The Return of Danbi! An Interview with Anna Kim and the Cover Reveal of Danbi’s Favorite Day
I remember the first time I saw Danbi.
Each year my library (Evanston Public Library) organizes a 101 Great Books for Kids list of some of the top children’s books of the year. I see a fair number sent to me as PDFs, galleys and ARCS, but my librarians tend to see those that come in just as circulating materials. So I wasn’t the first one to discover Danbi Leads the School Parade. That credit goes to my librarians, and I was so very glad that they did. A glance at the cover and I was in danger of dismissing the book as too cute or not my style (weird that an adult woman would have a preferred “style” of picture books, but we’ll say no more of that). It was at their insistence that I read it, and when I did I found it to have this depth and emotional connection, not just to the characters, but to young readers as well. The art glows. It’s cute, of course, but in a relatable just lovely way. Simply put, I was hooked.
Today it is my very great pleasure to not only host the cover reveal for the sequel to the first Danbi book, Danbi’s Favorite Day, but to also talk with author/illustrator Anna Kim about what it is that makes Danbi and her friends so amazingly appealing.
Betsy Bird: Anna, thank you once again for taking the time to answer my questions today! Last time we saw you you’d just released your first picture book DANBI LEADS THE SCHOOL PARADE. Before we get into anything else, could you just give us a quick recap of where DANBI came from? What was the impetus to write that first book?
Anna Kim: Thank you for having me! I’m a big fan of the Fuse8 blog!
Danbi started out as a ¾” scribble on a piece of napkin. I tend to scribble everywhere, so that was not unusual, but my drawing of this little girl with pigtails kept popping up in my sketchbooks and the yellow stickies on my desk. One night, as I started sketching her in the middle of a classroom, I had a visceral memory of standing bewildered in front of my new class after immigrating from South Korea. I guess that feeling had never left me. This all happened around the time I was looking for picture books for my nieces, hoping to find fun, positive stories featuring Asian American characters. That’s when it hit me. My first story would be of a little immigrant girl’s first day in kindergarten. And that became DANBI LEADS THE SCHOOL PARADE.
BB: As many know, DANBI would go on to win an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor from ALA. That must have been such a huge thrill. I never got a chance to ask you about it before, so I’d love to now. How did you find out that you won? Did you get “the call”?
AK: 2020 was extraordinarily difficult and painful for so many around the world. Then, on January 5th, 2021, my editor at Penguin gave me the news. I was stunned. It was just such a hard time, you know. I thought of all the librarians and teachers who worked through the pandemic under very stressful conditions, and who shed light on Danbi despite all the craziness in the world. It took me days to process what that award meant. I remembered a chance meeting with a kindergarten art teacher in Harlem, who had asked her students to create a painting of themselves. When she got the paintings back, all the children had painted themselves with blond hair. That reminded me of my niece, Asian American like me and 5-year old at the time, who told me she wanted “yellow hair”. Winning the APALA honor award meant my hope of creating a character in which children could see themselves was real. That was the biggest thrill of all.
BB: Now the character of Danbi is returning to us in DANBI’S FAVORITE DAY. When you wrote the first book, did you always know that Danbi had more of her story to tell, or did the sequel, in its way, sort of creep up on you?
AK: The idea for DANBI’s FAVORITE DAY popped in my head when I was taking a walk along the Hudson River in Manhattan. I remembered the alley behind my parents’ corner deli near City Hall. I had always imagined that the alley, with its cobblestones, garbage cans, and sunlight streaming through the surrounding buildings, belonged in a picture book. But just as I buckled down to write this sequel, the world got brought to its knees by the pandemic. We were all quarantined and powerless, and I missed my family and my friends. That feeling of togetherness, I had never really thought about it until it was taken away. And so, my yearning for it became the inspiration behind DANBI’S FAVORITE DAY. And the alley is in the book too!
BB: Much of the Danbi stories focus on our expectations, for good or for bad. We make these glorious plans and things go wrong, but we still have the ability to change course and save the day. Is this a theme that means a lot to you personally or does it come from somewhere else?
AK: Plans going wrong and having to figure things out is sort of my life’s story. Coming to America, for example. To me, as a kid, America meant M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses, and Disneyland. But when we got here, there was no money for chocolates, let alone Disneyland. I had to learn a new language and way of life pretty much on my own while my parents worked long hours like most immigrants. So yeah, I believe in going with your gut when life does a 180. There is a postscript to my “coming to America” story, as I finally made it to Disneyland when I was in my twenties. I remember standing in a long line of youngsters and shaking Mickey Mouse’s hand. It had been a long journey. And I cried.
BB: Inquiring minds simply have to know: Will we be seeing yet another DANBI story in the future?
AK: I hope so! Nothing is set with the Publisher, but I’m working on something: jotting ideas and sketching. It’s always nerve-wracking to start a new story, but Danbi is so much fun to hang out with.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
AK: Besides working on another story, I’m drawing slices of life of Danbi and her friends in the big city. You’ll be seeing some of them pop up on Instagram in the coming months.
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . . a brand new Danbi for a brand new day:
Big, huge thanks to Anna Kim for answering my questions here today. You can expect to find Danbi’s Favorite Day on bookstore and library shelves everywhere on April 25, 2023. Expect to see it then!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network