Friday, October 2, 2015

Picturing New Neighbors

On September 30, in the midst of torrential rains and flash flooding in the city, I still managed to get in from the island to hang an exhibit of illustrations in the Children's Room of Portland Public Library.

The exhibit, "Picturing New Neighbors," features selected original artwork from these four books, all of which feature immigrant children:

My stellar intern, Caitlyn Hubbard, made the whole day work; I never would have made it without her. Thanks, Katie!

The exhibit will be up through November, and will culminate with a November 19th reception and workshop, "'That's My Story!' Images of Immigrant Children in Picture Books," for teachers, librarians, parents and community members.

Celebrating I'M NEW HERE

The September 19 launch party and film preview for I'm New Here was wonderful. Master-minded and MC-ed by the ever brilliant and resourceful Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, the event drew some 70 people, including this crew from the filming at Hall School:

Hall School Community Coordinator Tina Mikkelson (l), with student video stars, teacher Anne Nordstrom, 
me,  filmmaker Fred Ben, and Kirsten Cappy (background)

I read the book and we shared Fred's video of students talking about being new and being welcoming: 

and his interview of me talking about creating the book:

Read a post about the making of the video.

People wrote messages about what it feels like to be new and how to welcome...

And shared welcome signs in our photo booth.
My Charlesbridge editor, Julie Bliven 

Our official paparazzi, Pious Ali, who in a former life was a fashion photographer in Ghana

Thanks to my hardworking intern, University of Southern Maine art student Caitlyn Hubbard, who greeted everyone at the door.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


An artist friend, Jo Israelson, has been working for months on an art installation called, "Welcoming the Stranger: Building Understanding Through Community-Based Art," here in Portland, Maine. The exhibit highlights the treatment of immigrants in Portland during the 1920’s with their treatment today. Several events included in the two-month-long calendar of "Welcoming the Stranger" feature my just-released book about immigrant children, I'm New Here.

Tonight was Jo's opening at the Jewish Museum in Portland. At her suggestion I brought a few copies of the book to sell. While paging through the book, one attendee noticed a detail in the second illustration: The  poster on the wall had today's date: Thursday, September 3. 

I don't recall if when I made the illustration more than a year ago, I checked to see what day September 3 would fall on in 2015. I certainly had no idea at the time that the date I chose would end up being the first public event after the book's release! 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why #BigFiveSignOn? #WNDB

Dear Publishers,

Please sign up for the Diversity Baseline survey designed by Lee & Low. As they state,
Our goal with the Diversity Baseline Survey is to establish a baseline that shows where we are now so we can start taking concrete steps to address the problem.
The purpose is not to point fingers or to shame anyone. The purpose is to find out exactly who we are and where we are, as an industry, at this moment in time. You've seen the numbers: while more than 50% of our entering kindergarteners are children of color, only around 10% of our books depict children of color. 

In other words, somehow, despite all kinds of good intentions, this is where we are now: 
Our children's books don't look like our children.

Actual numbers telling us what we're working with now is the only way we can figure out how we need to address the complex, intertwining systems that result in the current outcome. We need to know what to address, where and how.

Changing systems and institutions is like turning around enormous ships at sea: it doesn't happen without intense, persistent action by many people armed with specific information, goals and targets. We're all invested in making a change to address this challenge.

Why does this matter to me, personally?

  • I was raised in South Korea as the daughter of medical missionaries. From the example of my parents who chose to work, play and live side-by-side with Korean colleagues, friends, and extended family, and from countless Koreans who welcomed me as a guest, a friend and a little sister, I absorbed the deep knowledge that across all our differences, we are one human family. I want books that reflect this truth.
  • As I became a published author and illustrator, I longed to portray the beauty and glory of human difference. My books had to be diverse; that was the world I knew.
  • When our daughter joined our family by adoption from Korea, and my husband and I were raising her and her white brother, I knew that having diverse books, lots of them, depicting all kinds of people, was essential to their wellbeing and development of healthy identities. In different ways, they both needed to see both themselves - and others - reflected in the books they read.
  • I've been following the research of neuroscientists on the development of unconscious bias. I work with a colleague, Professor Krista Aronson of Bates College, whose research demonstrates that books portraying positive relationships across race can actually reduce prejudice. 
  • Some recent studies show that we may be able to interrupt the development of racial bias in infants by creating positive associations with faces of racial groups they're unfamiliar with. The researchers used photos, but why not picture book illustrations?
  • Now I am participating in raising our biracial grandson and my passion for and delight in sharing diverse books has only increased
Ensuring that our children have access to books in which they can see themselves and others reflected is our essential task. It won't be easy, but we can do this. 

Please sign up for the survey, and let's all get to work, together.

"The literature of America should reflect the children of America."
Lucille Clifton

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Story First: Using Children's Books to Explore Korean Culture & Identity

Once again I participated in a National Association of Korean Schools teachers conference - the second in a week - this one the New England chapter, in North Andover, MA. (It's a complete coincidence that I did them back-to-back; this invitation came through another Korean acquaintance.) Annual gatherings like the two I attended offer teachers (mostly volunteers) from across a region the chance to connect and to gain new knowledge, skills and inspiration to improve the effectiveness of their instruction.
Korean schools usually meet on Saturdays or on Sunday afternoons after church, when Korean American families bring their children to study reading, writing and speaking as well as to learn more about Korean culture. The schools also attract families formed by interracial adoption or marriage, and a surprising new trend is non-Korean teens showing up motivated to learn the language based on their love of K-pop and anime!

It's interesting to note the similarities in the two events: Korean churches as venues; a preponderance among teachers of recent immigrants whose first language is Korean, rather than 2nd- or 3rd-generation members; and opening with the singing of both the "Ae-guk-ga" - the Korean national anthem, and "The Star- Spangled Banner". These traits seem typical of that segment of the Korean American community whose adult members are foreign-born; it's Korean-language-based, centers around Protestant churches, and claims both Korean and American allegiance.

My presentation (in Korean again, but this one benefited from last week's warm-up) focused on using books in Korean language school classrooms to help children absorb culture, strengthening their connection to Korea and their bicultural identities. I featured two of my titles, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, and What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, which I illustrated, as examples of how books can be used, and shared a list of titles, most by Korean American authors, for further exploration.
Some recommended books on Korean culture
Preschool - 2nd grade
Bae, Hyun-Ju, New Clothes for New Year's Day
Park, Linda Sue, Bee-bim Bop!
Schoettler, Joan, Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Park, Linda Sue, A Single Shard; Seesaw Girl; The Kite Fighters; & Archer’s Quest 
Middle/High School
Kim Dong Hwa, The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven  (graphic novels)

Some recommended books on the Korean American experience
Preschool - 2nd grade
Park, Frances, Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Han, Jenny, Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream
Yoo, Paula, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story
Middle/High School
Lee, Marie G., Necessary Roughness & Finding My Voice
Na, An, Wait for Me 
Woo, Sung J., Everything Asian
Yoo, David, Girls for Breakfast
Yoo, Paula, Good Enough 

Questions for discussion: 
How are the characters like you? Different from you? 
How was being Korean an asset for the character? A challenge? 

Did you learn anything cool about Korean culture or about being Korean? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More Korean Connections

At her invitation, I joined my friend, Dr. Agnes Ahn, one of the founders and program coordinators of the Korea Studies Workshop at University of MA Lowell, for a whirlwind trip to Philadelphia this weekend.

Agnes and I keynoted at the National Association of Korean Schools, Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting. We each shared an overview of our life stories and our work: on Agnes' mission to get Korea and Korean history into the Common Core, and on my book, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea,

 as a tool to explore Korean history, culture and positive bicultural identity.

We had a warm and enthusiastic response from this delightful group of people - and a delicious Korean box lunch before we were whisked back to the airport to fly back to Boston.