As I know you are always on the hunt for new authors and books with a South Asia theme, I immediately thought of you recently when I had the chance to meet with author and illustrator, Anne Sibley O’Brien. Anne came to Korea recently when she was invited to visit an international school at which she is an alumnus. Our SCBWI chapter had the pleasure of taking her to dinner where she opened up to us about her life, her writing journey and her experience growing up in Korea. Because Anne lived in Korea for 20 years during her childhood, she was raised bi-cultural and bi-lingual. She has a beautiful insight into the Korean way of life, especially as a foreigner being raised here.
During dinner we listened as she told us about her childhood, her missionary parents, her travels throughout Korea and the development of her writing career. She talked to us about her watercolor illustration technique and described her process. She told us about her Korean folk tale, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, and how it developed into a story. She talked a bit about how challenging it can be to sell a folk tale because many publishers are reluctant to take the risk on them. They’re not always top sellers. At a school presentation she asked the children how many of them would go to the “folk tales of the world” section in their school library as their first choice to find an interesting book. Only one or two hands were raised. It’s just not their first choice for an interesting book, she told us. This means finding a publisher can be more difficult even though many of these stories are fascinating.
We also talked about what kind of language to use when re-telling a foreign tale. Anne confirmed that using some authentic language is important because it gives readers a flavor of the culture and that it was important to find a balance between capturing the feeling of the original words and yet still making the story accessible and understandable to readers. She also prefers to use the true foreign word when naming certain objects and people. These techniques enrich the storytelling by opening up windows of cultural enlightenment to readers.
As the night wound to an end we hugged, said thanks, and promised to keep in touch. I haven’t stopped feeling like I’m walking on clouds after having the most delightful visit with Anne Sibley O’Brien and getting to know the compassionate, dedicated, generous and down-to-earth author she is.
Click here to read Anne’s blog and see photos of her trip to Korea.