19 Sep / Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor by Yin, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet + Illustrator Interview [in AsianWeek]
No number of rejections could dampen Chris Soentpiet’s determination to succeed and put his artwork forward. Even after being refused by more than 10 publishers as a fresh-faced college graduate, he continued pounding the pavement. “I kept going because I wanted to eat, I needed a job,” he says. Today, Soentpiet is one of the most lauded children’s book illustrators. His remarkable titles include Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi, So Far From the Sea and Jin Woo by Eve Bunting, and Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill.
Just out, Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor is his 15th title, and his second collaboration with his wife and business partner, whose pen name is Yin. The delightful, engaging book about two young boys living in a housing project who have a memorable encounter with Santa, is based on Yin’s growing up on the 19th floor of a Lower Manhattan apartment.
The couple’s first collaboration, Coolies, based on Yin’s Chinese American ancestors who helped build the transcontinental railroad, won the Parents’ Choice Foundation’s Gold Award for Best Picture Book in 2001 and was named an ALA Notable Book and an IRA Children’s Book Award winner in 2002.
Soentpiet, who is a Korean-born adoptee, discovered watercolors in a high-school art class. His art teacher was so impressed that he secretly sent out Soentpiet’s work to art schools around the country and helped him get a scholarship to the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Soentpiet thought he might be a commercial artist until he met illustrator Ted Lewin, who encouraged him to illustrate children’s books and the rest, as they say, is history. “That was nearly 10 years ago,” says Lewin, “and his ‘fire in the belly’ has not cooled. His work continues to amaze.”
AsianWeek: How much of your Korean or your adoptive background gets played out in your books?
Chris Soentpiet: Being adopted has more of an impact on my illustrations than being Korean. I say that because being adopted gave me an opportunity to see the world. Before that, I only knew my childhood in Korea. When I came to America, it was a whole new experience, from Hawai‘i to Oregon to Alaska, then back to Oregon, and now here I am in New York. Traveling really broadened the way that I illustrate. I always wanted to expand. I didn’t want to be typecast, to be seen as only as an Asian person. Being adopted – my mother is Irish/German, my father is Dutch, and my baby brother is Hawaiian – our family feels like it’s the United Nations. So I never thought about just doing Korean books. I always wanted to draw all sorts of other people. … [click here for more]