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Children’s books and food illustration: MIAD alum finds her niche

For Amira Humes ’21 (Illustration), food illustration was always a passion. From her Senior Exhibition project at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) to her social media presence, Humes specializes in illustrating delectable scenes of mainly Filipino cuisine. This specialization paid off in an unexpected way last summer: Humes was approached by Karen Chan of Gloo Books to write and illustrate a new book for children about Filipino food.

A Very Asian Guide to Filipino Food, written and illustrated by Humes, “lined up too perfectly with my interests and my own ethnic background,” she says. Chan, who founded Gloo Books, reached out to Humes via email in summer 2022, inviting her to contribute to the A Very Asian Guide to series. “Since my whole social media presence is food illustration and being a Filipino-American individual, she thought it would be perfect for me to illustrate the book at least,” explains Humes.

At first, the process of writing a children’s book was daunting for Humes. She reached out to her family for their help with research and relied on her publisher Chan to help her edit the content into a format fit for children. “Thankfully Karen was able to help me make it child-friendly and very intriguing and engaging for that audience … taking all of these facts and knowledge that I researched and interviewed family members about, and condensing it into smaller words that are easily digestible. It’s very easy and fun to read now!” she says.

After writing the content, Humes moved on to illustrating her book. “Obviously I love drawing food, so that was probably my favorite part of this,” she laughs. Representation was vitally important to both Humes and Chan. “We wanted to make sure this book had a really good sense of diversity in terms of different genders, different disabilities, different skin colors,” explains Humes. “I wanted to make sure maybe somebody could look at this book and go, ‘That’s me. I resonate with that character.’”

Many aspects of A Very Asian Guide to Filipino Food were based on Humes’s real-life experiences. From taking reference photos (and buying plenty of snacks) at a Filipino grocery store in Chicago to interviewing friends and family members, Humes infuses her book with real-life morsels. “It was very fun, being able to recall some experiences I had with my own family, going back and remembering,” she says. One such experience, making lumpia with her family, informed her choices for illustrating the spread featuring the delicious food. “A lot of this definitely pulled from my personal experience,” Humes explains.

Growing up, Humes keenly felt the lack of representation of Filipino culture in books and media. “It definitely felt very isolating to not have anyone my age that shared my culture or that looked like me or that even recognized where I came from!” she says. “I don’t even think I saw a children’s book about Filipino culture until… a few years ago. Growing up, any time I saw even a snippet of Filipino culture … I was so excited.” Humes knows her community is hungry for more representation, especially in children’s books. “To be able to create something like that, keeping little Amira in mind, and my younger sister, all of the little kids out there who would appreciate having a representation of themselves. It meant a lot to me!”

Although A Very Asian Guide to Filipino Food is her first published book, Humes recalled a picture book illustration class at MIAD that laid the foundations to becoming a published author and illustrator. “You start off with an idea and concept, but how do you execute that? How do you lay things out on the page? Thinking about gutters and bleeds and all the nerdy stuff,” she laughs. Humes enjoyed another foundational experience at MIAD when an Illustration professor validated her interest in food illustration and encouraged her to specialize. “If I hadn’t had that support, I don’t think I’d be in this position right now,” says Humes.

Relying on her MIAD community was also vital to Humes during the book-writing process. “I found it so important to reach back out to people I graduated with to get critiques, get feedback and advice,” says Humes. She also asked for advice from her former professors, who were happy to help. “When they say that they’re here for you, even after you graduate, they mean it,” says Humes. “I so appreciate the knowledge that I’ve learned from so many of the individuals I’ve crossed paths with at MIAD … Although my name is on this book, I really owe it to others that helped me along the way.”

After a signing with two of the series’ other authors at New York City’s first Asian woman-owned bookstore, Yu and Me, Humes is fully enjoying the fruits of her labor. “It was so rewarding to be able to meet the other two authors, to meet other people who felt moved by the books,” she says. “It was no longer a project just for me, but almost a gift to the community. It felt lovely.”

Keep up with Amira on her website, explore her new book, and learn more about MIAD’s Illustration major!

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