Nyob Zoo! (Hello!)
My name is Billy Thao and I am a Hmong illustrator based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. My love of bookmaking started with the first picture book I remember owning: Arthur’s Halloween, by Marc Brown. Every night, as a six-year old, I turned the pages of that book, wishing I could live inside the illustrations, because they made me so happy. Now, as an adult, when I revisit my favorite classics like The Polar Express, Where the Wild Things Are, and Owl Moon, I travel on an adventure back into the memories of the little, chubby boy who sat in the corner of the library, quietly loving stories and wanting to be part of their creation.
I studied sociology and philosophy in college, but I also kept my curiosity in art, exploring and experimenting at every chance I had. Although I earned my degree in sociology and philosophy art never left my hands. Within 12 years, I researched, explored, and experimented with art; while, after college, serving with AmeriCorps (Minnesota Reading Corps and Community Technology Empowerment Project) before committing to become a full-time visual artist and children’s illustrator. I recently had the privilege of illustrating my first picture book, YANG WARRIORS (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), written by award-winning Hmong author, Kao Kalia Yang, and look forward to making many more books.
When I am not illustrating, I spend my time caring for my brother, Raymond, catch up on reading, or take a stroll outdoors and seek inspirations while I dream up new adventurous, imaginative stories of my own.
My first drawing at age 6 or 7.