2013 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

New Writer Illustrator

Hyewon Yum: Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten!

Interviewed by Margot Abel, Associate Director, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! is your fourth book. It seems very personal. Was writing and illustrating this book different from working on your previous books?BA-Intv-Hyewon-Yum 2
It is actually from my own experience with my son. When my first child went to kindergarten I was so worried, like the mom in the book. I always fear what is unknown, behind the door. (Sadly, being a mother doesn’t help at all.) But my five-year-old was so confident. That was the start of the story, so I wrote the story as a mother.

As both a writer and an illustrator, how do the text and images come together for you?
The text and images are inseparable for me. When I come up with a story, I always start to work on the dummy [a rough mock-up of story and pictures] first. In a scene, some things are better told in words and other things are better as a drawing, like the small, blue mommy.

It is widely understood that reading and being read to are important for children. Were you a big reader as a girl?
Yes, I was a big reader. I loved fairy tales as a young girl. And my mom read books to me all the time. My mom still has the recording of her reading The Ugly Duckling and me and my sister asking silly questions.

How important do you think drawing and painting are for children in developing literacy?
Reading the images is as important a skill in developing literacy as the reading the text.

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What do you want parents and children to take away from your book?
If there are nervous kids or parents like me, I really hope they feel after reading this book, “I’m not alone, and it will be OK.”

When did you first discover the work of Keats? Did he influence you as you developed your voice and style?
I discovered him when I came to the U.S. to study illustration. I absolutely fell in love with his work. I love his understated style and concise words. As a matter of fact, they were my textbooks when I made my first picture-book dummy. I’m still trying to figure out what makes his books so perfect, though—it’s like magic.

Who are some of your favorite illustrators?
Jean-Jacques Sempé, Gomi Taro, Maurice Sendak, Jon Klassen, Isabelle Arsenault, and of course, Ezra Jack Keats.
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How do you feel about receiving the EJK Book Award?
I am so honored. I know there are so many talented people, and it’s unbelievable I was chosen. All the previous winners are absolutely talented and successful—I’m so excited to have my name next to theirs!
What advice do you have for hopeful young illustrators?
I’m not good at advice, but I can say this: I have found that there are not many people who really love their job and enjoy working, but I do. Every day I wake up and do what I love to do. Isn’t that nice?

Read more about Hyewon Yum