Kyunghee Chen hopes ‘See Us Bloom’ will be embraced and celebrated during AAPI Heritage Month in May—and always
Burns Park Building Literacy Coach Kyunghee Chen has published a children’s book she hopes will encourage all children to know they belong. We talked to her about why she wrote ‘See Us Bloom’ and the impact the book has had on students.
What inspired you to write “See Us Bloom”?
This book is largely inspired by my nephew who is Korean Jewish American. I want him to grow in an environment where he can thrive for who he is. It is also a reflection of my immigrant story that for many years brought a lot of pain so in that way, it is also for adults like myself who need inner child healing.
The book features a boy settling into his new home and school. Was that something you experienced when you immigrated to Michigan from South Korea with your family at the age of 8? Yes, it reflects my own personal story, but I wanted to focus on joy—so not necessarily the experiences I had, but my hope for the present and the future. When your space of belonging gets taken away and you are in search of a new home, it’s scary and sad. In many ways, this book luminates joy that can be found when we help each other bloom and be who we are.
I hope this book (and others) can be embraced during any time of the year, not only during AAPI Heritage Month.
What is the most important message you want children to take away from this story?
I want kids, especially those who hold intersectional identities holding more than one heritage, to feel belong; that who they are, what they eat, how they dress, how they speak—it all belongs here in America. I want all kids to know that change can be hard, but it can also be exciting.
In addition, the entire book is a meditation on emotional wellbeing so I hope kids are empowered to say no in advocating for themselves and their friends as well as it’s okay to feel sad and happy at the same time.
These are poems on compassion, acceptance, and bravery. Why these themes?
I think compassion for ourselves and others, acceptance for who we are, and being brave to stand out and be ourselves are key to blooming. Because these themes are universal, I hope “See Us Bloom” can be read and celebrated.
Can you describe the process of writing this book?
The whole process from start to book launch took two years. I wrote in the mornings before going to work. My dining room has great morning light so that’s my writing space.
What steps did you take to get it published?
I wrote the manuscript first and then I submitted my work to publication—some big, some small. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all to getting a book published. It takes a lot of self-advocacy, commitment, persistence, flexibility, and a great community that is there to help and support. I am lucky to have such a loving community of writer friends around me.
Have you read it to Burns Park students? What were their reactions?
It’s been a joy reading to several classes at Burns Park! I wish I could share all the responses with you. I had some students who shared their Korean names with the class because of “See Us Bloom.” I had many kids who shared their own stories of going through a change—moving to a new place, making new friends, and trying something new.
Where is the book for sale?
You can get the book anywhere books are sold. If you are local, Literati has them. Booksweet has several signed copies!
Do you have another book in the works?
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