Get to Know the 2019 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Nominees!

Each year the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award honours excellence in the illustrated picture book format. This year’s nominated titles are Africville, written by Shauntay Grant and illustrated by Eva Campbell, The Funeral by Matt James, Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay, Seb and the Sun by Jami Gigot and They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki. We asked the nominees what book from your youth influenced you the most and helped you to become the creator you are today? 

Matt James is a painter, author, illustrator and musician. His books have won many prestigious awards including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the New Mexico Book Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration.

I can’t think of one single book that stands above the others in terms of its influence on me as a creator. But I do remember the moment that I realized that I wanted to write books (and illustrate them, too).

When I was in grade 4 I signed a book called Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater  out from the Woodstock Public Library (I chose it based solely on the merits of the cover by the way). When I finished reading it, I closed the book, pulled out a single sheet of paper and began writing. I’m not sure exactly what my story was going to be about, but I can pinpoint that as the moment when I decided that making books was the life for me. That book also led me to watch game shows and mutter under breath over and over “my will is stronger than yours, you must obey” in an attempt to exert mind control over the contestants, but that’s an entirely different matter.


Marie-Louise Gay has written and/or illustrated over 60 books for children: the Stella and Sam series, Any Questions?,  Short Stories for Little Monsters and Mustafa, to name a few. Her books have been published in 20 languages. Marie-Louise has also written puppet plays, illustrated posters and has been a creative consultant on the Stella and Sam show, an award-winning animated TV series. She has won awards for her work, such as two Governor General’s Literary Awards, Mr. Christie’s Book Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the Vicky Metcalfe Award and the E.B.White Award. She has been nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.          

When I was 12 or 13 years old I discovered the French bandes-dessinées. I was fascinated and awestruck by the surrealistic, funny, intellectual and visual musings of the French bédéistes (cartoonists): F’Murr with his Génie des Alpages, Claire Brétécher and her Céllulite,  Mandryka with his Concombre Masqué, Fred, Gotlib and Michel Folon.

At the age of 16, I started drawing everywhere and anywhere: sketchbooks, napkins, placemats, and in the margin of my school books. I was inspired by these illustrated stories which I read in the famous magazine, Pilote, to create scenarios driven by images and enriched by words.


Jami Gigot is the author/illustrator of the picture books Mae and the Moon, Seb and the Sun, Imagination Vacation and the upcoming Starboy. She has also worked as a digital artist on over 30 motion pictures including Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Antman and the Wasp. When not busy creating stories, Jami enjoys long walks in the forest and combing the beach for treasures with her family. She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband, two children, and a big orange cat. 

What a great question! I read so many books as a child that I still love today and that helped shape the way I think about storytelling. But if I have to pick one that really played a role in me becoming a creator of picture books, it would be Shel Silverstein’s anthology Where the Sidewalk Ends. When I started writing a few years ago, I began by penning silly poems, very much in the style of Shel Silverstein. This re-energized my love for children’s literature and helped me tap into memories of that magical wonder of being a kid. From there, my passion to create children’s books grew, and I continued to develop my ideas and craft, exploring more narrative stories. It has been a fun and exciting journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!


Photo by Emma McIntyre

Jillian Tamaki is an illustrator, cartoonist and teacher who makes books and comics for people of all different ages. She is the co-creator (with her cousin Mariko Tamaki) of the Caldecott Honor-winning YA graphic novel This One Summer and will publish two picture books in 2020: My Best Friend (with Julie Fogliano) and the self-authored Our Little Kitchen. Jillian was raised in Calgary and currently lives in Toronto.

I doubt anything can be attributed to just one book or source of inspiration. I believe we are a crazy jumble of influences, some we are not even aware of! I’ll choose one. I had a very nice copy of The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and full-colour illustrations by Graham Rust. I loved the story (does it hold up to a contemporary reading? Maybe not!) but what I remember so vividly was the physicality of that book. Hardbound with glossy, good-smelling heavy pages, sprinkled with so many full-colour illustrations. Sara Crewe peering out from the cover, unaware of her pitiable fate. It felt special, almost magical. Nowadays I don’t think the production is always the source of the magic, but rather the care and deep attention transmitted through the work. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to make books, to even attempt such a connection with readers.


Eva Campbell is an artist and illustrator who teaches visual art at Lester B. Pearson College UWC. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Barbados and Ghana. Eva won the Children’s Africana Book Award for her illustrations in The Matatu by Eric Walters. She lives in Victoria.

I don’t have any one book that influenced me but I know that the Ladybird book illustrations were inspiring to me in school as I learned to draw. So were the flower fairy series by Cicely M. Baker. I also loved the drawings of Jamaican artist J. Macdonald Henry.


Shauntay Grant is the author of several picture books for children including Africville, nominated for a 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and she has shared her children’s poetry and prose internationally at festivals and events in Canada, the United States, England, the Caribbean and Australia. A former poet laureate for the City of Halifax (2009–11), she teaches creative writing at Dalhousie University. Visit her online at