By Yeonwoo Shim
Today we’re pleased to welcome Kelly Yang to the WNDB blog to discuss picture book Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country, illustrated by various artists and out May 3, 2022!
From #1 NYT bestselling author Kelly Yang comes a gorgeously illustrated picture book about Asian American changemakers doing everything they dreamed of and inspiring all of us to reach for new heights!
From creating beautiful music like Yo-Yo Ma to flying to outer space like Franklin Chang-Díaz; from standing up to injustice like Fred Korematsu to becoming the first Asian American, Black and female vice president of the United States like Kamala Harris, this book illuminates the power of Asian Americans all over the country, in all sorts of fields.
Each spread is illustrated by a different renowned Asian American or Asian artist. Alongside the poetic main text, Yes We Will includes one-line biographies of the person or historical moment featured on the page, with extended biographies at the end. Readers of different ages and needs can use the book in different ways, from classroom discussions to bedtime readalouds and more.
Yes We Will answers the question, can we accomplish whatever we dream? With love, courage, determination, and lots of imagination, we can—and we will!
Where did the inspiration for Yes We Will come from? How do your personal experiences connect with this book?
The inspiration for Yes We Will was that I was trying to find a picture book about Asian American heroes for my daughter. I wanted to read her a book that would show her the many incredible things Asian Americans are doing across all industries, so that she would know she can be anything when she grows up! The sky’s the limit! But I couldn’t find a single picture book! I was shocked and frustrated, and I remember emailing my agent—how could this be?? Instead of sending off that email, I deleted it, and sat down to write Yes We Will instead.
In this book, you covered several Asian Americans, ranging from sports stars like Jeremy Lin to Vice President Kamala Harris. How did you go about deciding which Asian American heroes to include in your book?
It was critically important to me that we include Asian American heroes in all different industries, because growing up, I didn’t always know I could be an author! I didn’t know I could be an astronaut, or a dancer, or an activist! Instead, I was told to be “realistic” with my dreams. With Yes We Will, I want to abolish that notion and show kids they can dream big. We can do anything—and we have!
It was also super important to me that I include Asian Americans from all different backgrounds and heritages—I’m so proud that we have South Asian Americans, East Asian Americans, Black Asian Americans and Southeast Asian Americans in this book because Asian Americans are not a monolith!
The illustrations in Yes We Will are absolutely gorgeous. I was absolutely stunned by the illustrations as each page is so vibrant with color and filled with beautiful drawings! In what ways did you work with your illustrators (I noticed there were many involved), and were there any requests that you made?
I love that we have 15 rock star illustrators who brought these heroes to life! Their styles are all different and uniquely brilliant, reflecting the wide array of industries portrayed! My one request was that each illustrator bring to life the energy of the Asian American hero they’re drawing, and I was absolutely blown away by the result!
Unlike your Front Desk series, Yes We Will is a picture book. Is there a reason you decided to write about these Asian American heroes in a picture book instead of a middle grade novel like your other books?
I love picture books. They’re books that we read over and over again as a family. To me, picture books make a first imprint on a child’s mind, instilling in kids a sense of wonder and of possibility in the world. The earlier we can give kids the message that we can do anything, and yes we will, the better!
If you could create your own panel and invite one of the Asian American heroes included in Yes We Will, who would you invite and why?
Definitely Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, who stood up against the Japanese internment order during World War II! I would love to talk to him about how to find courage and inner strength, even in times of heartbreaking and unspeakable turmoil.
Which 3 words would you use to describe this book?
Ground-breaking. Inspiring. Vibrant.
What message do you want readers to take away from Yes We Will? Is there anything that you would like readers to keep in mind as they read it?
The main message I want readers to take away is that Asian Americans have made invaluable contributions to this country. I hope this book inspires everybody to get to know Asian American history. And I hope this book inspires the next generation of Asian American trailblazers to go for their dreams!
What other books do you think are in conversation with Yes We Will? Do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming books?
Watercress by Andrea Wang, A is for Awesome by Eva Chen, Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison, She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
What’s my favorite dim sum dish? Answer: Har Gau (Shrimp dumplings)!
Kelly Yang is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of New From Here, the Front Desk series, and the young adult novels Parachutes and Private Label. Her books have earned multiple awards, including the 2019 APALA Award for Children’s Literature, the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal, and multiple best of the year lists, and her writing has been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. Kelly immigrated to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Southern California. Today, she and her family live in Los Angeles.
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.