A Second Chance to Stargaze: An Interview with Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
Updated: May 14, 2020
One of my favorite things about my job as the School + Author Liaison with Second Star to the Right is the ability to connect with so many different people from all different walks of life, all over the planet. I get to work in schools and connect all of the amazing students and educators with incredible authors, maybe even introducing them to a new favorite! I get to hear kids tell me that they don’t like to read and then watch their face light up when they find THAT story. The one that makes them feel SEEN and HEARD. The one that they devour and can’t seem to put down. And I get to hear parents telling me about kids reading at the dinner table or while they should be doing homework. (Always do your homework first, kids!)
But even better than connecting these young minds with their favorite story is watching them come face to face with authors and illustrators. I’ve stood back and listened as tearful young kids tell an author that they didn’t think there were books for kids like them. Sometimes I see a face, full of wonder and inspiration, whisper that they didn’t realize they could be an author or an illustrator, too. I’ve watched as dreams are born and paths are forged. I’ve seen lives take shape right before my eyes. All because they get to connect with a story or an author.
When coronavirus first started to spread, I was afraid that these children would no longer have the opportunity to connect with these amazing authors & illustrators and would lose out on these often once in a lifetime interactions. I am so grateful to be able to tell you, dear reader, that thanks to our incredible publishing partners, schools, & surrounding communities, we are still able to bring these events to our youth!
I grew up reading comics, which later turned into a love of graphic novels. I still enjoy reading both to this day! When we were first given the opportunity to host Victoria Jamieson, Newbery-winning author of Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School, and Omar Mohamed, I might have let out a fangirl-esque squeal and melted into a puddle on the ground. See, not only am I a fan of graphic novels, but I also love stories about the pursuit of education, about finding one’s own path and overcoming all sorts of odds in order to achieve a dream. And that’s exactly what When Stars Are Scattered is about, plus so much more!
I am so grateful to Penguin Young Readers for working with us to salvage this visit and create an opportunity for a virtual event with this incredible and talented duo.
If you’ve never heard of Victoria or Omar, you’re in luck! Not only can you attend our event on Sunday, May 17th from 2 - 3 pm (RSVP here), but you can also get a little sneak peek by reading our Q&A with the duo...
What was the best part about working together on this project? What was the biggest challenge?
Omar Mohamed: My biggest challenge was finding the times to talk or meet with Victoria. At some points I had two full time jobs. Sometimes Victoria visited me at my office or home for the weekends. We have used all means of ways we could communicate better.
There are countless great things about working with Victoria. Her commitment, her work ethics and the respect she has shown to me and my family is beyond imagination. I feel very lucky that I got Victoria, one of the best human beings to share my personal story with the rest of the world.
Victoria Jamieson: The biggest challenge was probably figuring out ways and times to talk. Omar has a full-time job, so we would usually meet during his time off at lunch or after work. We had to get creative at times, and also communicated via text, Facebook, and phone!
There have been so many great things about working together that it's hard to choose one. I feel very privileged that I got to know Omar and his family. Being invited to help share Omar's personal story with the world is a tremendous honor.
How have you been changed or affected by creating this graphic novel and sharing this story with the world?
Omar: I have learned a lot from Victoria in the process of writing a book. It took back to my old memories and that made me appreciate more about these who helped along the way. It also made me double my work of helping others. I have also gotten to learn from one of the best authors/illustrators and that has improved me as a person.
Victoria: I've learned so much about the lives of refugees through writing this story. Before writing this book, I never knew that people can spend their entire lives in a refugee camp, often with several generations living in the same camp. It's opened my eyes to realities I wasn't aware of before.
If you could only read books from three authors for the rest of your life, who would you choose?
O: The first three that came into my mind are : Ishmael Beah (we have one thing in common), Chinua Achebe, and Nelson Mandela.
V: Another tough one! I'll say the first three that popped into my head: Beverly Cleary, Karina Yan Glaser, and Thannha Lai.
How as education and the pursuit of knowledge shaped your path in life?
O: I did my early schooling in the most difficult place and situations any child can be and that really changed and made me who I am today. I went to the University of Arizona and pursued a degree in international development. I read all the time about the refugee stories.
V: I'm very grateful for the education I've received. I went to art school instead of a traditional university, and it really taught me how to think independently and pursue my passions. I read all the time and I love to learn; learning sparks my imagination and the interests I study often end up in my books.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors and illustrators?
O: I am new to this field and I’m also in the process of learning. Believe in yourself and everything is doable if you put effort and time. Your patience will be tested so never give hope.
V: If you love writing and drawing, keep doing it! You'll inevitably reach a point in your life when you start comparing yourself to others. There is no "winning" or "losing" in art. You can always improve your craft, but if you write and draw from the heart, your stories will find their way in the world.
Victoria Jamieson is the creator of the graphic novels All's Faire in Middle School and Newbery Honor winner Roller Girl. She received her BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and worked as a children's book designer before becoming a freelance illustrator. She has also worked as a portrait artist aboard a cruise ship, and has lived in Australia, Italy, and Canada. Now she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son.
Omar Mohamed spent his childhood at the Dadaab camp, after his father was killed and he was separated from his mother in Somalia. He devoted everything to taking care of his younger brother, Hassan, and to pursuing his education. He now lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife and five children, and works at a center to help resettle other refugees. He is the founder of Refugee Strong, a non-profit organization that empowers students living in refugee camps.
Lauren Casey is the school and author liaison for Second Star to the Right Books in Denver, CO.