Comes Ingo allocates direct agency to its young readers. To me, this is another way of approaching children with truth, honesty and authenticity. Real life is not just colorful and happy; life also has darkness. I don’t believe we should coddle children and shelter them from life. With this book, I intend to make it safe for children to face things with their eyes open and to accept that things can be confusing and not “getting” something at first glance is totally acceptable. They are invited to look harder, probe deeper and make sense of what is in front of them.

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