Meet an Immigrant Artist Who Persists

Click below to see Maxwell’s interview with Salina Yoon.

“I’m a very determined and persevering person,” said children’s book author and illustrator Salina Yoon. “My parents advised me to never give up.”

Indeed, Yoon has written and illustrated 160 children’s books, including Penguin and Pinecone, Be A Friend, and Duck, Duck, Porcupine! Her books have won several awards, including a Nottingham Children’s Book Award for Found.

Salina Yoon and Max at The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Max with Salina Yoon at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Yoon studied graphic design at California State University, Northridge and illustration at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. She currently lives with her husband, artist Christopher von Polentz, and their two sons in San Diego.  

Recently, while Yoon was doing school visits in the Boston area, I had the opportunity to talk with her at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham. Here are highlights from our conversation:

What are some of your work habits?

I need to be inspired to write. Oftentimes, I’ll browse around at a bookstore, I might go to the library, I might go to the cafe. When I feel like I’ve got an idea that I need to write down, that is the moment that I’ll start working.

How do you come up with your characters?

[My then-toddler son, Max] brought home a pinecone one day and asked me to cut a little blanket for it to take care of. That later turned into the story Penguin and Pinecone, which started the whole series. Bear was inspired by my other son who loved stuffed animals so much. All of my characters have a story behind them.

At The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, Massachusetts

Max with the author and others at Blue Bunny Books

What three qualities do you think make a good friend?

You have to be a good listener. You have to be patient and understanding for the other person’s idiosyncracies and differences. You have to be someone [who] is able to forgive.

Can you tell us about your childhood?

I didn’t have a lot of books at home. Because I came here when I was 4 years old from South Korea, I didn't speak any English. I wasn't able to read and write all that well in the early years of my life. Because of that, I really loved art.

What is the best advice your parents gave to you?

To never give up. My parents are really hard-working people.

What are some of your favorite causes?

I’m passionate about children’s literacy, really anything related to kids. I try to help in any way I can.  

What is your message for kids who want to become authors and illustrators when they grow up?

Read as much as you can. The more you read, the more you will be inspired. Write your own stories, and be inspired by your own life. Be observant of the world.