We’re so happy to welcome NYC author, illustrator and book designer Aram Kim back to Alphabet Soup today!
You may remember when she visited to celebrate the publication of her second picture book, No Kimchi for Me! (Holiday House, 2017), where little Yoomi learns to like “stinky, spicy kimchi.” Last spring, Aram published a companion picture book called, Let’s Go to Taekwondo! (Holiday House, 2020), where Yoomi and her grandma encourage and inspire each other when challenged to learn new skills.
Today’s release of Sunday Funday in Koreatown (Holiday House, 2021) is especially exciting, because it means we now officially have the Yoomi, Friends, and Family picture book series!
In this heartwarming story, Yoomi’s Sunday just isn’t turning out to be the “Funday” she had planned. That morning, her favorite TV show was cancelled and because they were out of rice, she and her dad couldn’t make kimbap for breakfast together.
Not only did she have to settle for eating cereal, she couldn’t wear her favorite Funday shirt because it was in the wash.
But perhaps her luck would change. Yoomi was excited to ride the bus with Dad to Koreatown. They first stopped at the library bookmobile where Yoomi discovered the book she wanted had already been checked out. Then at the Korean grocery store somebody beat her to the last hot dog twist!
Dad suggested a different treat, which Yoomi liked. Things were starting to look up until she spilled her brothers’ favorite treat all over her second favorite shirt. Oh no!
Yoomi was convinced Sunday was totally ruined. But Dad reassured her all was not lost since they were still going to visit Grandma. Could she help turn things around and make it a Funday after all?
Kids will easily relate to the ups and downs of Yoomi’s day. Though her great plans and high expectations were met with disappointment, there were good surprises too, not to mention wonderful bonding moments with Dad and Grandma.
This story is a nice reminder to remain flexible, resilient, and open minded. Sometimes when you don’t get what you think you wanted, something even better comes along.
As with No Kimchi for Me!, I love Aram’s pencil and digitally colored illustrations for Sunday Funday in Koreatown. Her anthropomorphized animal characters are appealing and endearing, and the combination of single and double page spreads, cartoon panels, speech bubbles, and variations in scale keeps the narration moving at just the right pace, drawing the reader in and enhancing each emotional beat. The balance of spare text and emotive illustrations is pitch perfect.
There is a refreshing childlike sensibility to Aram’s style that makes each page turn a delight, and kids will love identifying the different animals and picking out all the charming details (Yoomi’s bear slippers and cupcake purse, the shop signs in Koreatown, the yummy foods in the grocery store, the fabulous foodie endpapers). My favorite spreads are the grocery interior and the row of Koreatown storefronts (check out the second floor comics reading room!).
Like the first two books in the series, Sunday Funday is a wonderful way for kids to learn a little Korean culture through an engaging story that lovingly addresses their real life concerns. The littlest munchkins, who mainly “read” stories through the pictures, will have their very own Funday every time they open this book. 🙂
SUNDAY FUNDAY CHAT WITH ARAM KIM
Congratulations on publishing the third book in what is now the Yoomi, Friends, and Family series! When you wrote No Kimchi for Me!, did you already have more Yoomi stories in mind? Was there anything you learned from doing the first two books that influenced your process for Sunday Funday in Koreatown?
I did NOT have or expected to write more Yoomi stories when I first published No Kimchi for Me! I was naive enough not to fear that there was even a market for a book like No Kimchi for Me!, but I also did not expect such a warm welcome from many readers. It was the most amazing surprise and it also taught me the joy of connecting with readers. Even then, I didn’t know that having a series was possible.
I was working on a Sunday Walk with Daddy (the former body of Sunday Funday in Koreatown) as a stand-alone book when my editor Grace Maccarone offered a sequel for No Kimchi for Me! I decided to pick a topic that was widely known in America but not necessarily informed as Korean, which led me to work on Let’s Go to Taekwondo! (giving me a chance to learn taekwondo.)
After that, once again, I came back to work on Sunday Walk with Daddy, which then Grace suggested turning into a Yoomi book. I excitedly agreed, but not without hesitation. I had been working on Sunday Walk with Daddy since 2013, and it always had been a stand-alone book, so I had to wrap my head around how to turn it into something else.
Grace is such an amazing editor who helped me cultivate my voice since my debut picture book, and she advised that it was not an everyday chance to keep working on a character. After working on two books on Yoomi, friends, and family, I felt very close to the characters and was attached to them. I also loved the idea of introducing Yoomi’s parents who didn’t appear in the first two books.
Even then, I wasn’t entirely sure how this old project would fit into Yoomi’s world. When my agent Erica, who lives quite close to a Koreatown in NYC, suggested including a Koreatown in the book, it clicked instantly. So Sunday Funday in Koreatown was born with many people’s input. 🙂
What did you like best about making this book?
Making this book felt very close to home. It was very comforting especially during the earlier months of Covid lockdown. Working on this book got me through the fear and anxiety of this unknown time we all had to survive. Also, as you know, I love drawing food! I didn’t get to do that in Let’s Go to Taekwondo!, so I went all in this book drawing many, many of my favorite foods!! Just thinking about it still makes me happy. 🙂
You’ve said that this story was inspired by the Sundays you and your father spent together, doing many of the same things Yoomi did with her dad. What was your favorite part of these outings? What do you think your father enjoyed most?
I loved going to the library with my dad on Sundays, but that actually started happening when I was a bit older and could read on my own. When I was as little as Yoomi, we lived in a suburban part of a small town near Seoul which had an interesting mixture of a city and a countryside. We would walk out of the high-rise apartment complex (which was super common in Korea and still is), walk towards the end of the town where we crossed a small bridge over a stream, and then all of a sudden there were fields of rice and flower farms.
We would just walk along the rice fields. I remember we bought a bouquet of flowers from a farm to bring to my grandma’s who lived quite close by, and the farmer gave us another bouquet for free. Another time, my dad said we wouldn’t go back home until I memorized all the multiplication tables, which was part of my school curriculum then, and I remember we had an extra-long walk that day!
This tradition lasted for a long time even after I grew up. The rice fields were gone, the neighborhood changed, our family moved to another town, but I still spent a good amount of time with my dad every Sunday by going to the church together, having a dumpling soup after the service, and even having coffee together (very adult thing back then!). I think we both enjoyed spending time together in general no matter what we were doing. 🙂
Please tell us about the comic book rooms (manwhabang) in South Korea, where people can sit and read comics for hours, and even order snacks if they like. Can you purchase comics there, or just rent them?
There are so many kinds of manwhabang, but it’s usually for renting. You can rent by hours or by the number of books. I read slowly so I prefer renting by books, but the experience is so enjoyable and it’s almost always quite cheap, so it really doesn’t matter.
They are usually equipped with a really good range of comics from old classics to the newest trend. Also, comfy chairs are essential! They sell snacks from simple beverages to a variety of noodle soups. Many of them even allow outside food delivery. So you can really just sit comfortably, read comics, eat snacks and enjoy your time! Could you imagine anything better than that? The manwhabang I went to last time with my sister in Korea also had a cat and she just curled up next to us. The ideal environment of comic book reading (or really, any kinds of reading)!
Have you always been a comic book lover, and which comic book creators have had the most influence on you as an artist and illustrator?
I have – although there definitely was a stigma of reading comics for young students when I was a kid just like how some adults don’t think reading graphic novels is not a real reading, which is very wrong.
It’s hard to say which artist influenced me most, but I vividly remember my favorite comic books. It was a series about the beloved character in Korea called “Dooly the Little Dinosaur,” created by Kim Soo-jung. Dooly is a baby dinosaur who got frozen during the ice age but came back to life in the modern time (the 80s and 90s) and lives with a “normal” Korean family while causing havoc. It is incredibly hilarious and also very warm.
My dad didn’t like it when I read comics as a kid, but one day I caught him reading the Dooly comic book I left around in the living room and laughing out loud so hard!! These days, I read a lot of graphic novels, but also reading webcomics is a definite part of my daily routine.
I love all your animal characters. How do you decide which animals to include? For example, is there a specific reason you chose to have a giraffe librarian or a rooster hairdresser?
Some animals I draw because I like drawing them and some animals I choose for specific reasons. For Ms. Rah, the librarian, I wanted to draw an animal who could reach the books (or at least see them) on the top shelf easily. 🙂 A rooster is a hairdresser because the comb on top of his head looks like stylish hair! I drew a zebra crossing the crosswalk because…it’s a zebra crossing!
I also drew animals that are common in Korea inside of the Korean supermarket. The dog dad and baby pushing the cart are sapsaree – the dog species native to Korea. The crane over the ready-made food section is considered to be noble and beautiful in Korea. The black bear over at the seafood corner is a moon bear that lives in Korea and other Asian countries.
But the little red panda eating tteokbokki in the supermarket is there purely because I like drawing a red panda as well as the platypus in the comics room! It is a lot of fun choosing which animals to draw.
What is your favorite spread in the book, and how did you make it?
I had so much fun making this book, it is hard to pick a favorite spread. But I would love to talk about the scene where Yoomi unites with Grandma because I put a lot of personal elements in it. For Grandma’s house, I wanted the feel of the Queens neighborhood where I’ve been living for 12 years.
I took many pictures around my neighborhood and drew them in my sketchbook until I came up with something I liked. I wanted a few stairs at the front door, a very small front garden with veggies (which is very common in my neighborhood) where grandma grew various Korean vegetables (long peppers, perilla leaves, eggplants, and Korean lettuce), something similar to Giwa roof tiles (traditional Korean roof tiles) and brick walls (because I like brick walls).
The number 805 on the door is the apartment number of my grandma in South Korea. She lived in the same apartment as far as I can remember. The small flower pots at the window are the same kind of flower pots my grandma keeps at home.
The book Yoomi’s Grandma is reading in the book club in her neighbor’s is All You Can Ever Know, a memoir written by Nicole Chung that I read a couple of years ago and opened my eyes and heart so widely. Furthermore, this scene is the moment when Yoomi’s not-so-Funday finally takes a sweet turn!
I love all the charming details you include in your stories, and couldn’t help noticing the unicorn, teddy bear wizard and doll with the pigtails that appear in both No Kimchi for Me! and this new book. Are they actual toys you own or did you make them up? If they’re yours, please tell us more about them. 🙂
Indeed they are the actual toys of mine! Thank you for noticing! 🙂 The teddy bear wizard is the bear my sister sent to me for my birthday when she first moved to London in the early 2000s. I was already an adult but probably still seemed like a baby sister to her. I loved the teddy bear wizard and it went everywhere with me since then.
I moved from South Korea to Missouri (exchange student), back to South Korea, then to NY, and the bear always came with me. It actually sings a happy birthday song if you squeeze its belly. But at some point, the battery ran low (not replaceable), and it started singing in a very slow and creepy voice! Since then, I don’t squeeze it even by accident. I’m sure the battery completely ran out by now, but I still don’t want to squeeze it. It now sits on my dresser. 🙂
The unicorn and the cowgirl were the toys I had as a child, and they were my absolute favorites. The unicorn is still in my parents’ although very very worn and not shiny anymore. My mom kept it for me since it was my favorite. Sadly, the cowgirl was lost at some point. 😦
My author friend Sarah Lynne Reul recognized the horse and told me that it was Rainbow Brite Starlite Horse! I looked it up and indeed it was! I always liked horses as a kid and was obsessed with books about horses. I don’t know if that’s why I got the horse toy as a gift, or the horse toy got me so interested in real horses.
For those who might be unfamiliar with Korean food, could you please describe the three treats Yoomi ate in the story (patbingsoo, tteokbokki, and kimbap)? What was your favorite childhood snack? What’s your favorite now?
Patbingsoo is a popular summer treat in Korea, which is a bowl of shaved ice (sometimes shaved iced milk, if one wants to be fancy) topped with sweet red beans and various toppings like jellies, tiny rice cakes, fruits, and sometimes ice cream!
Tteokbokki is probably the most popular street food in Korea for all ages because we all grow up with it. It’s cylinder-shaped chewy rice cakes cooked in spicy pepper paste or pepper powder sauce oftentimes with fish cakes and boiled eggs. Yummy, yummy, yummy.
Kimbap is the number one picnic food in Korea. It’s seasoned sticky rice and many other ingredients rolled together in toasted seaweed. You can use virtually any ingredients to roll together, but traditionally, you use some sort of meat, green veggies, and omelet-style eggs which make kimbap very colorful, pretty, and nutritious.
I would say my childhood favorite snack was a hotdog twist that Yoomi never gets to eat in the book. And my favorite snack now is spicy tteokbokki – the spicier the better!
Can you share an experience from any time in your life that showed you the importance of being resilient and keeping an open mind?
Being resilient and keeping an open mind are the two things I talk about whenever I talk about making books. I believe everyone has a desire to tell stories and share them with others. For some people, including myself, that desire to share stories makes them seek to publish books. However, it is a highly competitive field, and it can often be very draining and exhausting to navigate the path.
Working from inside and outside of the publishing industry, I often feel that resilience plays a bigger part than talent itself. I witness that highly talented people give up on the journey from exhaustion and disappointment when they face many inevitable rejections.
Another important factor of bookmaking is that it is very collaborative. One’s submission is rarely in a perfect form. People from different departments in the publishing house with much experience help make the book better. When the creator is not open to good suggestions and feedback, the collaboration becomes painful.
Keeping an open mind is an absolute necessity to make a great book. I started working on Sunday Walk with Daddy in 2013, going through many different phases and revising numerous times with feedback I got from many, many people. In the end, I am very happy how it became Sunday Funday in Koreatown.
Describe your ideal Sunday.
Waking up late, taking a long, nice walk to my favorite bakery to get coffee and pastry, then laying on a couch to read a good book!
Anything else you’d like us to know about this book?
I had so much to say, but I think you covered EVERYTHING I wanted to share! 😀
What are you working on next? Can you give us a hint about the next Yoomi, Friends, and Family book?
I am currently working on a stand-alone book with a different publisher to come out next year, but I am always full of ideas for the next Yoomi, Friends, and Family book! Of course, publishing is a business, too, so my publisher will have to see how the sales of the previous books go. If I do get a green light to work on the next Yoomi book, it will be a story where Yoomi’s world further extends to bigger family and friends groups and will involve lots of celebrations!
Finally, thanks for including your family’s kimbap recipe in the book. Please share a favorite kimbap memory with us.
Kimbap is the food my mom and I make together multiple times whenever I go back to Korea to visit. Mom has always made kimbap since I was a little kid, but now it feels more special that we make it together. It is a nice party food you can make with your families because there are so many ingredients to prepare and collaboration makes cooking much more fun!
I have to confess that my mom still does most of the process while I usually slice them and eat a lot of them! But now I tried making kimbap on my own several times while making this book. When I go back this time, I will do most of the process and my mom can slice them and eat a lot of them!
SUNDAY FUNDAY IN KOREATOWN
written and illustrated by Aram Kim
published by Holiday House, March 16, 2021
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 40 pp.
*Includes an Author’s Note + Family Kimbap Recipe
**A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
♥️ For more about Aram and her books:
♥️ Read my No Kimchi for Me! Interview with Aram which includes her recipe for Kimchi Pancakes
♥️ Enjoy this introductory video with Aram:
🦒 BOOK GIVEAWAY 🐺
The publisher has generously donated a brand new copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your ideal Sunday no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, March 30, 2021. You may also enter by sending an email with SUNDAY in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
🍰 HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, ARAM!! 🎂
🎉 CONGRATULATIONS!! 🐻
*Interior spreads text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Aram Kim, published by Holiday House. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.