It’s another great interview and giveaway with Benson Shum!
It seems like a million years ago that I met Benson Shum in person at a SCBWI conference, but it was only last year that he visited my blog to talk about his first ANZU book (ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU). Now he’s back to talk about his latest book with Anzu.
Benson Shum has illustrated a number of picture books, including Adam Lehrhaupt’s Sloth Went, Jennifer Sattler’s Go to Sheep, and his own Anzu the Great Kaiju. Benson is also an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he has contributed to such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Frozen II, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Encanto. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Benson now lives in sunny Southern California.uses watercolor, ink and digital tools to create his illustrations. You can learn more about him at his website or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook.
ANZU THE GREAT LISTENER is the follow up to ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU, and it is every bit as sweet as the first one. In this story, Anzu has a bonzai tree that he loves to tend. It makes him feel calm. Until the day he hears crying in the distance. A nearby village has lost their Kaiju and Anzu rushes in to help. Yet everything that usually works backfires. Then he remembers the lessons he has learned from his bonsai tree. He has to stop rushing in and actually listen. The illustrations are just as adorable as the first book and I found it fascinating to see how this character developed after previously finding himself. This is the perfect sequel for this character and the world he lives in.
Welcome back Benson!
Me: I love that there’s another story with Anzu! Did you always imagine his story with a sequel? Was it originally pitched as a series? Or was the first book incredibly successful and a sequel was requested?
Benson: When we pitched the first book, we mentioned we would love to continue Anzu’s journey. And when it was acquired, we got a two-book deal. So we talk about possible Anzu stories for the second book. But we didn’t discuss about that until after the first book was done.
Me: Anzu is so sweet in his concern for the grieving village nearby. What gave you the idea for this story?
Benson: The story came about when my editor and I were brainstorming ideas. I can’t remember the details, but we wanted to explore what would Anzu do now that he’s embraced his power. I’m so grateful to have an amazing editor to work with.
Me: It seems intuitive to me to have Anzu work with a bonsai tree (as he’s a kaiju that has plant powers). Have you ever owned a bonsai tree yourself? How did a bonsai become a part of this story?
Benson: I did some research on bonsai when I was working on the first book. And I just love their design. When I look at a bonsai, it seems every one of them has a story of their own. Especially when the caretakers add little figures with the tree. I learned how much care, nurturing and time it took to care for them. I thought it would make a great metaphor and pairing with the art of listening.
Me: Absolutely! Anzu must learn the difference between helping (which sometimes isn’t helpful) and listening in this story. Why is that an important message you want to share with young readers?
Benson: That’s a great question. I believe we all want to help one another when we see someone in distress or in need. We want to make them feel better quickly. We try to help, but sometimes even with our best intentions, it might not be the best thing. I believe Anzu’s story is a great reminder for young readers and adults that sometimes the best thing we can do is listen. And let them lead the way.
Me: I love that. What is one thing that surprised you in creating this story with a character you already knew?
Benson: The thing that surprised me while working on the story was how patience is need for both our plants and friendships. We can’t rush a plant to grow faster just as we can’t rush a friendship to bloom. They both take time and care.
Me: Oh wow. I love that too. Your story has a wonderful balance between pictures and text. Has that been a struggle for you to achieve over time or are you a natural storyteller? How did you learn to not show OR tell too much?
Benson: Thank you, it was something I thought a lot about. I struggle with how many words is too much? Do I need more words to explain everything? Will the illustrations be enough to convey what I’m saying without the text? All these questions are going through my mind while I work. The more picture books I read, the more I get a feel for what works for me. I love some picture books that have a good amount of text and some that have a very minimal text. I think for me it depends on what the story asks for and I go from there.
Me: Any future projects? What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Benson: Yes, thank you for asking. I have another two books coming out in 2023 called CINDY AND PANDA (Clarion/HarperCollins) and FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN (Penguin Workshop/PRH).
CINDY AND PANDA (May 2023), a story about two friends, Cindy and Panda, who discover the art of friendship through pie making.
FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN (August 2023), a story about a little human girl named Sophie who’s afraid she won’t turn into a werewolf on her first night of howlergarten.
Oh my gosh. Those both sound SO fun Benson! I can’t wait to read them. Congratulations on such a big publishing year and thank you for stopping by my blog again.
But wait, dear readers! There’s more! Benson has kindly agreed to giveaway one signed copy of his book (ANZU THE GREAT LISTENER), an art print, and some stickers (US residents only). You can enter the rafflecopter here! Good luck!