A Visit with Chris Soentpiet

His models are all real people

The second graders had just looked over Chris Soentpiet’s books the day before, wondering how anyone could paint the Appalachian mountains, New York City streets, even a Chinese dragon to look so real.

They found out from the illustrator himself. He shared his research process, which includes traveling to the setting of each book. “I use real-life kids, just like you, as my models,” he told the students, showing them photos of the children whose likenesses appear in his books.

Soentpiet's visit was arranged for by the KES PTO Author Committee, in collaboration with the second grade teachers. Both groups have been working to introduce students to diverse authors. 

Award-winning children's book illustrator and author

visit offered students a behind the scenes tour of his picture books

Soentpiet pointed out some of the love notes that are scattered through his books like secrets. His niece’s name Katie and his birthday 1370 are both painted on New York City shop awnings in "Around Town." “My wife Yin appears in most of my books,” he told the students, showing her holding a baby waiting for a train in “Peacetrain,” and as a waitress in “Jin Woo.” “Look closely,” he said to the students. “Who do you think was the model for the waiter in the same painting?” It was Soentpiet!

The students’ questions drew out more of the award-winning illustrator’s story.

"What inspired you to create books?" asked one student.

“Two artists came to my college,” said Soentpiet. “It was a book talk, just like this.” The visit inspired him to illustrate children’s books. “Before that, I didn’t realize you could tell stories with pictures.”

Another student asked, "Which of your book is your favorite?"

“’Jin Woo’” may be the story that is closest to my heart,” said Soentpiet. “It is a story about adoption.” He shared with the students that he was born in South Korea and his parents died when he was six. “When I was eight years old, my sister and I were adopted by the Soentpiet family, and we moved to Hawaii. I was very lucky.”

an illustrator tells a story in a story

"Believe in yourself"

The last question there was time for asked if Soentpiet would keep on creating books.  

“My folder of ideas is this thick,” he answered, showing students a space of three inches between his thumb and pointer finger. “Only one or two will become books.”

After Soentpiet shared advice for painting with watercolors, glimpses of his studio, and the steps in his creative process, he offered the most important tip of all.

“Follow your dreams and believe in yourself,” he told the second graders.