Salina Yoon is an award-winning author, illustrator and designer of over 150 novelty, board and picture books for young children. She lives in San Diego County with her husband/artist, Chris Polentz, and their two sons.
For what age audience do you write?
I write/design/illustrate for as young as babies (3 months+), thru age 7. My genre is primarily novelty and board books, and picture books.
Tell us about the differences between board books, novelty books, and picture books.
A board book is a book made with stiff cardboard pages coated to withstand some level of drool, often thicker than your conventional book, made to withstand the pulls, the bites, and other trauma of books for baby. Novelty books are often made out of cardboard as well, but has other interactive elements, such as lift-flaps, pull-tabs, or pop-ups. A picture book is a standard hardcover book for children with 24, 32, or 40 pages of text and illustrations.
Each has their own unique set of challenges in its creation. Novelty and *board books must have easy concepts in a clever way paired with simple text and bright, colorful illustrations that will appeal to baby as much as to the mom/caregiver. (*I am not referring to a board book that had its life as a picture book prior to its board book edition) A picture book requires writing a story—which has been the most challenging aspect for me. I identify more as an illustrator and designer than I do a writer. Novelty and board books often do not require a story. It requires concept and clever formats… which I am better at.
Henry: I loved novelty books as a kid. And what’s not to like about a book you can safely drool on?
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest picture book released is ‘Penguin on Vacation‘. Penguin is bored of the snow and ice, and he wants to take a vacation someplace different—like the beach! Unfortunately for Penguin, he doesn’t quite know how to have fun on the beach. He meets a friend named Crab who teaches him the ropes to island fun. But all vacations come to an end, and he must return home. Penguin doesn’t return alone, however. Penguin will find that home isn’t such a boring place after all!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Penguin learns that it’s not where you go that makes things fun—it’s who you are with! Friendship is at the heart of this story.
Henry: Ah, an arctic ‘Frog & Toad’!
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
REVISIONS—not knowing how many I’ll have to do until the manuscript is ready! For me, the design and art part of the book is much more direct and easy. I know in my mind how I’d like it to look, and I simply draw it. I make one loose sketch, and then go straight to final art on my tablet. But there’s so much more push and pull and finessing required with text!
Henry: Interesting. For me, the initial version is the hardest. Revisions, particularly after getting critique group feedback come more easily to me.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
I’ve learned that I could take a lot of rejection—and can still stand to talk about it! It’s taught me to take risks and power through fear.
Henry: Note to readers: a woman who’s illustrated/written over 150 books still faces rejection. It is a part of the literary life, I’m afraid.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?
The most memorable experience has been the heartfelt and inspirational letters I’ve received from children, and their parents, particularly for my book, ‘Penguin and Pinecone’. I’ve received drawings, hand-printed letters, photos, emails, and even a message letting me know their child will dress up as Penguin for Halloween this year. It reminds me that the work I do is not just for me (because sometimes it feels that way!).
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write what you love, what you know, maybe even what you don’t know and dig deeper. Write from the heart, but collaborate with your brain. Take criticism well, and appreciate that each piece of writing you do (published or not) is a necessary step in your journey as a writer. No manuscript is a waste, each one has a purpose. Let R’s be the fuel that drives you further. The more you collect, the better the chance for publication! Published authors will always have more rejections in their pocket than unpublished authors… because rejections are simply a part of a published authors’ life.
Henry: “No manuscript is a waste” is sage advice!
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Writing is the one thing I do better outside of my home studio, away from my computer and distractions it comes with. I often like to go to the library with my notebook, where all of my writing starts out with little notes and drawings. I love the Carlsbad Dove library because they have a great coffee cart right outside its doors, and I can take a mocha right in with me! And their children’s area is beautiful.
Henry: Coffee is often a part of a writer’s ritual.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If I can forgo sleep, I would love to have those quiet hours to read, to write, or to draw, perhaps even paint, or sculpt, or learn how to make a stop-motion movie. (I’ve always wanted to do that!) Most of my day-time is taken by my book work, and after my children come home from school, I am parenting. So I don’t indulge in creativity that is not book-related.
Henry: FYI, a related superpower oft-requested by writers is the ability to stop time.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Eric Carle, because he’s brilliant, Mo Willems, because he’s funny, and Maurice Sendak, because he’s both.
Henry: Brilliant! Maurice would misbehave and be sent to his room without supper. Eric would then eat his way through all the food and get a tummyache.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Play Scrabble with my husband over wine and finger foods. Or watch a movie with the family.
Where can readers find your work?
Barnes and Nobel will often have my latest releases, but your local indies may have a larger collection. Please check Yellow Book Road at Liberty Station, or Warwick’s in La Jolla before purchasing any books online! Supporting your local bookstores also supports your favorite authors.
This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.