Interview with Andrea Pippins — Who Will You Be?


“And this I know, my child: whoever you will be, I will love you forever.”

Andrea Pippins is the Stockholm-based graphic designer, visual activist, author, illustrator and dreamer who brought to life the irresistible picture book Who Will You Be? I drank in this book from the very first read. It is a love letter to not just children, but to the communities that surround and shape them into the people they will become. It is impossible to read Pippins’ story and not imagine your own grandmother, uncle, cousin, or sister. We are left to dream of the unique ways they pass on their own goodness and legacies, whether through blown kisses, big hugs, or the boldness in their heart. This book celebrates the ways we are both a reflection of our families and an expression of our own selves: ”…for no one in the world has ever been like you.”

Consider ordering Pippins’ Who Will You Be? from your local indie and helping to spread more of Pippins’ rich, imaginative love into the world. We sure could use it. Thank you for such a delightful, engaging Q&A, Andrea!

Congratulations on your newborn daughter! What is it like reading your book to her and your son?

Thank you so much. You know, I have not yet read Who Will You Be? to my daughter, Maya, but have read it to my son Isa. It’s based on my wishes for Isa so the main character looks like him. When we read it he pages through the book with so much delight because he recognizes himself but also he enjoys explaining what he sees.

What is your favorite line from Who Will You Be? 

My favorite is the ending: “And this I know, my child: whoever you will be, I will love you forever.” I love this because it is really how I feel about my children and what I hope we can feel about all the people we deeply love.

My favorite spread is with “…Gigi, who gives big hugs,” where Gigi is covered in kids in a big group hug. During this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, where social distancing is now the norm, I miss hugging family and friends. This spread is a reminder of how it used to be and what I hope we can get back to.

One of my favorite spreads shows the child’s grandmother protesting. What a powerful visual for children to witness and aspire to, especially today. Can you share more about this scene? 

Yes, personally I wanted to celebrate both of Isa’s grandmothers. His paternal grandmother is very active in her community, she worked within a political party for years and never hesitated to protest or march for something she believed in. His maternal grandmother always speaks her mind and advocates for herself. So I wanted to create an image that captures that energy. But also, I wanted to shift how a grandmother is typically represented visually. She’s not knitting, baking, or gardening—and of course there’s nothing wrong with those activities, but I wanted to show a grandmother doing something unexpected, brave and bold. 

You describe how celebrating community and Black joy were core intentions for this project. What do you hope children take away from this story?

I hope children take from this story the importance of being beautiful from the inside out, to see that they are enough, and that they will always be more than what external things like a career or material wealth might represent. My hope is that they also think about the people in their lives and reflect upon who embodies these particular attributes. Then celebrate those people in their communities for who they are.

Can you share a meaningful moment in your journey of bringing your book to life? 

Hmmm, I can’t think of one, but what always brings me joy is when parents share photos of their kids reading the book.

Your career has spanned from graphic design to teaching to visual activism and beyond. When did you know you wanted to write for children? 

I don’t think I ever knew, it wasn’t something I set out to do. It just happened I was prepared and the stars aligned. Creating art and books for children is an unexpected part of my creative path, and I am so grateful to be on this journey. I really love doing this work. Writing and illustrating children’s books is a dream I didn’t even know I had. 

Who are your writer heroes? 

Wow I have so many! Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jacqueline Woodson, Isabel Allende to name a few.

Do you have words of wisdom for aspiring writers and/or illustrators? 

Yes, be true to you. See your work as a form of service to others. And give it your all.

Who Will You Be? is published by Schwartz & Wade and was released on April 7, 2020.

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