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Aram Kim

Aram Kim talks about her first picture book, CAT ON THE BUS, a touching tale told almost entirely without words.

Aram, please tell us about the story of CAT ON THE BUS.

A street cat is having a rough time on one very cold winter day, but then she gets to ride a bus where she encounters the warmth of others and finds a home with a kind stranger.

Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

In 2013, the winter was especially cold and severe in South Korea. I came across one photo online of a stray cat sitting on a bus seat. The person who took the photo wrote that the driver let the cat on the bus because it was too cold outside. I thought it was very heartwarming that the driver welcomed the cat on the bus and also that the passengers didn’t mind the street cat taking up a seat. Everyone wanted the street cat to enjoy the moment of warmth. This photo stayed in my head for a long time until I turned it into a story in 2014 as one of my thesis projects in graduate school.



What makes this book special to you?

This book feels especially special for me because the main character—the cat—is modeled after my cat Horang, who died right before I started working on the final art for this book. She lived seven years with me, which is most of the time I lived in New York. She was the closest friend and family I had in New York, a strange big city I had moved to far away from friends and family in Korea. The book’s story itself was inspired by the street cat’s photo I saw online, but I naturally decided to draw Horang in the story, partly because she came to me from the shelter. She died three months after I signed the contract with Holiday House. I was heartbroken, but drawing her in my very first book, over and over, page after page, from a sad, hungry street cat to a happy cat who finds a home, comforted me greatly. It was a very consoling healing process for me to gradually say good-bye to my beloved cat.

What important message do you feel this book has for young readers?

While working on this book, I thought a lot about homeless people that I see around the city. We see them every day, encounter them everywhere, but few of us know what to do or how to help them. It is a sensitive matter, but I believe we should at least acknowledge them. Other than the matter of homelessness, I want children who read this book to think about kindness. A small act of kindness could change someone else’s day or even life. It’s easy to be kind to your families and friends, but not always easy to be kind to strangers. But that’s what really matters sometimes.

What inspired you to become an artist and author?

My very first dream I can remember having as a child was to be an artist. I loved drawing. Then my dream changed to be a writer. I loved reading and writing. But I gave up both as I grew because I thought I wasn’t good enough to be either, and that it was too difficult to make a living. But after I graduated from college, I finally decided to pursue my childhood dream because I realized that’s what I really wanted to be. It was a long detour, but I guess I always wanted to be an author and illustrator since I was a child.

Have you always had pets?

My family had goldfish, turtles, and parakeets when I was a kid. I once brought a baby chick home that I bought in front of the elementary school for 20 cents, and I raised him to be a rooster. He was my very first pet! But we were living in a high-rise apartment building, and neighbors hated him crowing so loudly every morning. We had to bring him to my dad’s relative’s farm, a few hours away from home. As much as I was disappointed, my parents were very attached to him, too, so they were also heartbroken.

What’s one of your favorite childhood memories?

I used to go for a long walk with my dad every Sunday. There was a stream through my town. One side of the stream was the busy part with a lot of high-rise apartment buildings. On the other side there were rice fields and flower farms. We crossed the stream over a high, squeaky metal bridge, then took a very long walk along the farms and fields. We could see the change of the season in the changing colors of the rice from green to golden yellow, and by the kinds of flowers on the farm, from pink roses to yellow chrysanthemums. I cherish that memory very much and I still enjoy a very long walk whenever I can find a moment.

If there is one thing you could tell your young readers about life, what would you say?

If you believe in your dream and hold on to it, it will come true. Really.

About the Author

Aram Kim is a New York–based illustrator who grew up in South Korea. She attended Yonsei University in Seoul, where she received a BA in English literature, and the School of Visual Arts, where she received a BFA and MFA in illustration. She has received awards and recognition for her work in both South Korea and the U.S. and has exhibited in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Her illustrations have appeared in several magazines, including Spider Magazine.

Photo Credit: Jungyeon Roh

Books by Aram Kim

Cat on the Bus, Reinforced
No Kimchi For Me!, Reinforced