Meet Anna Kim, Hoboken Resident + Woman Behind Danbi Leads The School Parade

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Writing is no small feat — in fact, it takes a lot of work to write a good story. For Anna Kim, however, putting her pen to the paper comes naturally, as she is both a writer and illustrator. As the woman behind children’s picture book Danbi Leads The School Parade, Anna works hard to create her craft. This week, Hoboken Girl had the opportunity to chat with Anna about how she got into her career, what her favorite Hoboken locales are, why it’s important to share a diverse range of stories and faces, and more.

anna kim

Tell us about yourself.

I write and illustrate children’s picture books. My first book, Danbi Leads The School Parade {Penguin Books for Young Readers}, was released this summer. I got the inspiration for it while looking for picture books for my nieces at the old Barnes and Noble in Hoboken. My hope was to find fun and positive stories featuring diverse characters, especially some with Asian characters that my nieces could identify with, but couldn’t find any. What also struck me was the absence of immigrant stories that showed, not just the perspective of the immigrant, but also that of those who already live here. That realization is what led me to create Danbi.

I believe that no matter how big our differences, friendship changes us forever. The characters in my book change simply by virtue of getting to know Danbi. Similarly, Danbi is changed just by knowing and interacting with her new classmates. I want my young readers to be open to this because such opportunities happen all the time in real life.

How long have you been a writer and illustrator?

I worked on Danbi for close to 10 years. I know it sounds crazy, but I was a piano teacher and had no idea how to write or illustrate a picture book. And so, I took a class and another, and then many more.  I filled sketchbook after sketchbook with character drawings. I also joined critique groups, SCBWI {Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators}, and chipped away at it every day. And after ten years, I got my first book published.

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What is your favorite thing about being a writer and illustrator?

My favorite part is creating characters. It’s also the most challenging and it takes me by surprise every single time. I found that some characters come to life and resonate with people. Getting there is an elusive process, but then I’d go to my writing groups and people would always ask about Danbi. That’s when I knew Danbi was special.

What is your favorite book to date that you’ve written?

Danbi is my first book! But I’m writing a sequel, which will show how Danbi grows and matures as she navigates her Korean and American cultures. Being bi-cultural is part of my own identity and so, naturally, Danbi will discover what it means to be Korean-American. For sure, her journey will be packed with ups and downs and I’m waiting to find out, too!

anna kim

What is one skill or skill set you think is necessary to be a writer and illustrator? 

Creating a good book takes time — a long time. And it’s hard to keep going. And so, I’d say tenacity is really important. And finding others who can offer thoughtful critique is gold, no matter how much those critiques hurt at first.

Why do you think it’s important to share a range of diverse stories and faces, especially in children’s books?

It’s crucial for children to have hero choices; to be able to choose role models that they can identify with, whatever their race, culture, or socio-economic background. And it’s important for those who grow up in one culture to see the beauty of cultures other than theirs. This can be life-changing for a child who is frightened and bewildered in a new country, and craving acceptance. I feel it is my mission to deliver this positive message of hope to that child sitting in a corner, alone, because she or he doesn’t feel accepted for the color of her skin or the culture he is from.

A couple of years ago, I had a chance encounter with a 2nd-grade teacher in Harlem. She had asked her class to draw their self-portraits. Her class had kids from all colors, races, and backgrounds. And yet, almost every child painted a self-portrait with blond hair. That was appalling to me and made me even more resolute to make Danbi happen.

Diversity is part of America’s identity and heroes should be defined by their actions, not by the color of their skin. For a long time, editors used to tell me that Danbi would never get published because she was an Asian child. But she got published. It took almost 10 years but it happened. Danbi didn’t change. America did.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

We’re all here together and we’re all inextricably connected. My belief in the transformative power of friendship and the desire to share this belief with children is what inspires me. 

What are your goals for this year? 

On the book front, I’m working on a sequel to Danbi Leads The School Parade. While the first book follows Danbi as she discovers a new world, the sequel follows her classmates as they enter her world. And together, they all make an amazing discovery. 

What’s a typical day look like for you? 

I do creative work at night, from 10:00PM into the wee hours of the morning. My studio has a large desk with pencils, ink, and watercolor. There’s also a daybed because I’m literally napping every few hours in my most creative moments. It’s weird, I know, but my best ideas come after I can no longer stay awake and I emerge from a nap. There’s also a mountain of character sketches and drawings on the studio’s floor because that is how I immerse myself in the world of my characters and create them.

What has been the highlight in your life so far?

I’m a classically trained pianist and taught the piano for many years. Switching from teaching piano to writing/illustrating children’s books took a series of small, often painful, steps that took over a decade. I’m learning that life is made of those little steps that feel like nothing until they take you by surprise. I’m hoping writing Danbi will be one of them.

Read More: 16 Local Millennial Entrepreneurs Kicking A$$ in Hoboken + Jersey City

Tell us about another business in the area you admire.  

I admire educators, teachers, and librarians for helping shape the new generation. My parents were both teachers, so I understand how difficult and challenging this can be.

Hoboken + Jersey City Favorites

What is your favorite restaurant in Hoboken?

We had a large family gathering at the W Hotel’s Halifax restaurant. The food, view, and ambiance all combined to create a family time that felt like a home away from home. Amanda’s is another place I love. That’s where we had my niece’s 100th-day celebration, which is a big deal in Korean tradition.

What is your favorite boutique in Hoboken?

The Guitar Bar. My niece loved hearing the guitar as a toddler and we used to stand outside pointing at guitars and giggling together. As a musician, I feel home there.

 What do you love most about Hoboken?

I love the diversity that Hoboken brings, as well as the supportive community of parents who look out for each other’s children. It’s a big family.

How long have you lived in Hoboken?

My brother and his family lived in Hoboken for many years and still own a place there.

What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Hoboken?

The waterfront, especially at sunrise and late afternoons, when the river sparkles. I especially love walking along the river and the community of people who gather there. You have toddlers, teens, parents, grandparents, and rollerblades, and joggers from all different cultures and backgrounds. I really love that!

Is there anything else you want to share about Hoboken or yourself?

I remember doodling tiny little faces all over the edges of my notepads when I was little. My parents thought these were just fun-time doodles and didn’t think much of them. Decades and years of piano later, life circled me back to my childhood favorite pastime; now the drawings are a bit bigger and fill the middle of the notepads, too.

Keep up with Anna at www.artbyannakim.com, on Instagram at @artbyannakim, and Facebook {PS: Check out a review of Danbi Leads The School Parade here.}

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Written by:

Arielle is a born-and-bred Jersey girl and like a true NJ native, half her diet consists of bagels and the other half pizza. As a graduate of both American University and City, University of London, she’s been a passionate writer ever since she wrote her first “book” in the first grade. When she’s not furiously typing away at her keyboard, she spends her time ticking places off of her “to travel to” list, trying any and all new foods, and trying to stop herself from spending too much money at Zara.