After their panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books Main Stage, actors and singers (and husband-wife duo) Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson and illustrator Joy Hwang Ruiz arrived at Children’s Stage to discuss their new picture book, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
The couple and Hwang Ruiz took the stage and chatted with the hundreds of fans gathered, with special attention to the young children sitting on miniature chairs near the front of the stage.
“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” was released on March 28 and is a children’s book that reads as a message from parents to their children. But beyond being a book, Odom and Robinson brought their mutual musical theater experiences to write a song of the same name.
“The cool thing about the book that we write is that it’s also a song,” said Odom at the panel. “So you can listen to the song or you can read the book, or you can do both.”
They played a recording of the song for the audience and invited the children to join in the song after they familiarized themselves with the lyrics.
However, the spotlight of the Children’s Stage panel was actually the illustrator Hwang Ruiz.
“[Our publishers] sent us a list of ideas of people who could draw the pictures for us, and immediately, we saw Joy’s gorgeous, gorgeous drawings,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the pictures in this book yet, but they’re the most beautiful, colorful, just gorgeous things, so we feel so lucky.”
Hwang Ruiz reflected on how her background as a South Korean immigrant living in Florida informed the sense of diversity she hopes to foster in her book artwork, especially for “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
“Picture books were my favorite and they were my best friends, but I couldn’t find anyone who would look like me in the books,” Hwang Ruiz said. “I am so grateful for this opportunity to create books for all of you guys and be able to share that not just as someone who looks like me, but celebrate diversity and every [child] and friends and people and families.”
Hwang Ruiz spoke on her personal life, focusing on how Odom and Robinson’s book drew her to the project as a mother of two.
As she sketched a drawing of a mother hugging her daughter on a large notepad, she spoke about her process and left some advice to any young aspiring illustrators.
“The most important part of being an illustrator, it’s not just about how well you draw,” Hwang Ruiz said. “You have to feel the story that you want to share. The most important point is that don’t give up. Keep trying and follow your passion and especially curiosity just to draw because it makes you happy and draw because it helps you tell a story and to understand who you are.”