Student Success Stories: Isabella Kung

As many of you know, hackers cost us our old website and blog last month. I had most of our Success Stories saved to my computer, so I'll be updating those and reposting them, along with new content.

Today, I'm sharing a recent interview with the fabulous Isabella Kung. I've fallen in love with Isabella's vibrant style, and I think you will, too.

Myrna: What is your background?

Isabella: I’ve been an illustrator and instructor for the past 8 years or so. I taught little kids at small art studios to college students at Academy of Art University. In terms of children’s books, I’ve mostly illustrated for educational publishing houses, small press, and magazines. Now I’m getting into more trade books. Come 2020, I will debut as an author/illustrator with my first book baby, NoFuzzball! 

Myrna: What made you want to start writing and illustrating picture books?

Isabella: Drawing, painting, and stories, these 3 loves of mine have been a full-on obsession ever since I was a child. While I was still studying for my BFA in Traditional Illustration, I discovered illustrating picture books fit all 3 obsessions perfectly! Where else can I draw adorable, fun, or whimsical characters, have the freedom to embrace painting in as many traditional mediums as I want, and tell stories in my favorite book format?

The writing came later. I was inspired by all the amazing speakers at SCBWI conferences. I’ve lost count of how many times I heard author/illustrators, who never thought they could draw, had published their third book; or illustrator authors, who never thought they could write, had published their fifteenth book! My numbers might be exaggerated. But the point is that I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to create my own characters and scenes! I want to create my own stories!

Myrna: How long have you been writing? 

Isabella: For about 4-5 years. Admittedly, the first 2 years were more of a learning and growing experience. My first story has been shelved, and my second story finally landed me a contract after 4 years and 14 drafts. I’m still learning how to write, but with all this practice, trial and error, I’m finally getting better. 

Myrna: Have there been any writing or illustrating communities who’ve helped you along your path?

Isabella: SCBWI helped me so much, it gave me a community to learn from and grow with after graduating from college, back when I was still discovering my way. I learned about the industry, got my work critiqued by professionals, and met others who share the same love for children’s books. Storyteller Academy is quickly becoming another community that I’m glad to be a part of. Listening to Arree’s journey was very motivating, and Jim Averbeck’s Writing Picture Book Manuscripts class really strengthened my writing skills! 

Myrna: Have you ever felt frustrated by trying to get a picture book right?

Isabella: Oh, all the time! I have never finished a book without getting frustrated at some point, even when I am just illustrating it. My past teachers have said, “To be a good illustrator, you have to be good at visual problem solving.” I couldn’t agree more. So with that logic, being both the illustrator and the author just doubles the problem-solving aspect Frustration is almost a guarantee. BUT, once you figure out a way to solve your problems, it is immensely satisfying!

Myrna: When and why did you take Jim Averbeck’s Writing Picture Book Manuscripts?

Isabella: I took Jim’s class during the Spring of 2018. I’d heard Jim speak in person at the SCBWI’s Golden Gate Conference before. I enjoyed his talk a lot back then and have always liked his books. I took a break from teaching that year, and when I read about his new class, I knew I had to sign up! Jim’s critiques are invaluable! I hunkered down the entire 6 weeks and turned an idea I’d shelved years ago into a fleshed-out dummy! I will be pitching that story soon. Jim has the innate ability to pinpoint the core of a story and provide suggestions on how to strengthen the storytelling. I highly recommend it!

Myrna: I agree! Could you tell us about your recent book deal?

Isabella: My recent book deal is for a story I started 4 years ago, about a queen named NoFuzzball. This sassy, fuzzy black cat is accustomed to the highest level of worship by her subjects. I’d taken it to my critique group countless times and sought critiques from editors and agents in the past, as well. I even took a year-long break from this story! 14 drafts later, and with the help of my agent, Jennifer Laughran, it was finally picked up by Scholastic. Collaboration with my editor, Kait Feldmann, and designer, Steve Ponzo, have been amazing so far!

Myrna: Do you have any advice that might help our blog readers find satisfaction or joy in writing picture books?

Isabella: Creating a picture book is not easy, and sometimes, in the darkest of times, we might question why we are even doing this. It’s true that “Nothing good comes easy,” especially in any creative endeavor! Know that the dark feeling will pass and we just have to remember our love for it. There is nothing more satisfying than when the story finally comes together, and then is received well by your friends, your critique group, your agent, your editors, and most importantly, the kids reading your books. Watching your story connect with your audience in a special way, or when they simply laugh at your jokes, is priceless.

Myrna: Thank you for sharing your experience. What’s next for you?

Isabella: I am finishing the illustrations for NoFuzzball! and starting another illustration book deal. I have a story ready to go on submission, two other stories in the making, and a character named Sir Chester Whiskerfluff Purrington the 3rd, who is patiently waiting for his story to be written. I also became the new Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI SF/South Region this year!

Myrna: Congratulations! Where can we find you on the Internet?

Isabella: Website, Instagram: @isabellakungill, Twitter: @isaberryk, and YouTube

Let us know if you have any questions (or topics you'd like us to cover) in the comments. Thank you for reading! 

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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