It’s the first Sunday of the month, dear Imps, which means featuring the work of a student or debut illustrator. Today Aram Kim visits, and it’s great to see her here, especially since she has come kickin’ with us before on previous occasions.
Aram’s new book is out (from Holiday House), but I’ll let her tell you about it below — and why she loves doing what she does. I thank her for visiting.
Aram: I grew up surrounded by books. I remember a very specific paper bag from a big bookstore in the city, in South Korea where I grew up. When my mom dressed up to go to the city, I knew she would come back with that brown paper bag full of books! After I grew up a little, my dad and I used to go to the public library every Sunday. I remember the excitement of checking the next volume of Sherlock Holmes series out, returning the one I finished over the week.
When I first moved to New York in 2006 to attend the School of Visual Arts, I walked into a bookstore and browsed the children’s book section. There was a book that caught my eye instantly, and I couldn’t let go of it. The story, illustrations, compositions, just EVERYTHING was incredible. It was Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. I didn’t even know then Sendak was a legend. When I learned about him later for his magnificent works, I didn’t even know that he was alive at that time. I just had so much to learn.
This Fall, right when ten years had passed since I arrived in New York, my debut picture book Cat on the Bus came out. It’s published by Holiday House, and I’ve been having a blast with book events and library/school visits. It was one of my thesis projects I did in the graduate program at SVA, under the mentorship of Pat Cummings, legendary fairy godmother of children’s literature people. The book started with a blurry photo that was floating around online. In 2013, it was an especially cold winter in South Korea, and someone took a photo of a street cat who got on the bus and took a seat. The caption was “It was so cold, the bus driver let the cat on the bus.” It touched my heart that the bus driver took the sympathy on a street cat who must have had a rough day outside when it was so cold. It also was heartwarming that bus passengers didn’t frown upon the street cat taking up the seat. Because it was brutally cold (South Korea’s weather is quite similar to the one in New York) and everyone knew how miserable it could be to be outside in that weather, they must have been happy the cat could enjoy at least the moment of warmth. That stayed in my heart and never left until I turned it into a full story.
This book is also special to me, because it served as a healing process. When I got a contract from Holiday House and was about to start working on final art, my cat Horang died. She’d been with me for seven years and for most of the time I’d lived in New York, being the closest like the family I didn’t have here. Horang also was a street cat, and her paper from the adoption center said she had a big scar on her leg when she was found. I used to imagine what she might have gone through on the street. The cat in the book was modeled after her, so drawing her over and over—from being on the street, cold and hungry, to being at home with a happy family—consoled me greatly, and it was a great way to say goodbye. Art always has been a healing process for me whenever I was going through a tough time. When my dad passed when I just started grad school, I made a book called 49 Days, named after the Buddhist ritual of saying goodbye to the deceased for 49 days.
(Click each to enlarge)
Other than children’s book art, another big part of my art-making is related to food! I love food, I love eating, I love people whom I eat with, and I love the culture of sharing food. That naturally led me to draw food. Another book project I did while I was in grad school was called Have You Eaten?, the phrase Korean people often use as a greeting. The book consists of food illustrations of my favorite memories involving food growing up in Korea. My drawing style has been changed quite drastically since then, but my interest in food never changed. I re-started the project again a few months ago and have been drawing food related to my favorite memories, regardless of time and place, and recording it in a blog called Illustrated Memory. It’s temporarily on hold due to my deadline for the next children’s book with Holiday House, evidently about food, but I can’t wait to get back to it!
Another element I consider very important in my work is diversity. It started as my own personal desire of wanting to see more diverse characters in the book — and my natural instinct of wanting to draw people like me. However, as I get involved in the children’s book community more and more, I can see it is a very important matter. We Need Diverse Books is doing a wonderful job, and all the creators, educators, and readers need to dive in! I’ve been living in Queens for more than six years now, and it’s said as many as 800 languages are spoken here. It’s truly diverse. So it feel quite natural to depict various kinds of people in my works, and needless to say, I’m blessed with ALL THAT FOOD from all over the world!
Arnold Lobel said, “I cannot think any work that could be more agreeable and fun than making books for children.” and it always speaks to my heart. When I visit schools and libraries, I tell children that anyone can be a writer as long as they like telling stories, and the awesome thing about writing a book is that you can write whatever you want to write! In the very first version of Cat on the Bus, the cat didn’t find a home. But I changed the ending. How great is that? And as long as you like drawing pictures, anyone can be an illustrator and you can draw whatever you like to draw! I put my favorite stores like a bakery and a toy store in the street scene where the cat is looking out the window, but you can put a hardware store or a bookstore in the scene if that’s what you like. The chairman of SVA illustration MFA program, Marshall Arisman, used to say, “Draw what you like and draw what you know.” It sounded vague at that time, but now I’m getting it. I did a book about the cat — with kind-hearted strangers. I’m doing a book about food. And the next one in line, still quite rough, is a book about reading. It all comes to that one phrase: Draw what you like and draw what you know.
All images used by permission of Aram Kim.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
1) I look forward to this list every Fall.
2) Moonlight. So, so good.
3) When Leonard Marcus says here:
“The picture book will continue in print form, in part because young children are tactile learners and in part because we all like to be in the presence of beautiful and special things.”
4) This is a great conversation, especially if you love cozy reading spaces.
5) My friend and I giving out Halloween candy on the new front porch. With wine. There was also a goat sighting.
7) My 11-year-old heard a boy behind her in band (at school) say something about supporting Trump and then saying, “I have no pity for women.” The kick here is that, when she was telling me this, she prefaced it by saying, “it’s okay, because I don’t need this from him” (meaning, she doesn’t need his pity — attagirl).
Fingers crossed for this election this week, you all. I’m with her.
What are YOUR kicks this week?