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5 Questions With... Salina Yoon (PENGUIN AND PINECONE)

by Salina Yoon
March 15, 2013
Salina Yoon is the award-winning author and illustrator of the Penguin picture book series, featuring PENGUIN AND PINECONE, and the forthcoming PENGUIN ON VACATION and PENGUIN IN LOVE from Walker Books. She has also created nearly 200 novelty and board books for young children. She lives with her family in Southern California, but you can visit her online at www.salinayoon.com.

You’ve chronicled Penguin’s adventures on the Penguin and Pinecone blog. Do you always flesh out your characters beyond the pages of the book, or does Penguin hold a special place in your writerly heart?

Penguin is my first of many firsts. He is my first series character to star in my first story-based picture book, and first to be sculpted with clay and star in my first blog ever. He holds a very special place in my heart because of the stories Penguin inspires, and for challenging me to write them.

Lots of other “firsts” are happening in my career because of Penguin, like my participation at IRA next month!

You’ve written many novelty books for children, and you’ve cited interactivity and “play appeal” as important elements in this genre. How do those fun elements translate or get altered when writing a picture book like PENGUIN AND PINECONE?

In a novelty, I design the physical book to make them interactive with lift-flaps, soft things to touch, shiny accents, or a wheel to spin, which add to its play value.

For Penguin, my focus on play appeal changed to character appeal. I want my readers to fall in love with Penguin, the character, and follow him on his heartfelt adventures.

On your website you briefly chronicle some differences between your early childhood in Korea and that of your children in the US. How does your experience of young life in Korea and the United States inform your writing?

I strive to create books that appeal to all children on a universal level—not limited to certain cultures, generations or lifestyles. Penguin’s natural curiosity, his compassion, his joy, his sadness, his longing, [and] his wonderment, are universal emotions that can resonate with children everywhere.

You’ve said that you switch between illustration styles and between digital and hand drawing. How do you make the decision as to how you’ll tackle each project?

In my former life, I was an art director. It was my job to match in-house book projects with the right illustration style. I considered how well the style would work with the content of the book as well as its intended audience.

When I went off to write/illustrate my own books, my process stayed the same except that my pool of illustration styles were now limited to the ones I could create and the books were limited to the ones I could write.

You're appearing at IRA's 58th Annual Convention, where the theme is "Celebrating Teachers Making a Difference." Can you tell us about a teacher who made a difference in your life?

Mrs. Cook, my third grade teacher at Rosewood Elementary. I remember her with fondness for so many reasons, one of which is that she was pregnant. I had never seen a pregnant woman up close in my life at the time, and was mesmerized by her big round belly. She let curious students put our hands over her big baby bump so we could feel the baby kick. But it wasn’t just for that reason!

She expressed to me that I had a talent for art. I knew I liked art… but… talent? Mrs. Cook encouraged me to enter a bookmark drawing contest and helped me write up a slogan for it. I won first place in this contest, my first ever ART contest. This planted a seed in me—a desire to make art that grew and grew.

Thank you, Mrs. Cook, and all the other Mrs. Cook’s out there, planting the seeds!

Come see Salina Yoon co-present the symposium IRA Teachers' Choices Committee Presents: Making a Difference for Readers, Writers, and Artists by Connecting them with Authors and Illustrators who Create Books that Inspire, Motivate, and Delight, at IRA’s 58th Annual Convention on Monday, April 22, 2013.

© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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