Brian Won wore many hats as a busboy, shoe salesman, art store cashier, vending machine re-stocker, art director, and designer before he turned his talents to illustrating children’s books. He lives in Southern California, where he and his family never miss an opportunity to have a HOORAY! parade around the house.
For what age audience do you write?
I write and illustrate picture books. I don’t know specifically what genre, but I love that every book I’ve worked on is different. I get to illustrate grumpy zebras to sleepy aliens and even mundane things like a taco.
Tell us about one of your books.
My latest book is HOORAY FOR HAT! published by HMH Kids. The story is about an elephant who wakes up grumpy until a surprise gift (spoiler alert: stack of hats) cheers him up. Elephant proceeds to share this gift with friends, spreading happiness while marching in a parade with crazy hats.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
HOORAY FOR HAT! is a simple reminder that acts of kindness do make a difference and spreading joy is the best way to bring happiness to yourself. This book was made for my boy when he was going through the tail end of his terrible twos. He was naturally resistant to sharing toys and I wanted to explain the benefits of giving. My son, now 4½, still struggles with it, but I understand. I’m a grown man and I have a hard time sharing my dessert.
Henry: I think we all have trouble sharing our desserts.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging, and why?
Absolutely, writing is the most challenging. I’m struggling even as I’m answering these questions! My typing skills are awful. I use the dinosaur-claw-three-finger-pecking technique. Next time I should draw my answers.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Picture books are not easy. Although the final product seems simple, it takes a great deal of time (and self loathing) to complete. It’s like whittling a golf pencil from a sequoia tree.
Henry: Given all the rejection letters we authors receive, self-loathing appears to be redundant.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
A speech therapist friend recently told me how HOORAY FOR HAT! has been helpful with her therapy sessions. During a session, one of her students who is selectively mute was able to say “Hooray for hat!” due to the repetition in the picture book. At the end of the week, the speech therapist gave the young girl a prize for completing her sticker chart and the girl exclaimed, “Hooray for me!”
Henry: Awesome! I had a parent tell me their kid would now eat mushrooms after reading NIMPENTOAD. I think you win.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
My advice is to constantly make things. Even while working on professional deadlines, set aside time to play and create. These throw away pieces inform where your illustrations want to go later down the road.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.”
Henry: I also like, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Stopping time, which I’m sure is not the most original super power response. Recently my son had a nasty cold and our household came to a screeching halt. Deadlines were missed, dishes piled up, and most importantly we were sleep deprived. Stopping time would have been really awesome while we tried to recoup. Stopping time would also mean I could watch a whole basketball game without feeling guilty for wasting three hours of my life.
Henry: Ah, the procrastinator’s favorite superpower. And TV isn’t wasting time, it’s feeding the muse!
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
“Brian Won – not Wong” I have to constantly correct phone operators about my last name. I understand WONG is, after all, the most common version of my surname.
Henry: “He was Won in a million.” I feel your pain, thanks to HerTz rent-a-car.
Where can readers find your work?
You can see my work at www.brianwon.com (not brianwong.com) and at your local bookstore.
This article is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.
Me with Brian at a WonderCon KidLit panel