Roger Mello, Award-Winning Brazilian Artist and Author


Roger Mello will be here!  Mark your calendars!

On Monday, October 28, from 7:00-7:50pm in ECS 017, acclaimed Brazilian picture-book artist Roger Mello will speak about his creative process.  The event is free.  All are welcome.

Who is Roger Mello?

Roger Mello (source)

Born in 1965 in Brazil, Roger Mello has illustrated over 100 children’s books — 22 of which he also wrote.

In 2014, he became the first artist from Latin America to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award — an award sometimes called “the Nobel prize for children’s literature.”

Always willing to experiment, Mello’s artistic style shifts according to the needs of his story, and the questions his books raise invite readers to imagine answers. In two different visual registers, his wordless Selvagem [Wild] (2010) pits a modernist greyscale safari-suited man against a pop-art popsicle-orange-and-black cartoon tiger: The animal leaves the frame, chases the human, who ends up in the frame, as the tiger strides forth into the “real” world. His latest book to be translated into English, Charcoal Boys (2019), uses torn paper, vivid colors, and sharp line work to tell the story of child labor in Brazil’s coal mines.

Having come of age during the Brazilian military dictatorship, Mello has said, “We grew up realizing that books might be really powerful since people could disappear because of them.”  Today, he creates powerful books that push against arbitrary aesthetic boundaries, and challenge readers to think. During a talk I heard him give in August, Mello spoke of how the Brazilian palm tree can look for water, adding: “Sometimes what we are doing seems impossible. If a palm tree can look for water, then anything is possible.”

What brings him to Kansas State University?

Roger Mello at the International Research Society for Children’s Literature conference, Stockholm, August 2019

Roger Mello has a few talks in the U.S., where he is — in part — to promote the publication of Charcoal Boys in its English-language translation.

I happened to meet him at the International Research Society for Children’s Literature conference in Stockholm this past August.  I noticed a panel on Children’s Literature in Brazil featuring scholars of children’s books, and Roger Mello.  I blinked.  Was the third panelist really the Roger Mello?  I went to the panel — which, by the way, was excellent.  And sure enough, it was Roger Mello!  He spoke of his creative process, of art, and in particular of art’s role in times like these. (For any who need reminding, Brazil has its own authoritarian president: Jair Bolsonaro, who is sometimes referred to as Brazil’s Trump.)

At a reception afterwards, Roger and I struck up a friendly conversation.  (In addition to being a world-renowned artist, Roger is also a very nice fellow!)  One of the delights of my profession is getting to hang out with and learn from talented, thoughtful people.  Chatting with Roger was a highlight of the conference for me.  Since Roger was going to be in the U.S., he wrote to see if he might visit us here.  And now,… thanks to the support of the English Department and to Anne Phillips, whose ENGL 825 seminar on “Illustration in Children’s Literature” class meets on Monday evening, he will be here on October 28!

Where can I learn more?


— Philip Nel, Professor

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