Hiroe Nakata interview
The Brooklyn-based illustrator discusses motherhood, mallards and mirth.
Sun Jun 21 2009
Illustration: Hiroe Nakata
Japanese-born illustrator Hiroe Nakata is just like any other working mom, juggling her professional life and parenting duties as best she can. Chatting about her depiction of the ocean in one of her previous books, 2008’s Duck Dunks, she’s in the middle of describing how the tone of the water is really more Atlantic than Pacific when she’s interrupted by her three-year-old daughter Koharu’s latest potty achievement. “She just pooped and she’s asking for a lollipop,” Nakata says by phone. “I really have to stop [rewarding her] because now she can do it by herself.”
Nakata’s own recent milestone is Duck Tents (Holt, $17; ages 3 to 5), the third in writer Lynne Berry’s series of books about a delightful quintet of quackers who’ve taken on skating, swimming and now camping. The Brooklyn-based Parsons grad, who has illustrated some 30 titles since hitting the scene in 2000 with Carol Diggory Shields’s Lucky Pennies and Hot Chocolate, is known for her cheerful watercolors of spare, speck-eyed and rosy-cheeked characters (both avian and human). She uses white space to frame her figures, giving her work a pleasingly open feel.
Nakata, who was born in Hiroshima and moved to the U.S. when she was 16, has never owned pets—which may explain why her animal characters take on a sometimes all-too-human quality. Two grinning mallards in 2005’s Duck Skates actually have teeth, a quirk that resulted from her own mischievous sense of humor. “Some publishers say everything has to be logical because kids get confused,” she says. “I just think sometimes it’s more important to be funny than logical.”