[Culture] Alumna Baek Hee-na, Korea’s First Children’s Book Author Who Wins ALMA
Looking at the world with the eyes of wondrous childlike innocence
Baek Hee-na’s perspective planting seeds of love and dream
Cloud Bread tells a story of two characters who eat bread made with cloud, flying and floating to deliver cloud bread to their dad who skips breakfast. Moon Sherbet narrates a story of making sherbet and handing it out to neighbors to cool off sizzling summer heat. Magic Candies is a story about a magical candy that makes talking to a sofa and a dog in a house possible. These are famous works of Baek who writes picture books using episode of daily life, with a touch of her original ideas. Baek won the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) last March as the first Korean recipient. ALMA was established in 2002 by the Swedish government, which is often seen as the Nobel Prize equivalent in the world of children’s literature. “With exquisite feeling for materials, looks and gestures, Baek Heena’s filmic picture books stage stories about solitude and solidarity. In her evocative miniature worlds, cloud bread and sorbet moons, animals, bath fairies and people converge. Her work is a doorway to the marvelous: sensuous, dizzying and sharp,” said the judging committee of ALMA. EWHA met ALMA recipient Baek Hee-na.
Q. What did you feel when you heard the news of winning ALMA, which is the world’s largest children’s book award?
I have been longing to win this award for a long time, and often jokingly said, “I want to win the award someday.” I have dreamed about winning one, but little did I expect to get one as the award does not simply select a book. The various aspects of a writer’s achievements must meet the qualifications for the award. I knew that I was nominated a few years ago, but didn’t know the nomination was still valid. I suddenly got a phone call and tried to be calm because expressing my delight felt a little embarrassing to me. I was in despair and barely working after losing a lawsuit over copyrights against a publisher at that moment. I thought I was never going to gain my feet and was wondering if I could ever write again. So the first thing I felt was “relief” than joy when I heard the news. I thought to myself, “Thank goodness. Now I can continue to live as a writer.”
Q. What is it like living as a writer in Korea?
I write children’s books, but children are not treated with respect in Korean society. Under the current situation where the rights of children are not properly protected, claiming rights of the writers who create stories for them is still many years away. We need to change our way of thinking about rights of children and protection for the weak. On that account I want to tell happy stories. No dark stories, no villains. I want to include fun stories in my books because the reality is way too gloomy.
Q. What is the source of your ingenuity such as bread made with cloud, sherbet with the moon, Seonnyeo (female angel) who looks after a sick child and fills in for her working mom, and a magical candy enabling talking with objects?
I spend a lot of time pondering. My head was crammed with many miscellaneous thoughts even when I was young. (Laughs) After becoming a picture-book writer, I seem to have even more ragbags of ideas. However, I put an effort to keep my balance in order not to leave those ideas as useless.
Q. You create your books, filled with photographs of handmade miniature sculptures and settings. What made you choose the working method?
Even with a same story, some make it sound interesting, but the others boring. I think about how to make pictures in a book intriguing and effective just as considering which tones, dynamics, and body languages can render a story sound interesting. The goal of all my works is to render them collaborate one another to make a storytelling fun; I try various approaches to achieve it. That has probably made my unique way of working.
Q. Many students are working as creators on media including YouTube recently. Could you give them a piece of advice to become a successful creator as a predecessor who holds one of the best contents?
Ceaseless effort is crucial. I also want to ask them to remember that creators’ thoughts and mind are projected to their works. If children are accessible to your media in particular, it should be made with an upright mind. And creators should live on the straight and narrow because the works they make precisely reveal their perspectives and directly impact on children.
Q. Any final words to add for Ewha students?
It rarely happens that you live only with women around in your life. You might get stuck surrounded by invisible walls and be unfairly treated in society. I want you to demonstrate your ability free from discrimination while staying at Ewha, and be proud of being Ewhaians.