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Holly Hatam draws a career from books to TV

The New York Times-bestselling illustrator turns her pen to TV as she lands her first new show inspired by her art with Big Jump Entertainment. Now, she's focused on bringing BIPOC characters to the screen.
August 17, 2020

Holly Hatam’s foray into kids TV was almost a dreamOttawa studio Big Jump Entertainment spotted an illustration she posted on LinkedIn and invited the New York Times-bestselling illustrator to come create a new series, Apricot, inspired by her art.

Hatam will be providing character designs and some background work on the seven-minute per episode animated series about a little bear’s adventures to help others solve their problems. Created by Hatam, Karen Swerdfeger and Amanda Smith, the preschool series also focuses on teaching kids about empathy.

The path to kids TV wasn’t an easy one for Hatam, who longed to break into children’s entertainment since her own childhood. She got her start in graphic design at an ad agency before leaving to form her own wedding stationary business. Feeling unfilled she took the bold step to freelance for the world of children’s books, and spent five years trying to break into the industry.

It wasn’t until she linked up with mother and daughter writing team Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal to illustrate Dear Girl for HarperCollins, a picture book that encourages girls to be themselves, that she got a toe-hold in the kids space. That book went on to become a bestseller, and spawned a series of sequels like Dear Boy and Dear Baby, the latter of which launches next month. She has since crafted her own Mythical Creatures are Real! book series, and her body of work has sold more than one million copies worldwide, translated into 10 languages.

Now she plans to bring her long-held passion for diversity into kids TV, with the goal of creating properties with a BIPOC character at its core. In her own art, she tries whenever possible to ensure the main character is a person of color. It not only sets her apart from others in the industry, she says, but also gives kids—like her own son—the opportunity to see themselves on screen.

“In Apricot all of the characters are animals, so the diversity is limited by that, but in my other work, when I can, I always make sure the main character is a person of color,” she says. “My six-year-old son is Chinese, and we don’t see anyone who looks like him in kids TV shows, and I want to play a part in changing that.”

Titled "Fathers Day Bear" this is the piece that inspired Big Jump Entertainment to work with Hatam on Apricot.

Titled “Daddy’s Little Girl” this is the piece that inspired Big Jump Entertainment to work with Hatam on Apricot.

Hatam is continuing to develop her own whimsical art style and building up a catalogue of books, including Sounds True Publishing’s Happy Right Now (pictured, below), and her own pieces of online art like Curls for Days. And now that she’s made the shift into kids TV, she’s hopeful that in the future she’ll be able to bring her focus on diversity to the industry, which has historically suffered from a lack of representation.

Hatam made sure the main character in Happy Right Now was a person of color because diversity in her work is key to her.

Hatam made sure the main character in Happy Right Now was a person of color because diversity in kids entertainment is key to her.

Looking to the future, she’s set her sights on big media cos, like Disney and Netflix, and has scheduled meetings with both companies to talk about her work.

“It took me years to get to develop my style, but now I have reached a point where I don’t compare myself as much to other artists and am confident that I can do a lot in this industry,” she says. “In the future I’d love to get better at writing, while making more books that highlight inclusivity in their characters and themes.”

About The Author
News editor for Kidscreen. Ryan covers tech, talent and general kids entertainment news, with a passion for kids rap content and video games. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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