March 7, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #239: Vivienne Chang & Eugenia Yoh

It was such a pleasure talking to besties and debut author-illustrator team Vivienne Chang & Eugenia Yoh about their picture book This Is Not My Home. This is not your conventional children's book duo, as the two conceived of the story and worked on the entire book together every step of the way. And you're about to see why! Enjoy our chat about this uniquely special book!

About the book:
This is not my backyard barbecue.
This is not our car, these are not my fireflies.
This is not my farmer's market and...
This is not my home.

When Lily's mom announces their family must move back to Taiwan to take care of her elderly Ah Ma, Lily is devastated to leave behind her whole life for a place that is most definitely not her home. But Lily soon realizes, through the help of her family and friends, what home means to them. And perhaps someday--maybe not today, but someday--it might become her home too.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh!

LTPB: How did you two come to publish This Is Not My Home together? How do you know each other?

EY: At the height of the pandemic, I was taking a gap year and continuing my summer internship. Vivienne called, as she does every other day, and asks if I’d like to write a children’s book. “Okay,” I said. “Okay,” she responded. “Well, what will it be about?” I asked. That seemed to be the next logical question. Vivienne thought about it for a little bit. “Let’s write about Taiwan.”

So we did. We wrote a book about Taiwan. But it wasn’t really a book just about Taiwan. The story is based loosely on another friend. My friend had to move from Missouri to Taiwan when she was in third grade. I had a chance to talk to my friend’s mother, who said it was difficult to see her happy daughter refuse to talk to anyone and start wearing black. When I mentioned this anecdote to Vivienne, Vivienne said she also had a friend who moved from Canada to Taiwan and detested it. It was intriguing to think about Taiwan in this way. Every time Vivienne and I visited our parent’s homeland, we were always dazzled by the cheap and delicious food, the bustling streets, the ornate temples, and the breathtaking nature. At the end of the day though, we were only visitors. If we had to move back permanently, learn Chinese from scratch, and leave everything behind, we would hate it too.

What fascinated us more was that this story was told from two perspectives. This story is very much about our friends and Lily, who were forced to leave what they called home. But at the same time, it is also about their parents, who had to leave their original homes.

We wrote a book that was very close to our hearts, and we wrote it because we wanted something fun to do. Having it traditionally published at such a quick rate was unexpected. To have agents and publishers be interested in our story was mind-blowing. We were standing on top of our chairs in excitement because we couldn’t wrap our heads around what was happening. We are so fortunate to work with such incredible people in the industry.

LTPB: How do you work together, and how do you work separately? Would you say that one of you was the “writer” and one of you was the “illustrator”?

EY: I think it is interesting that most picture books aren’t written and drawn at the same time. Pictures could tell so much that the words don’t – it just made sense to have them be developed simultaneously.

After we conceived the idea, we went our separate ways and decide how the plot would be constructed. When we came back together, we fused the story and tried to combine the plot points we liked best. It is hard to attribute who wrote what because so much of the concept and writing are intertwined through Zoom conversations. While I was the one who officially put pen to tablet and drew the physical pictures, Vivienne was there every step of the way. If there was a part she thought didn’t convey the right feeling, she would pose in front of the camera or add reference photos to Google Drive so I could have a better idea of her vision. Often she is right, although sometimes we might disagree on something. When this happened, we would both listen to the other’s perspective and focus on what the book needed. Every sketch I did went directly to a shared Google Slides that we would review during a call. My sketches would then be scaled, shifted, removed, duplicated, rotated, flipped, nudged, and stretched during our conversation. After, I would go back to the drawing table and come up with something that resembles the collaged sketch.

One thing I really appreciate about working in a team is there is someone there to always give you a second opinion. In most cases, I usually like working alone, only showing everybody what I’ve been working on only when it is presentable. Fortunately, Vivienne can read minds and knows what I am trying to say when I draw a big scribbly box in the middle of the page. Sometimes these big scribbly boxes make her pretty excited. She would jump out of her chair and yell: “YES! YES!” I am so thankful to have someone on my side who knows what I am trying to say even when I don’t know how to say it.

LTPB: What were some of the bigger challenges that each of you encountered? What are you most excited for readers to see?

EY: As fun as it is to work with your college best friend, it is also hard. I think it goes along with the wisdom of never becoming roommates with your best friend. When you get to know someone so intimately, it will reveal parts of them you would have never seen in a friendship. The biggest challenge is separating friendship from work, especially when hard conversations arise. They seem like walls at the moment, but looking back, they are just bumps that we need to climb over. Often, one of us would have to let something go if the other person wanted it more. Afterward, it is important not to regret the decision. Being hung up on something in the past is the biggest obstacle to moving on in the future.

I am most excited for the readers to see the entire book as a physical product! I know Let’s Talk Picture Books focuses on the construction of the book and all the things picture book lovers geek about (like case reveals!) One thing we are really proud of in this book is the concept of the cover and endpapers. On the cover, you can see Lily’s big, big face shouting “This is Not My Home!” In the back, we have all the things Lily is thinking about: This is not my fireflies, this is not my school, this is not Jill. Throughout the book, you will notice how Lily only says “This is not my home,” in pink speech bubbles. The back cover shows her inner thoughts (quite literally) in the back of her head.

cover concepts

Also the endpapers! The endpapers are great! The front end paper shows Lily’s home (modeled after my Californian suburban neighborhood). The end endpaper shows Lily’s home by the end of the story in Taiwan. Lily’s perception of home shifts from the beginning of the book to the end. The passage of time is detailed in these endpapers.

VC: I am most excited for readers to get to read a book about Taiwan, but also a book not about Taiwan! Although Lily is Taiwanese-American and the book is set in Taiwan, her story of moving from one place to another and adapting to change is a universal story. We need more stories with diverse main characters in universal settings, and I hope this book is the catalyst of that! We are more similar than we think :) Also, I hope readers enjoy our 19-year-old (me) and 21-year-old (Eugenia) brains, the time when we created the book!

LTPB: Eugenia, what did you use to create the illustrations in this book?

EY: I used a tablet and laptop to make the illustrations in this book. I’ve been drawing with Photoshop for a while now, and find it very useful to make illustrations with a fast turnaround. I do love watercolor and colored pencils as well. I hope in the next project, I will get a chance to work with some analog mediums. Nothing can replace the tactile and atmospheric look of a beautiful watercolor.

I wish I took more pictures during the process stage, although I’m afraid all the pencil sketches are tucked away in a sketchbook somewhere in a dusty closet. The very beginning sketches are undecipherable, so maybe it is better they stay hidden. I have all my early digital sketches though! Each of the sketches evolves over time, and eventually more and more color is added to the final illustration.

LTPB: What are you each working on now?

EY: Vivienne and I are working on our second picture book, which will revolve around another universal and relatable feeling. Vivienne and I both think a lot (sometimes too much) about the future and happiness. “What will make us the happiest?” we ask as we lie on the floor. In this book, we wanted to bring imaginative scenes into the story as we address where we want to be most. Since we both hold family and friends so closely, I have no doubt that our future work will constantly touch on these themes.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to work on my drawings as well! Every year, I make a calendar to send to family and friends around Christmas. This is a good way to keep drawing, especially since it is a low-stakes project. I love composing scenes that include small children in calm, seasonal environments.

VC: I’m still a student in college (Washington University in St. Louis), so I’m working on… GRADUATING! Wish me luck :) But like Eugenia said, a second picture book is in the works and hopefully many more to come!

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?

EY: I would want Isabelle Arsenault to illustrate it. Oh my goodness, Isabelle Arsenault changed the way I looked at picture books. I asked for a copy of Jane, the Fox, and I for my eighteenth birthday, and I would limit myself to only one page a day because it was so beautiful. Nobody could draw figures like Isabelle Arsenault– smudgy graphite, gauch-ey, delicate-line fingers. But also, the way the book is written is so subtle. The panels are quiet and descriptive, like watching a black-and-white film. The hand-written type is so personal. If I ever got to meet her in person, I think I would just melt into orange juice.

VC: My mom! My mom is actually an amazing artist, it’s unfortunate that none of the art genes got transferred to me. To prove it she did a lot of my elementary school art projects and the teachers were always extremely impressed and could always tell when I had to do them myself – the difference was drastic! I think it’ll be cool to work on something with my mom and let my mom flex her art muscles a little bit and tell not just my story, but our story!

A big thank you to both Vivienne and Eugenia for talking to me about this special book!  This Is Not My Home published earlier this year from Little, Brown Books Young Readers!

Special thanks to Eugenia and Little, Brown for use of these images!

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