February 16, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #168: Hyewon Yum

Hope Lim's I Am a Bird, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, is a beautifully expressive book that captures the importance of embracing similarities and giving strangers a chance. I hope you enjoy my interview with Hyewon, whose illustrations bring this beautiful story to life!

About the book:
I am a bird. Ca-Caw! Ca-Caw!

Every day, a little girl rides to school on the back of her father's bike. As they twist and turn through the streets, the little girl spreads her arms like wings and sings her birdsong for all to hear. But when they pass a strange woman in blue who carries a mysterious bag, the girl goes quiet until the woman is out of sight. One day, when they're running late, the little girl discovers what the woman does with her bag each morning--a surprise that transforms her wariness into a feeling of kinship to be celebrated.

Let's talk Hyewon Yum!

LTPB: What excited you most about Hope Limʼs manuscript for I Am a Bird? What personal connection do you have to it?

HW: When I first read this manuscript, it felt like itʼs my own story. I was born and grew up in Korea where everybody looks and speaks more like myself. Then I came here in US as a grownup, and all the different people who spoke different languages and different looks in NYC made myself 5 year olds again. I could totally empathize with this little girl: scared by tiny differences, misunderstand others... Lim captures this little girl's feeling so perfectly with just few, simple words!!

LTPB: As you got to know the characters in this book, especially the old woman,, how did your illustrations evolve?

HW: From the start, my editor Kate suggested that this story set in Korea. And I thought if this girl lives in Korea, she could be afraid of the old white lady with blue eyes. When I was young, I remember my little sister cried so hard at the sight of blonde man :) And big bag is always very scary, you never know whatʼs in there.

LTPB: Youʼre an author and an illustrator! How do you keep your process fresh with every new book? What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own versus illustrating someone elseʼs text?

HW: Iʼm enjoying illustrating other peopleʼs text more and more, I think all those different story kept my process fresh every time. I have the most fun time creating all those different settings and different characters. And Iʼve been so lucky to illustrate many talented writersʼ work, itʼs inspiring.

Creating my own story involves more struggles since it starts with blank pages. Sometimes it takes me a long time to make my idea into a book. But does everybody has this urge to tell your own story, the need to be heard? Grandpa Across the Ocean (coming out this April) is roughly based on my kidsʼ experience. I always wanted to tell the story about grandparents and their grandchildren who not just live in different time but also in different cultural background with language barrier. It took me a couple years to make it into a book.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

HW: I used colored pencil and gouache for this book. For quite a while color pencils are my favorite medium. I love the texture and I feel comfortable with the outcome when itʼs scanned and printed. In I Am a Bird, the setting was important since the little girl rides daddyʼs bike every morning. I draw the map of this little imaginary town first, then I sketch the scene alongside the little girlʼs morning route. When sketches are done, I tried to figure out the color palettes for the whole book, the blue sea, and a blue coat of the lady, contrasted by an orange bike and a red helmet.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

HW: Iʼm working on Lion Needs a Checkup, which is follow-up of Lion Needs a Haircut. I also start sketching for Where I Live, a poem book, it will be the new challenge for me!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

HW: Oh, if, only if, Roger Duvoisin! He is my favorite illustrator. I love his humor, his lines, colors and well, everything. Every time I open his books, I learned new things. And how effortless it looks, I want to see how he would draw my characters.

Thank you so much to Hyewon for answering questions about this beautiful book! I Am a Bird published earlier this month from Candlewick Press!

Special thanks to Hyewon and Candlewick for use of these images!

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