“I attended my home.” That was one of the answers given by author and illustrator, Javaka Steptoe, to an interviewer who asked what school he attended to develop his art skills. His early teachers were his parents, who were both artists. Steptoe’s father is the award-winning, children’s author and illustrator, John Steptoe. In addition to the teaching and encouragement he received at home, which included frequenting museums and art shows, Steptoe was enrolled in various community programs and studied art in high school. He has a B.F.A. degree from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Although Steptoe is the son of artists, he expressed that “the art I make is about my own personal journey.”
His journey as a book illustrator began when Pat Cummings—also an author and illustrator—introduced him to the multicultural book publishers Lee & Low. Steptoe was offered a contract to illustrate In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, which won him a Coretta Scott Book King Award for Illustrators. The buzz generated from the success of In Daddy’s Arms led to Steptoe being chosen to illustrate Charlotte Zolotow’s classic book Do You Know What I’ll Do? He has been striving ever since to make a greater impact in children’s literature. One of his goals is to win a Caldecott Medal.
The Jones Family Express is the first book written and illustrated by Steptoe. After a few years of working with several publishers, Lee & Low eventually published the book in 2003. The love Steptoe feels for his work caused him to persevere through the process and ultimately gain immense knowledge about writing children’s books. He explains, “Writing children’s books isn’t as easy as it seems. You have to say a lot but you have to say it in a few words. You have to make sure that it is being understood by your audience.” Steptoe also indicates that authors receive a lot of input from editors and art directors, so it is best to remain flexible, “but you must always stand up for what you believe in.” The release date for his second authored book, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, is October 25th. For more information about Javaka Steptoe, see the sources and additional reading links.
I want my audience no matter what their background, to be able to enter into my world and make connections with comparable experiences in their own lives.
Books Written & Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe:Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (2016)
The Jones Family Express (2003)
Books Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe:What's Special About Me, Mama? – Kristina Evans (2011)
Sweet, Sweet Baby! (2005)