WE have a DOUBLE celebration on the blog today:
Happy Book Birthday to Carol Kim’s debut nonfiction picture book,
KING SEJONG INVENTS AN ALPHABET
“An artful telling of the birth of an alphabet.”―Kirkus Reviews
AND–how cool is it that Oct. 9th was Hangeul Day, the celebration of the Korean Alphabet!
Around here, we celebrate with questions:
1. When and how did you first learn about King Sejong?
Carol Kim: Both my parents moved to the U.S. in the 1950s (separately, they did not know each other in Korea). My mother had made return trips to visit her family, but my father never did. Not once in almost 60 years! So after my mother died, he decided to take my family and my oldest brother’s family on a trip to Korea in 2013.
Carol Kim: While preparing for our trip, my father mentioned that he only had a 3rd grade proficiency level in reading and writing in Korean. I was very surprised by this–and that’s when he explained the history of Hangeul to me. One of the fascinating parts of Hangeul is that although King Sejong invented it in 1443, it did not become the official alphabet of Korea until 1946! By this point, my father was a young adult, and had lived his entire life under the Japanese occupation. So he did not go to school reading or writing in Korean.
I was quite dumbfounded that I had never heard the story behind Hangeul before. It was so clear to me that it needed to be shared with the world–and that it would make a great children’s book!
2. What discoveries did you make while researching/writing this amazing story?
Carol Kim: There were so many interesting facts and stories that I uncovered while learning about King Sejong and how he invented Hangeul. He was such an extraordinary figure, both as a leader and for his many contributions to the world. He made improvements in the areas of music, agriculture, medicine, legal matters, printing, astronomy–the list is remarkable!
Forward-thinking and Compassionate Leader
I also learned what a forward-thinking and compassionate leader King Sejong was. He created Hangeul to make it possible for anyone to learn to read and write. But there are also stories of how he ordered food to be distributed during times of drought, ordered decrees that treated people more fairly and humanely, and how he was always trying to improve the lives of his people.
3. What surprises did your illustrator, Cindy Kang, bring to your story?
Carol Kim: I am so grateful that Albert Whitman found Cindy Kang, and that she agreed to illustrate this book! Cindy is from Korea and it was so comforting to me knowing she had both an understanding of Korean culture and access to materials to illustrate the story accurately. She was so accurate in fact, that she included minor details I knew nothing about! For example, in the illustration showing the coronation of King Sejong, Cindy had him holding an object in his hand–like a small staff. My editor wrote to me and asked me to verify its accuracy–but I had no clue what it was! I had to dig pretty deep to confirm that it was something King Sejong would have held during the ceremony, but eventually I was able to do so. I was pretty impressed that Cindy had known to include it!
4. Are there any qualities in King Sejong that you see in yourself—or you wish you had?
Carol Kim: One of King Sejong’s most notable traits was his compassionate outlook toward all of his subjects. He was the most powerful person in his kingdom, and yet he so often was thinking of the needs of others. I think we could all benefit from trying to be more like him in this way!
But I also loved how King Sejong did not concern himself with asserting his power over trivial matters. There’s a story I love that illustrates this so well. A group of palace staff had gone boar hunting, and one of them was riding the king’s horse. After shooting a wild boar full of arrows, the animal charged the men, and ended up killing King Sejong’s horse.
The king’s men went to King Sejong and informed him of what had happened. They reported that the staff had been neglectful, and should be punished.
King Sejong’s response was one of common sense. “It happened quite unexpectedly. How could they have known that a large boar would run into this particular horse? Do not speak of this again.”
I just love that!
5. What’s on your desk? Your TO DO list? Your reading table? Your street? Your mind?
Carol Kim: Right now I am trying my best to get the word out about KING SEJONG INVENTS AN ALPHABET. I’ve been a guest on several blogs, I did a Zoom interview for the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog event, and some events on Instagram. I feel there is so much more I could be doing, but I am quite overwhelmed!
I have also been busy finishing up a few manuscripts I wrote for the educational market. They were all such great projects, and I learned a lot! I wrote about environmental issues, natural disasters, unsolved mysteries, space, and technology. I feel like I’m back in school (and loving it, by the way!).
Next I hope to turn my attention to my own unfinished manuscripts. They have been quite neglected for several months–and it is clearly their turn to get my attention!
6. What (or who) inspired you to begin writing for children?
Carol Kim: I am like so many other children’s authors in that I loved books as a child, and throughout my life. I used to write stories starting from when I was barely old enough to write! But the one book that stands out in my mind is Watership Down by Richard Adams. There was something about the characters–a group of rabbits–that really inspired me.
That feeling of being inspired, or awed, or having my world expanded was what I loved about reading. And I wanted to be able to give that to kids as well–taking something wonderful that I had gained and then passing it on. It took me a long time to find the courage to actually try to write stories, but I finally did it–and it has been the most amazing experience of my life.
Tips for Author Presentations–from an introvert:
7. As a self-proclaimed introvert, do you have any tips for like-minded illustrators or authors—on putting yourself out there–during presentations or videos—or even on social media?
Carol Kim: Boy, do I have tips! I am one of those people who would practically start hyperventilating before having to speak before an audience–or even a small group of people! Today I am comfortable giving talks, being active on social media, and even posting videos on TikTok (that last bit still feels completely unreal).
My first suggestion is to start small. I personally find online presentations less intimidating than ones in real life. If that’s true, start there. Even just attending online events, and turning on your camera is a step forward. Next, try to ask questions–push yourself to participate. When live events are possible, then attend them. And again, be an active participant. Talk to people, introduce yourself, ask questions.
Also, try to start with a setting where you feel you are among friends. My first events were with my local chapter of SCBWI. Even knowing one or two friends were in the audience helped me.
Finally, keep pushing yourself to do a little more. Post a video on Instagram or TikTok. They are super short, and Instagram stories aren’t even permanent! You do have to get out of your comfort zone–so just take it a step at a time. But I guarantee that the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Carol Kim: Since this is a book for kids, I hope they take a moment to realize what a gift it is to be able to have access to books and reading. It is something we take for granted (which is also great in many ways). But just imagining, even briefly, a world where reading was not available to you or your family, can remind us all to appreciate how wonderful it is that books can be a big part of our lives.
Attention Children’s Authors–or those who would like to be:
GUESS WHAT???? In addition to writing books, Carol Kim LOVES to help others who are interested in exploring more about being a children’s book author. Check out her blog, MakeaLivinginKidlit.com –full of information and tips about becoming a children’s author as well as trying to make a career out of this wonderful work we do.
There are posts for both the aspiring author as well as those navigating how to promote and market their books. (And check out her wonderful tips on TikTok too!!!!)
Thank you, Carol, for joining us on the blog today.
To learn more about Carol Kim and her books, check out her website: CarolKimBooks.com
And here’s a fun interview Carol did on Sandra Nickel’s What Was On…