Born in Seoul, Korea; immigrated to United States, 1991. Ethnicity: "Korean." Education: Attended Kendall College of Arts and Design, 1991-92; School of Visual Arts, M.F.A. (illustration). Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, sculpting, swimming, hiking, traveling.
Author and illustrator. Cathay Pacific Airways, former flight attendant. Lecturer to assemblies at museums, workshops, and schools. Exhibitions: Works exhibited at Society of Illustrators annual show, Children's Museum of the Arts, School of Visual Arts, Art Director's Club, and New York Public Library.
International Reading Association (IRA) Children's Book Award, California Young Reader's Medal, New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year designation, and American Library Association Notable Book designation, all 1997, all for Nim and the War Effort by Milly Lee; Chicago Public Library Best of the Best designation, 1999, for New Cat; Parents' Choice Silver Honor, 2000, for Rice Is Life by Rita Golden Gelman; IRA Teachers' Choice designation, Chicago Public Library Best of the Best designation, and California Young Reader's Medal nomination, all 2001, all for The Name Jar; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award.
(Reteller) The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
New Cat, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Name Jar, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Peach Heaven, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Behind the Mask, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Reading Teacher.
Milly Lee, Nim and the War Effort, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Janet Gill, Basket Weaver and Catches Many Mice, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Rita Golden Gelman, Rice Is Life, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Janet S. Wong, This Next New Year, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Milly Lee, Earthquake, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Frances and Ginger Park, Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2002.
Andrea Cheng, The Key Collection, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Milly Lee, Landed, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
Roseanne Thong, Gai See: What You Can See in Chinatown, Harry Abrams (New York, NY), 2007.
After growing up in Korea as the oldest of three children, Yangsook Choi moved to the United States to pursue a career in art. Since graduating from New York City's prestigious School of Visual Arts, she has established a successful career as a children's book illustrator and author that has earned her several national awards and widespread critical recognition. Among the authors whose texts she has illustrated are Milly Lee, Rita Golman Gelman, Roseanne Thong, and Frances and Ginger Park, the last for whom she illustrated the poignant Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong. In a review of her illustration work for Lee's award-winning Nim and the War Effort, for example, a Publishers Weekly wrote that "Choi paints with a soothing clarity of line," while in Horn Book Nancy Vasilakis noted that the book's "spacious, dignified, somewhat stark illustrations complement the detail and length" of Lee's nostalgic text. Choi's original self-illustrated picture books for young readers include New Cat, The Name Jar, and Behind the Mask.
Created as a thesis project for her M.F.A. degree, Choi's first self-illustrated book, a Korean folktale retelling titled The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, allows the author/artist to share her Korean culture with American readers. In the story, a brother and sister who have been left at home alone rely on their wits to avoid a hungry tiger, a beast that has already swallowed their mother. When the tiger enters their home, the children escape and are drawn up into the heavens through their mother's will. Ultimately, the children are transformed into the source of Earth's light, Brother as the moon and Sister as the sun, where their light can help others avoid danger. Calling the story "absorbing," Publishers Weekly contributor had special praise for Choi's "elegant and empathetic oil paintings," which "lend magic to this enigmatic, satisfying tale." Noting the story's similarity to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Hazel Rochman concluded in Booklist that the author/illustrator's "dramatic" artwork brings to life her tale's key elements: "the shapes that loom in the dark and the mystery of the night sky."
Like The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, Choi's more recent picture books also draw from her Korean heritage. In New Cat a kitty living in a tofu factory takes her job as chief mouse-catcher seriously, so seriously that she risks disapproval when a mouse scuttles into a room her owner, Mr. Kim, has forbidden her from entering. A grove of rare, white peaches in Puchon, South Korea is the focus of the semi-autobiographical picture book Peach Heaven. In this story young Yangsook's dream of an unending supply of peaches comes true during a freak 1976 storm that pulls the ripened fruit from the tree and flings it toward the nearby town. A holiday tale, Behind the Mask focuses on Kimin, who announces that he plans to costume himself as his grandfather for Halloween. While this choice does not impress Kimin's friends, who look forward to dressing as ghosts, witches, and other scary creatures, ultimately the boy's costume is the scariest of all: it includes the terrifying mask his grandfather wore as a Korean mask dancer. Reviewing New Cat for Horn Book, Jennifer M. Brabander wrote that "Choi keeps her text simple and straightforward," while her paintings contribute "a sense of movement and tension." Characterizing Choi's story in Peach Heaven as "sweet and direct," School Library
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
Journal critic Susan Weitz noted that the author's "colorful illustrations clearly evoke the tale's setting and the emotions of the characters." Behind the Mask is "quiet and well crafted," Carolyn Phelan wrote in her Booklist review, while adding that Choi's "interesting fusion of cultures" will likely be "appealing to children." In a reviw of the same book for School Library Journal, Judith Constantinides praised the intergenerational tale as "an evocative look at a Korean tradition."
In The Name Jar Choi's tale is drawn from her own past. In the story, Korean Unhei has just moved with her parents to the United States. Worried by the teasing she receives because of her hard-to-pronounce name—"Yoo-hey"—she decides to adopt a new one. To help with her predicament, her classmates present her with a large glass jar filled with scraps of paper, each inscribed with a possible new American-style name. When Unhei starts to think about her choices, she begins to reflect on the deeper implications of re-naming herself, and how it will affect her family and her life. "Unhei's reflection and inner strength are noteworthy," wrote Julie Yates Walton in a New York Times Book Review appraisal of The Name Jar, the critic adding that "Choi's gleaming, expressive paintings are always a treasure."
Choi discussed her creative process with AsianWeek online interviewer Terry Hong, noting that she uses a notebook for collecting story ideas, which can take the form of both words and pictures. "I also try to read as much as possible," she added. "Once I have everything collected, I think about how all those pieces can come together. Even when I don't have enough for an entire story, if I have a solid idea for a character or an ending, then to me that's enough to start writing." As the author/illustrator explained, "since I have a visual background, I go back and forth between the visual storytelling and word-based storytelling. A lot of people think that the visual story exists to support the text, but I think the visual story can tell the story first for young readers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Nim and the War Effort, p. 941; December 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, p. 698; February 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of New Cat, p. 186; June 1, 1999, Kay Weisman, review
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
of Basket Weaver and Catches Many Mice, p. 1841; December 15, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Name Jar, p. 738; March 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Peach Heaven, p. 1298; October 15, 2006, Carolyn Phelan, review of Behind the Mask, p. 54.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1999, review of New Cat, p. 310.
Horn Book, March-April, 1997, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Nim and the War Effort, p. 193; March, 1999, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of New Cat, p. 186.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2005, review of Peach Heaven, p. 470; September 15, 2006, review of Behind the Mask, p. 949.
New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2002, Julie Yates Walton, review of The Name Jar, p. 21; October 22, 2006, review of Behind the Mask.
Publishers Weekly, December 30, 1996, review of Nim and the War Effort, p. 67; June 30, 1997, "Flying Starts," p. 26; November 3, 1997, review of The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy, p. 84; March 15, 1999, review of New Cat, p. 58; June 21, 1999, review of Basket weaver and Catches Many Mice, p. 67; August 14, 2006, review of Behind the Mask, p. 204.
School Library Journal, November, 2001, Dorian Chong, review of The Name Jar, p. 113; July, 2005, Susan Weitz, review of Peach Heaven, p. 71; December, 2006, Judith Constantinides, review of Behind the Mask, p. 96.
AsianWeek Online,http://www.asianweek.com/ (July 19, 2002), Terry Hong, interview with Choi.
Good Characters Web site,http://www.andychuang.com/ (April 15, 2007), Sheila J. Lindal, interview with Choi.
Yangsook Choi Home Page,http://www.yangsookchoi.com (April 15, 2007).