By Yeonwoo Shim
Today we’re delighted to welcome Dan-ah Kim to the WNDB blog to discuss The Grandmaster’s Daughter.
Imagination and determination fuel a young black belt as she leads her friends on a mission to protect their dojang. Author-illustrator Dan-ah Kim’s debut is a celebration of teamwork, friendship, and martial arts, and will be adored by fans of The Three Ninja Pigs and Hello, Ninja.
Sunny is the grandmaster’s daughter. She sweeps the floors, waters the plants, and practices with her nunchucks—sometimes she even makes mistakes! And she teaches other young students how to kihap. When their kihaps grow loud and bold enough to shake the mountains, Sunny leads her friends in defending the dojang against magical creatures . . . or perhaps that’s just in their imaginations. It’s up to you to decide!
Dan-ah Kim’s spirited debut celebrates teamwork, imagination, and perseverance. A simple text combined with vivid artwork make this picture book an irresistible read-aloud.
When did you first realize you wanted to write this book, The Grandmaster’s Daughter?
I carried the title around in my head for years, thinking of what I would’ve loved as a kid and what I’d love to create now. I’d always wanted to make something that was an ode to my family and to martial arts. The book came together as a bit of a collection of my favorite things to paint: from trees and flowers, to action scenes and magical creatures.
Growing up practicing martial arts yourself, what childhood experiences, memories, or people influenced how you crafted this story (character, plot, setting, etc.)? In what ways does martial arts hold importance to you and what inspired you to create Sunny, the main character?
My dad has been teaching martial arts for over 40 years and Tae Kwon Do is an integral part of my family’s journey, so this book is very much inspired by my childhood. I grew up in dojangs– helping with chores, practicing with friends, and spending weekends at belt tests and tournaments. I’ve loved martial arts my whole life, and wanted to make a book that reflected that in a respectful way that was also fun for kids. I tried to capture some prosaic moments in addition to the potential of a young martial artist’s imagination, so readers would get to see both a day in the life of Sunny, as well as experience an adventure with her.
As both an illustrator and author, what is your writing process like? Do you do your illustrations first or your writing first?
Right now, writing is the hard part for me, although I often jot down words and phrases before or while sketching. But they take turns. Sometimes there will be something I want to draw that will motivate the words, and vice versa. I think I was a reader even before I was a drawer, so it’s a love for stories that moves both.
I noticed that the cover of The Grandmaster’s Daughter is absolutely beautiful as I saw you added trees, flowers, and even an adorable cat. Why did you choose to illustrate the book cover the way that you did?
Thank you so much! The cat is actually a character in the book, and I like to think the scenery is too. I didn’t want to place the book in a specific location, but the landscape is inspired by my mom’s hometown in Jeolla-do, Korea. During my last visit I loved the roads lined with cosmos, my uncle’s small persimmon orchard, and the perfect sunsets. It inspired the first line in the book, which was the first one I wrote.
When doing your illustrations, do you draw as ideas come from your imagination or do you have an inspirational source to look at as you do them?
I try to draw ideas from imagination, though there are some details that come from personal or family photos. I’m often inspired by Korean folk art and visit museums as often as I can!
What message do you want your readers to take away from your book?
So much of martial arts is about inner strength and consideration for others, and there are lessons in things like bravery, perseverance, and kindness that we can all be inspired by. I’d like readers to see that mistakes are a part of learning and growing, and that they can use their strengths to help others. I also hope readers have fun reading and kihap-ing, and if someone develops an interest in martial arts or feels encouraged to continue their practice, that would be amazing.
Since you are a debut author, what have you learned in this process and what advice would you give to other debuts?
I feel like I still have so much to learn. I think it’s important to trust your instinct but also trust your agent and editor. Because this was a personal book for me I felt protective of it at first, but the input from my editor, Martha, and agent, Lori, helped make it so much stronger. For illustrators I’d advise practical things like remembering to include a bleed when making final art (with extra for the case cover), and not flattening Photoshop files! If anyone has any advice for me on keeping cat hair off paintings and scans, I would love that.
Where would you like to move forward with your work? Should readers look forward to seeing more picture books or something new?
I am currently working on another picture book, and hope to continue making them for as long as I can. There are other types of books I’d like to do in the future but for now I’m not yet over the excitement of having this picture book published!
Do you have any recently published or forthcoming books you’d like to recommend?
Some recently published picture books I love include Jenny Mei is Sad by Tracy Subisak, America, My Love, America, My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley, and When Lola Visits written by Michelle Sterling and illustrated by Aaron Asis. Forthcoming books I’m looking forward to include Nigel and the Moon written by Antwan Eady and illustrated by Gracey Zhang, and anything Carson Ellis or JiHyeon Lee are working on.
Dan-ah Kim is a Brooklyn-based illustrator whose career is an artistic mélange, all rooted in storytelling. She works in film and television as a graphic designer, creating props, signage, and dressing for sets. Her fine artwork, largely mixed media comprised of gouache, pencil, and thread has been shown in galleries and shops all over the US, as well as in London and Paris. The Grandmaster’s Daughter is her debut.
Yeonwoo Shim is a student at Vanderbilt University who hopes to increase accessibility and diversity in children’s literature. Coming from an Asian-American immigrant family, she grew up seeing a lack of diversity in the books she read, but hopes that through WNDB, she can help more diverse characters come under the spotlight.