It is no wonder that award-winning writer-illustrator Selina Alko now spends her days melding words and mixed-media art to convey stories of hope and inspiration—as well as an alternative viewpoint. Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia with a Turkish Jewish father who spoke seven languages and taught painting, and a Jewish mother who worked in the family’s century-old metal recycling business, she was surrounded by the melody of words and stories from different places and varied visual possibilities.
When Selina was in elementary school her entire family would attend her father’s painting class where they learned about 19th Century Impressionists and German Expressionists and were asked to chose paintings and copy them using acrylics. Not only was this a fascinating art history lesson, but it also taught her about the emotional use of color and instilled in her a deep appreciation for painting.
Aside from art, Selina’s childhood was also filled with books; Richard Scarry, Curious George, and anything by Judy Blume were a few of her favorites, and summers were spent at a Jewish sleep-away camp where her social activist spirit was ignited—as well as a love of folk music.
The skills her parents imparted to her as a child, the creative environment that supported them, and the diverse worldview she was privy to, have inspired and fueled her ever since and are evident in her many children’s books. Some of her award-winning books include: The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, B is for Brooklyn, Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama, I is for Immigrants, and Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell.
“Write what is closest to your heart. What do you care about? What excites you? What makes you feel sad?” said Selina when asked what advice she would give to an aspiring writer. Now as the mother of two children, Selina looks to carry on some of the traditions that encouraged her talents and worldview by holding “family art nights.” Her son loves to create detailed, realistic drawings of rap and hip-hop artists; her daughter is more free form and uses bold colors and broad brush strokes to create her works. It fills Selina with pride and wonderment as her kids learn to express themselves and cultivate a love of art.
Selina continues to find inspiration in the world around her, whether it’s the streets of Brooklyn, where she has lived for more than 20 years, her native Canada, or the small but universal experiences of a child as she watches her kids grow up. When she’s not working on a new project, Selina enjoys reading, traveling, hiking, collaging in her sketchbook, and dance-walking in Prospect Park.