Sujean Rim is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland. Her other books include Birdie's Big-Girl Dress and Birdie's Big-Girl Shoes. She lives in New York.
Q: You note that Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland was inspired by your parents’ experience as immigrants in the United States. How did that inspiration result in this book?
A: As a kid, I always knew my parents “did a lot” to come to this country, but not until I became a parent myself did I truly start to understand the sacrifices they made.
They came here without family or friends, didn’t speak English, and had an entirely different set of traditions. They came here because they believed in the American Dream and most of all, wanted their kids to have brighter futures.
When my son started school and making friendships, I found myself always wanting to give him a sense of self. He never got to meet my dad, and this book was a wonderful way I could connect them.
Q: Why did you decide to make the characters pandas and bears?
A: I wanted to emphasize the contrast of Chee-Kee and his family to the bears of Bearland as much as possible, and loved the idea that I could do this by having the Loo family black and white with rounder bodies drawn against the Bearland bears who are all shades of brown, solid black or white, and a bit more long-limbed.
Q: Given the current political climate, what do you see looking ahead when it comes to immigration issues?
A: I created this book from a very personal place. It started as a valentine to my mom and dad. Only later did I realize how their story was still so relatable and relevant.
I’ve done many school events with Chee-Kee and I was blown away with the stories children (as young as kindergarten) to teachers with immigrant parents shared with me. I loved our conversations of where we “come from”—many of which were prefaced by the current political climate.
I think and hope there will be many more books and other platforms to share and celebrate our differences.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: My hope is that readers are encouraged to be empathetic and to embrace our differences and realize that it is in these differences that make us al uniquely special.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have another animal-based book coming out in Spring ’18 that I’m excited to share, called Zoogie Boogie Fever. It was inspired by my love of animals—and a lot of dancing. I’m also so thrilled to be illustrating a book by one of my favorite children’s book authors, Samantha Berger.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I love picture books and hope to have many more stories to tell.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb