Interview with Il Sung Na, THE DREAMER
Once, there was a pig who admired birds. But he could never join them. Or could he? Thus begins the journey of a pig with big dreams, and the perseverance to make them come true.
By Il Sung Na
Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 11, 2018)
Can you tell me the origin story behind The Dreamer?
"When I first developed this story, it was in an alphabet book format. I always wanted to make my own alphabet book, and not just a simple one but one with a story or a unique format. I had a story idea about a pig who admired birds even before I collected any words. Then the letter 'A' would be for 'admire.' Then 'begin,' 'crave,' 'determine,' 'fail,' 'gather'…etc. I wanted to share my journey as an author and illustrator of children’s picture books. I dreamed about making my own picture books when I was a student and I've followed the dream since then.
This was a totally different process but it worked out pretty well. After I made a dummy, I met Ariel Richardson from Chronicle Books and we decided to make this book with more narrative. We both agreed that pictures can tell more stories than words for this book."
Are there other picture books you love about characters following their dreams? "Even though this story is about my journey to follow my dream, when I developed The Dreamer, I watched documentary films about Steve Jobs and Walt Disney and researched about the Wright brothers. I thought these stories were so inspirational and helped me to shape my story.
These are the books I love:
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera and Lauren Castillo
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
What do you think the best picture books do? "Good picture books inspire the reader. They take us on a journey and share emotions. They make us smile and cry; they make us happy, sad and surprised. It can be a completely new experience or it can be something we already experienced. But good picture books make us follow the main character and complete a journey together.
Some books I love:
I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
Small in the City by Sydney Smith
Pool by Jihyeon Lee
The Man by Raymond Briggs
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Slow Loris by Alexis Deacon
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Wave by Suzy Lee
Clown by Quentin Blake
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "There are so many! Everything I mentioned above and I have a long list that is included with old and new books. It may be impossible to list down all picture books I love and it is not fair to do, I guess.
If I may share some of them (not all), then they are below (in no particular order):
The Long Island by Drew Beckmeyer
Wolves by Emily Gravett
The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert and Raúl Nieto Guridi
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris
Waterloo Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec
Don’t Cross the Line! by Isabel Minhós Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho
A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin
The Onion’s Great Escape by Sara Fanelli
Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary by Charles Keeping
The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz
The Circus in the Mist by Bruno Munari
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol
Granpa by John Birmingham
And I can go on and on for many more books."
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I still have many books that I need to catch up on from last year. Here are a few books that I would like to check out which are published in 2021 and 2020:
Maya’s Big Scene by Isabelle Arsenault
Dream of Becoming Water by Suzy Lee (probably only available in Korea)
The Alpactory by Ruth Chan
I am so looking forward to checking all the other books coming out soon this year!"