It’s our first Book Birthday celebration of 2022 and I’m happy to welcome author/illustrator (and Disney animator) Benson Shum. His latest book, ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU (Roaring Brook), is the sweetest!
But don’t take my word for it.
“[E]ngaging and heartwarming. . . . A tongue-in-cheek bildungsroman spun around celebrating differences and the underrated superpowers of gentleness and sweetness. ―Kirkus
“Shum’s experience as an animator. . . is evident in the way he storyboards the narrative, pulls readers along with cinematic energy, and celebrates Japanese aesthetics―with everything from bonsai trees to golden picture frames to tiny creatures that look like adorable walking dumplings. [A] wholly original tale, which proves humorous, heartfelt, and as sweet as the flowers Anzu conjures.” ―Booklist
Time for some questions:
Q 1. What was the inspiration for Anzu the Great Kaiju?
Benson Shum: Anzu the Great Kaiju was inspired by my love of giant monsters. The idea of a creature that towers over buildings and is larger than life blows my imagination. They’re always seen as destructive and I wanted to see them from a different perspective.
Q 2. Is a kaiju originally a mythical creature? Can you explain how you first became aware of them?
Benson Shum: Yes, kaiju means giant monsters in Japanese. When I saw Godzilla or King Kong as a kid, I loved the fantasy of it all. Where do they come from? What do they eat? How do they live?
Q 3. I love Anzu’s special power. (No spoilers here!) If you were a kaiju, what would you want your power to be?
Benson Shum: Thank you! If I was a kaiju, I would probably say the power of water. Water gives life and can create amazing things. Or wind, I would love to be able to fly.
Putting pen to paper.
Q 4. Since you are the author/illustrator of this book (the first of many in a series, I hope!) Which came first—the story or the illustrations?
Benson Shum: For this book, the story came first. Though, while I write, I’m always picturing ideas and characters in my head. The situations they are in. But in my head, the designs of the characters aren’t fully realized until I put pen to paper. Sometimes an illustration does spark the story, but it depends on the story I’m telling.
Q 5. What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in creating this book?
Benson Shum: The most surprising discovery I found when creating Anzu was, the character wanted to write itself. It had its difficult moments, but Anzu has so many stories he wants to tell and explore. Maybe my mind was jumping from one idea to another, so I had to stay focused. haha!
Q 6. Which title /story –from three of your other books—best describes your creative process or #kidlit journey thus far? (Please explain.)
a. Alex’s Good Fortune
b. Sloth Went
c. Little Seed
Benson Shum: All three had a different process/journey. But maybe I would say Alex’s Good Fortune and Little Seed. I learned to go with the flow and let the story take you where it’s meant to be. Both stories originally started off as picture books. Then we got a note from the editors about possibly having them as an easy reader (Alex’s Good Fortune) and a board book (Little Seed). I’ve never written in both formats before. So it was a challenge to learn, and I love it!
Let’s talk ART!
Q 7. What is your preferred medium—or does it vary with each project?
Benson Shum: I can work digitally or traditionally, but I do love working with watercolor and ink. I love and hate the fact that I can’t fix my mistakes, once the ink or watercolor sets, I’m stuck with it. But I think that adds some charm to the painting and illustration.
Q 8. How has your work as an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios–where you were a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Frozen II, Raya and the Last Dragon, and the recent hit, Encanto—influenced your work as a children’s book creator?
Benson Shum: Thank you! Yes, animation has totally influenced my work. There is a lot of crossover in book making and animation. It’s all about storytelling. How we layout the book, how we direct the readers eyes, using words and illustration to make you turn the page. Clarity, posing and emotions in our characters.
Q 9. Any tips for would-be children’s illustrators just starting out?
Benson Shum: Read. Read. Read! Definitely read in the genre you are writing in, but also read others as well. For illustrators, look at how the illustrator of the book uses the format of the page. Is the book square shaped? More horizontal or more vertical? Ask the question why. Everything in the book was decided for a reason. I love talking about these little things during story times with the kids too. And maybe the adults will find it interesting as well. 🙂
Q 10. Please tell us about your other projects, to be released or in the works. Also–will there be more ANZU books in the future?
Benson Shum: I have a couple of projects in the works that I’m writing and illustrating. And am developing some new ideas as well. They’re all in my head mostly, but there are some with one liners that I keep in my notes folder. As for more ANZU, the answer is YES! I’m almost wrapped up on the 2nd Anzu book. I’m super excited to share more of Anzu’s stories. And hope there will be many more.
Thank you for joining us on today, Benson, and
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!
Benson Shum: Thank you so much for hosting me on your wonderful blog, Erin! It’s been fun sharing Anzu’s journey with you. I really appreciate it!
You can learn more about Benson Shum and his work at
his website: http://bensonshum.com/
For those celebrating Lunar New Year soon, here’s a little more
about ALEX’S GOOD FORTUNE.
And –> heads-up friends:
Don’t miss TODAY’s VIRTUAL STORY TIME with Benson Shum hosted by Once Upon a time Bookstore in Montrose, CA. (Click link for more details.) at 4pm Pacific/ 7pm EST. Purchase a personalized/signed book through Once Upon a Time and receive an Anzu Art print with every book!
Next week, we’ll hear from Shawn Peters, about his #MG debut novel, THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER –which, coincidentally, is also about super powers.