I Am Able to Shine by Korey Watari and Mike Wu

I'm celebrating the second day of Picture Book Month with Korey Watari and Mike Wu. They stopped by to discuss I Am Able to Shine, Mike Wu's illustrations, Keiko, picture books, and more. I wrote the words in purple, Korey wrote the words in black, and Mike wrote the words in green. Thank you, Korey and Mike!

I Am Able to Shine tells the story of a young Asian American girl named Keiko who overcomes obstacles, perseveres through challenges and ultimately shines by accepting herself and being true to her Japanese cultural identify. The book also shows her journey from child to adult and how far she could go if she truly believes in herself. We hope this message rings clear and that all girls can see themselves in Keiko and be inspired to dream far and wide!

This book is also partly based on my own experience so it is deeply personal. There is a need for more representation for Asian Americans and particularly Asian American girls in children’s literature so we are extremely proud to be able to share Keiko’s story.

Mike Wu’s illustrations are absolutely marvelous and really capture the beauty and uniqueness of Japanese culture. He was really able to bring to life Keiko, her family and her inner struggles and triumphs. To watch Mike create each spread is like opening a gift, because one could never imagine how the final art will turn out after just seeing the initial sketches. Each book Mike does creates its own challenges as he is constantly looking for ways to push his medium. In I Am Able to Shine, Mike uses a Japanese sumi brush for the bold lines and layers in his beautiful watercolors and this technique was new for him. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Teruko means to illuminate or shine in Japanese and is also my middle name. I was named after two great women in my family, my Grandmother Fujiko Watari and my Auntie Grace Teru Oga. My mother used the “ko” from Fujiko and the “Teru” from my Auntie’s middle name.

It was purely serendipitous that we decided to use this name for Keiko’s daughter’s name, as it was not planned from the start. As we dove deeper, I realized how perfect a fit this name would be since the central theme is “to shine” and decided to use it when we were nearing the final stages of editing the book. As my wonderful editor Kelsey Skea said, “Korey, you were meant to write this book.” I believe this to be true now.

I Am Able to Shine’s cover is meant to engage kids, parents and grandparents of all ages. I wanted to showcase Keiko framed by cherry blossoms also known as Sakura in Japanese. I wanted to paint something to represent Keiko’s Japanese heritage. The Sakura symbolize spring and renewal and are both beautiful and inspirational. We wanted to push a more mature palette with hues of green, turquoise, and pink. Keiko’s pose and open arms are meant to inspire and welcome a brighter future that she sees. Our hope is I Am Able to Shine will find a home as a favorite among children and adults.

Keiko is a young Japanese American girl who has doubts about her place in the world she sees. Being different isn’t always easy and we wanted to tell a story from an Asian American point of view. We are all different and unique in our own way and that is beautiful and should be celebrated. Many wish to be brave enough to share themselves with the world. We are all like Keiko in some way. Keiko’s story is expressed through a wish made on a crane or tsuru. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish. The tsuru appears throughout the book as a point of inspiration and represents her dream to change the world. Keiko shares herself through the origami and in the end passes this onto the next generation.

Picture books are a gateway to a child’s dreams and stories. A picture book represents so much to our children. A picture book can be a favorite toy, a mother’s love, or a wonderful teacher. I love the blank canvas the picture book affords writers and illustrators. We are privileged to speak to children at such an early age and help educate and form their understanding of the world around them. The beauty of a picture book is there isn’t any story that can’t be explored and expressed. My passion is to share my art through books with hopes that I can reach and inspire young people everywhere. I love the picture book for all these reasons.

Thank you, Korey and Mike!

Husband-and-wife team Korey Watari and Mike Wu live in the San Francisco Bay Area in California with their two lively daughters. This is their first picture book together. Korey is a sansei, or third generation Japanese American, born and raised in Los Angeles. She played basketball for a Japanese American League, graduated from the University of California Riverside, and studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Korey has worked in the animation and fashion industries for companies such as Disney and the Gap. This is her first picture book. Learn more at www.koreywatari.com or on Twitter at @tinyteru.

Mike is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed, bestselling Ellie series, the first picture book of which was named one of NPR’s best books of the year. He is also a Pixar artist and has worked on films including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Toy Story 3, Coco, and Soul. Visit him at www.theartofmikewu.com or on Instagram at @wudog23.

Look for I Am Able to Shine on May 1, 2022. 

An affirmative, empowering story about embracing your identity and finding your voice, inspired in part by debut author Korey Watari’s experiences growing up Asian American, and illustrated by her husband, Mike Wu, Pixar artist and creator of the Ellie series.

I am beautiful.

I belong here.

What I do matters.

I am able to shine.

Each night Keiko whispers to her crane, “I wish to change the world.” She is kind, and she has big dreams. But at times she feels invisible; she knows some people misjudge her. Keiko is also loved, so she perseveres and stands strong. Over time, her confidence grows, she shares more of herself, and she helps lift up others―and eventually lead them. She understands that no matter what, she can shine.


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