Encourage Kids to Be Themselves

Today we are so excited to be sharing a brand new children’s book from author Ioana Stoian! Always be You celebrates and accepts each and every child, just as they are. Messages of love, acceptance, empathy, inclusion, and diversity are paired with playful and unique hand-cut paper illustrations. 

Ioana is a British-born paper artist and all the beautiful paper featured in the book was handmade and hand-dyed by her! Illustrator Dawn M. Cardona then turned them into the fun, paper-cut illustrations you see on every page of Always be You. Even the text in the book is cut from paper and everything was done 100% to scale so you can truly see how much hard work and attention to detail went into every illustration.

Encourage Kids to Be True to Themselves with Always be You

We are so happy to have had the chance to chat with Ioana Stoian and learn more about everything that went into the book, her love of papermaking, what’s inspiring her now, and more! Read our full interview with her below!

And get your copy of Always be You, now available wherever books are sold – we know you’ll love it as much as we do! The message is something that we all need to be reminded of: be true to yourself!

Encourage Kids to Be True to Themselves with Always be You

What inspired you to dive into the world of children’s books?

Since the birth of my son, two and a half years ago, I have become a passionate advocate for respectful parenting. Can you imagine a society where people are valued just for being themselves? 

I believe that this is a crucial message that our children need to hear from very early on. Yet it is rather challenging to find this message in books – especially board books. So I decided to make my own!


What was the collaboration process like when working with illustrator Dawn M. Cardona?

Dawn is a very talented paper artist and I really love her artistic style. It’s important to note that we were complete strangers before this project, motherhood, and paper brought us together.  Throughout our collaboration, we learned a lot about each other, about our similarities and our differences and the ways in which we think and create. It wasn’t my initial plan to use handmade paper for the artwork, but after seeing where her illustrations were going, it seemed like a perfect match. I ended up sending her a huge pile of my handmade paper and she worked her magic. 

Encourage Kids to Be True to Themselves with Always be You

How did you first become interested in papermaking and folding?

A trip to Japan sparked my interest in paper folding back in 2008. Seeing all the beautiful paper and intricately folded creations just completely blew me away. Upon my return to the UK, I found various paper folding groups that eventually led me to the mountains in Italy and to my future husband, paper artist Eric Gjerde (it sounds as magical as it felt at the time!). Back then Eric was actually living in the US with the owner of Cave Paper, a well known papermaking studio in Minnesota. During our initial long-distance relationship (which felt like an eternity) I would visit and spend most of my time in the paper studio, making paper and experimenting with new techniques.

After living together in France and collaborating on various artworks, I travelled back to Japan only this time to spend time with a master papermaker, harvesting kozo (Japanese mulberry) in the mountains near Niigata to make the most exquisite washi paper (fine Japanese paper). 

Eric and I now live in Minnesota where set up our own studio and continue to play with paper along with our two year old son. I feel a deep connection to this medium and am so happy to be able to share my passion with others.


What was your favorite part about working on Always Be You? Did anything surprise you?

I have to say, I really enjoyed sticking the intricately-cut lettering down on to the page, one letter at a time (the artwork was created at 100% scale so those letters are tiny!). It was just so satisfying to see everything finally come together.

Encourage Kids to Be True to Themselves with Always be You

What is inspiring you right now?

Everything! I am inspired by life; by the pace of which nature unfolds, by the leaves falling gracefully from the trees (it’s autumn here and Minnesotan winter is fast approaching); by the natural colours that surround us. As a stay at home mum I get to watch a human-being develop, one day at a time, there is absolutely nothing more inspiring!


What do you hope readers take away from Always Be You?

The message of being authentic. Let’s celebrate our children for who they are and encourage them to accept others in the same way.  

Encourage Kids to Be True to Themselves with Always be You

Keep up with all of Ioana’s latest paper creations on her website and follow along with illustrator Dawn M. Cardona’s illustrations over on Instagram.

Third and fourth photographs by Dawn M. Cardona