One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Interview With Jim Averbeck: A Heart in Cameroon

I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing the brilliant and talented author/illustrator, Jim Averbeck, for quite a while and was delighted when he agreed to visit with us here at Kissing The Earth to talk about his newest picture book, THE MARKET BOWL, released just days ago.

KTE: Welcome Jim! We’re thrilled to have you with us today!  I loved reading THE MARKET BOWL so much. Besides the delightfully resourceful and brave protagonist who I know children, as well as adults, will find very appealing, the visual experience of this story is amazing—turning each page is like opening drawers in a jewel box filled with color and texture. Each scene is stunning and richly set in a vibrant landscape. Where did the inspiration for this come from? 

JA: The rainforest landscape of Cameroon, in West Africa, is heavily featured in my book THE MARKET BOWL.

KTE: You seem to intimately know the colors and textures of this land.  

JA: I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon.  I remember so well the deep terra cotta, almost red, earth that was everywhere there – beneath your feet, surrounding you in the form of earthen bricks used to build the houses, coating the trees during the dry season when it was kicked up as dust by cars and wind. 

KTE: I can imagine it’s the kind of sensual memory that stays with you for a very long time.

JA: I went there with a pair of new white Reeboks, and when I returned years later, the orange color had seeped into the pores of the beaten leather. I’ve no doubt it seeped into my own pores, too.

KTE: Oh, wow. So it’s more than just a memory—its still a palatable presence in your life. What about some of the other colors and textures in the landscape you’ve so vividly recreated on the pages of MARKET BOWL?

JA: I remember the rich green of the forest. Somewhere, there exist pictures of me standing next to plants with leaves larger than I am. (And I’m 6’-2”.)  The trees were amazing. The Akum tree has a huge, round, grey trunk that flares out around the base like giant fins from a ’57 Chevy. The rolling hills were just green as far as you could see, with the occasional acacia tree thrusting up to umbrella over the smaller growth. I would drive my motorcycle down the red earth road, through the green forest, and think the road looked like a fall of auburn hair over green silk.

KTE: A fall of auburn hair over green silk—I love that! It all sounds incredibly beautiful.

JA: It was gorgeous.

KTE: Can you tell us how you wove the details of these rainforest memories into your story? 
JA: Yoyo, the main character, must venture deep into the rain forest to find a way to trick a god who lives there. She hatches a plan and gets some needed supplies for it from an abandoned village, another sight one sometimes saw out in the forest. In fact, she achieves her goal by cooking Ndolé for the god, an indigenous dish made from the leaves of a plant that grows wild in the forest.

KTE: And you’ve even included a recipe for making Ndole at the end of the story! (Which I do plan to try.) Jim, hearing you talk about and describe your experience in Cameroon and seeing how lovingly you portrayed the setting in your illustrations, I get the feeling that this time and place was very important to you.
JA: The rain forest of Cameroon is a part of me. How important is my heart?

  1. KTE: Beautifully put. Thank you so much Jim, for sharing your memories with us today.

Jim Averbeck won a Charlotte Zolotow Honor for his first book In a Blue Room (Harcourt 2008.)  He is the illustrator of Newbery winner Linda Sue Park’s serialized novel, A Long Walk to Water (Breakfast Serials 2009.)  He is the author/illustrator of the critically acclaimed except if (Atheneum 2010) as well as the picture books Oh No, Little Dragon! (Atheneum 2011) and The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge 2012.)  He just sold his first middle grade novel, A Hitch at the Fairmont to Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. He lives in San Francisco with his spouse and their dog.
Check back next week for more hearts...

With Gratitude,



  1. Ohhhhh! Must get this book! Thank you for this lush interview. I swear, I keep learning fascinating things about Jim! :) Miss all of you on the West Coast!

  2. Gorgeous photos! And I absolutely love the cover of The Market Bowl. Must read...

  3. Makes me want to visit Cameroon. Thanks, Sharry!

  4. This interview makes me want two things: A. Marketbowl, and B. a visit to Cameroon. I wish I could see that Jim-sized leaf.