Today’s interview comes after a bit of a wait, but it’s well worth it! Arree Chung is a busy creator and as hard to catch as one of his picture book ninjas. BUT I can totally relate to that, as busy as I am too (i.e., teacher, writer, illustrator, interviewer, Alaska SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, etc.).
Don’t know Arree? You should! Arree Chung’s first picture book “Ninja!” hit bookstores in 2014 with quite the acclaim. Since then, he’s written several more picture books and started up Storyteller Academy where he helps others learn to craft picture books. Arree loves to help others achieve their storytelling dreams, just as he was able to do. You can learn more about him at his website.
His latest book “Out!” was released in June. It is the story of a little boy who is desperate to escape. His crib that is! It is a cute spin on bed-time-stories but what sets this one apart is that it is nearly wordless. The text of the story itself is ONLY 38 words long, with 4 major words reused throughout (out, woof, yay, and down). Now THAT takes talent! And a LOT of rewriting!
Thanks for stopping by today Arree!
Thanks for having me on your blog Jena.
Me: You have 5 picture books out now. What draws you to writing and illustrating your own picture books?
Arree: I’m in love with the process of creating something from nothing. In the beginning you are just playing around with ideas. Making a story work is like putting a puzzle together but you also have to create the puzzle pieces. I enjoy the creative process in coming up with a story. After the story is made, I really enjoy bringing my ideas to life through design and illustration. One of the unique aspects of making picture books is that you have the opportunity to do it all!
Me: I see you have a chapter book coming out this summer that you illustrated as well (“The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!”). Do you prefer to write and/or illustrate picture books, compared to other genres?
Arree: The Danger Gang was a great opportunity to try out another genre. As an artist, I think it’s healthy to try out many forms of storytelling. That’s how you learn. I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other. They’re both fun. It’s sort of like music. I like all kinds of music and having an eclectic mix helps you grow as an artist.
Me: You have also illustrated picture books written by others. Do you enjoy that as much as you do illustrating your own?
Aree: Each project is different. What I like most about illustrating a book written by someone else is that the story is already made. Making a great idea into a story is hard work. They don’t call it “creative work” for no reason.
When I get a manuscript that has a really great story, it sparks my imagination. I think of all the different ways I could tell the story visually. So that’s fun. I have ideas for stories all of time, so I’ll always be working on my own stories as well.
Me: You have said that “Out!” was inspired by the movie “The Great Escape.” Is that a favorite movie of yours? How many times have you seen it before this idea occurred to you?
Arree: I haven’t seen that movie in a long time but as a child, I saw it at least ten times. My dad always loved watching World War I and II movies. His life was dramatically affected by the war so I think he was fascinated by these movies.
For me, it was just a fun, campy story. It’s funny what you remember as a child. I loved the element of escaping as kid, so I wanted to capture that feeling in OUT!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing and illustrating this story?
Arree: The challenge I gave to myself was to use as few words as possible. Originally, I aimed to tell the whole story with just two words, “out” and “in.” My editor thought the book needed a few more words to help with the read out loud experience. She was right. We still kept the book minimal though. I was surprised on how much story you can tell with just the pictures. It was a fun creative challenge.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Arree: My main piece of advice is to keep working on it. Most of my ideas take years to develop into full stories. Stories are like clay. You can shape them, take them apart and re-work them. Take some time to also enjoy life and be in the world. Think about your story but don’t stare at a blank page. Try collecting your ideas as they come to you and go on creative walks. That’s what I do! Everyone has a ton of ideas that can be stories, but few stick to them and develop them into polished stories. Stick with it and continue to develop your stories. It will come together!
Q: So true. It’s a process and you’ve got to work at it. Your ninja series has been highly successful and you even have a third Ninja book (“Ninja Claus!”) being released this December. I’ve seen a photo of you somewhere dressed up as a ninja with a tie on your forehead like Maxwell. Are you really a ninja at heart? Did you study any of the martial arts?
Arree: Funny thing is that as a kid, I never studied martial arts. I didn’t want to be known as the Chinese kid that knew karate. I was always annoyed when people asked or assumed I knew karate just because I was Chinese.
But I do like sneaking up on people and being mischievous in a fun, innocent way. Maxwell is how I behaved as a six year old.
LOL! Of course. I think it’s a requirement for all picture book writers to be young at heart.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, dear readers, to read “Out!” you should track it down and study it. It is truly clever!
And of course be on the lookout for Arree’s third Ninja book (“Ninja Claus!”) due out this fall. It looks quite funny and promises many laughs (just as the first two books in the series did). May you have many happy Ninja dreams until then!