Sunday, May 24, 2015

Collection Launched!

We had a delightful gathering for our reception last Thursday for The Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color.

The Picture Book Project team: Bates College Professor Krista Aronson, with baby Hope; me; students Gift Pola Kiti, Caroline Kern and Brenna Callahan

Attendees included students and faculty from Bates and people from the wider community including Tilbury House, the Maine State Library, and the Maine Humanities Council...
and best of all, children.

Stars in My Eyes

Last week I received the great news that my upcoming picture book, I'm New Here, received a starred review in Kirkus!
"O’Brien’s watercolor-and-digital illustrations masterfully use perspective, white space, and the contrast between the children 'back home' and in their new settings to highlight the transition from outsider to friend. ...
Whether readers are new themselves or meeting those who are new, there are lessons to be learned here about perseverance, bravery, and inclusion, and O’Brien’s lessons are heartfelt and poetically rendered."

My editor, Julie Bliven, commented in an email that, "I feel as though the reviewer was sitting at our table two years ago at Simmons and listening in on you, me, and Whitney [art director]. They really understood what you were trying to achieve."

It's thrilling to have a beloved project recognized in this public way. And it's rare - and deeply affirming - to be gotten, to have the book described exactly as we envisioned it.

This mention increases the likelihood that the people who are looking for books about immigrant children will find it, and best of all, that it will get into the hands of children who will find themselves reflected in my book.

Thanks, Kirkus!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Picture Book Project

You are invited to the launch of 

The Picture Book Project

A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color

May 21st 
Bates College Ladd Library
Light refreshments will be served

Come celebrate with other parents, teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers and researchers who share an interest in diverse children's books. Hear about the collection, peruse the books and learn how you can check them out for personal or professional use.

Founded by Krista Aronson, Associate Professor of Psychology at Bates, in collaboration with Anne Sibley O'Brien, children's book creator, the Collection is comprised of fiction and narrative non-fiction picture books (grades K-3) depicting characters of color published in the United States between 2002-2013. Using the collection, Professor Aronson, her collaborators and students contribute to the national dialogue about diverse children's books, capturing and communicating their dominant themes and exploring their impact on inclusion and bias, including how teachers and parents utilize them in everyday life. In line with its community focus, these books are available to everyone at Bates and beyond for research, education and personal use. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Finding the Audience for a New Book

I've just begun the Udemy Course for Freelancers taught by author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. Subscribing to his blog, I've found that at least a quarter of his daily posts are so useful, challenging or thought-provoking that I wanted to share them and/or save them for further reflection. 

In his course, a series of 87 short videos with writing exercises, Godin guides students through a process designed "to create a non-generic, unique and remarkable individual who has the leverage and the freedom to make a ruckus." There's also a comment board where students can post their responses and engage in discussion. 

I decided to take the course to focus on the project of finding the audience for my forthcoming title, I'm New Here, a concept picture book about three immigrant children, coming out in August from Charlesbridge.

The first part of the course, "Why Freelance?," includes a series of questions which Godin encourages respondents to answer publicly, in blogs or on Facebook. Here goes...

Who Are You?
1. What do you want to do?
Big picture: To create appealing, engaging children's books that touch people of all ages, connecting them to each other across race, culture and other differences, and to bring these books to a wide audience. 
Current project: To find the audience for this book: To get a copy of I'm New Here into every public school in the U.S.

2. Who do you want to change, and how do you want to change them? 
To increase awareness of and empathy for the challenges of being a new arrival among the teachers and classmates of refugee and immigrant children, and to inspire them with ways to support new students through the adjustment process.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Welcoming Refugees

Over the last two years I've been excited to learn of the work of Welcoming America,
"a national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. The ultimate goal of Welcoming America is to create a welcoming atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns.
One of WA's projects is Welcoming Refugees:
"Through a cooperative agreement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Welcoming America helps organizations and communities across the United States to prepare their communities for successful resettlement over the long term by fostering greater understanding and support for refugees." 
Sign up to be part of the Welcoming Refugees network. Their Community Blog is full of resources.

On the Community Blog, I've just begun a series of posts, "Connecting Through Stories," which will focus on creating welcoming communities and conversations by using children's books featuring stories of the experiences of new Americans.

This first post is about the Cambodian American experience, in celebration of Cambodian New Year and acknowledging the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge invasion of Phnom Penh and the start of the 4-year genocide.

Upcoming posts will include books related to World Refugee Day, Ramadan, and finally in September, National Welcoming Week.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

When Books & Real Life Overlap

What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, which I illustrated, was published five years ago. It tells the story of a Korean American baby's first birthday through the eyes of her older brother, Chong.

One of the most charming aspects of a traditional Korean first birthday, or tol, is the toljabee, in which objects are placed in front of the baby and the one chosen is thought to be a predictor of what the child might become.

Yesterday I got to be part of my grandson's tol. Taemin was splendid in a first birthday outfit that our daughter Yunhee's godparents, Marsha Greenberg and Steve Schuit, had brought last year from Korea.

When a table of objects was placed on the floor in front of him, Taemin practically ran to pick up the rice spoon - the sign of a chef-to-be.

What fun when an event you've illustrated comes to life!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


After late winter in Mongolia (30s) and early spring in China (60s), I arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia, in the state of Sabah on the northwest coast of Borneo, to temperatures in the humid 90s. 

Checking in, I discovered that EARCOS had upgraded keynote speakers to luxurious suites - mine had a view over coconut trees of the marina and the bay! It felt as if I'd landed in paradise.

The resort complex includes two large hotels connected by a boardwalk, dotted with swimming pools, tropical gardens and flowering plants. Enormous breakfast buffets tantalized with platters of fresh papaya, pineapple, watermelon and pomelo, Malay and Indian curries, Chinese dim sum and Korean kimchi, as well as the usual Western options of cereal, eggs, and breads - everything imaginable except pork, in deference to Muslim citizens who comprise more than 60% of the population.

I presented a keynote, "Mirrors & Lenses: Exploring Racial and Cultural Identity," sharing my story as a "3rd culture kid" (TCK) growing up in Korea, interspersed with some of the latest findings I've gleaned from neuroscience on the formation of racial identity and unconscious bias.

Some 1200 teacher delegates attended the conference from 116 English-speaking international schools in 15 countries: Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. 

It was great to reconnect with teacher and librarian friends I'd made on previous author visits to Seoul Foreign School (my alma mater), Shanghai American School and Brent International School in the Philippines, to make new friends - what fascinating stories these teachers have! - and to have exciting conversations about the possibility of author visits to other schools. I also got to catch up with Peaks Island neighbor and author Laima Sruoginis, who's spent the last two years teaching high school English at the American International School of Hong Kong.

Teachers enjoyed taking photos with the visiting author to show to their students.

The conference schedule was packed, so I didn't get a chance to discover the wonders of Sabah, from Mount Kinabalu to tropical rain forests to snorkeling off islands, but a group of us did get to downtown KK for dinner and souvenir shopping: painted masks, sarongs, batik, percussion instruments, and other beautiful crafts.

L to R: With new teacher friends Holly Blair (art teacher in Hong Kong, orig. from Canada); Paulina Cuevas (counselor in China, orig. from Chile); Florence Flesche (5th grade teacher in Hong Kong, orig. from Hong Kong and California).

Browsing with Holly (center) and Lukas Berredo (gender identity advocate & educator in China, orig. from Brazil).

 This area of downtown Kota Kinabalu, selling clothing, souvenirs and food, is called the "Filipino Market."

Laima with pineapple fried rice, at a Thai restaurant on the harbor.

On the last day, there was time for pina coladas by the pool bar and a sunset over the bay, before the closing reception.

L to R: Susan Keller-Mathers and Heather Maldonado of SUNY Buffalo State 
(offered course credit for conference hours, sponsor of my keynote); Paulina 

What a wonderful close to a spectacular trip!