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Chris K. Soentpiet (1970-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Name pronounced soon-pete; born 1970, in Seoul, South Korea; Education: Pratt Institute, B.F.A., 1992.

Career

Illustrator and author. Active presenter at schools and organizations.

Honors Awards

Pick of the List, American Booksellers Association (ABA), Top One Hundred Titles designation, New York Public Library, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), and Notable Book designation, Smithsonian magazine, all 1995, all for The Last Dragon; Children's Book of the Year Award, and Teacher's Choice, both from International Reading Association (IRA), Top Ten Children's Books designation, Chicago Tribune, Notable Books, American Library Association, among Top Twenty-five Picks for Youth, Black History magazine, IRA Notable Books for a Global Society Award, ABA Pick of the List, and Book Links Salutes a Few Good Books honor, all 1996, all for More than Anything Else; Gold Medal, Society of Illustrators, NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, ABA Pick of the List, Notable Book Chris K. Soentpiet desigation, Smithsonian, IRA Notable Children's Books for a Global Society Award, and Best Book designation, San Francisco Chronicle, all 1996, all for Peacebound Trains; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Book Award, 2004.

Writings

SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS

Around Town, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1994.

ILLUSTRATOR

Susan Miho Nunes, The Last Dragon, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Marie Bradby, More than Anything Else, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.

Haemi Balgassi, Peacebound Trains, Clarion (New York, NY), 1996.

Cynthia Rylant, Silver Packages, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.

George Ella Lyon, A Sign, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.

Eve Bunting, So Far from the Sea, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Sharon Dennis Wyeth, Something Beautiful, Doubleday Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1998.

Alice McGill, Molly Bannaky, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

Liz Rosenberg, The Silence in the Mountains, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Marie Bradby, Momma, Where Are You From?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.

T. A. Barron, Where Is Grandpa?, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Eve Bunting, Jin Woo, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Yin, Coolies, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Yin, Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Christina King Farris, My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2003.

Lester L. Laminack, Saturdays and Teacakes, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2004.

Sidelights

Chris K. Soentpiet is a award-winning children's book illustrator and author whose paintings are frequently praised for their warm, detailed, and lively feel. The expressive quality Soentpiet brings to his portraits of human characters has been particularly noted by reviewers. Beginning his illustration career with his self-illustrated picture book Around Town in 1994, he has contributed his talents to numerous books, such as Haemi Balgassi's Peacebound Trains, a tale of a young Korean girl waiting for the return of her mother, and Susan Miho Nunes's The Last Dragon, which allows the illustrator to explore the colors and contrasts of an urban setting.

Born in Korea, Soentpiet moved to Hawaii when he was adopted by an American family there. Educated in the United States, he moved to New York City to study at the Pratt Institute. There he met children's book illustrator Ted Lewin, whose style influenced the young artist throughout his time in college and whose friendship proved beneficial to Soentpiet's plan to become a professional illustrator. With Lewin's encouragement, as the artist once recalled to Something about the Author (SATA), "I took my portfolio along with some original paintings around New York City. The first ten publishers I visited did not have work for me, until I stepped into the office of Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard. They gave me my first opportunity to illustrate and author a children's picture book: Around Town."

In Around Town, Soentpiet's "lively, … realistic paintings, splashed with sunlight and color … celebrate life in the city," according to Hazel Rochman, reviewing the picture book for Booklist. The accompanying narrative describes the sights and sounds of a big city as experienced by a young girl and her mother. "This vibrant, exuberant tour of New York City … will delight children," maintained Janet M. Bair in School Library Journal.

From this first success, Soentpiet has gone on to contribute art to books by many other authors, including Liz Rosenberg, Susan Miho Nunes, Marie Branby, Yin, and Eve Bunting, and has garnered praise for the care with which he conveys the emotional lives of his characters. For example, the range of feelings that can be seen on character Peter Chang's face in Soentpiet's illustrations for Nunes's The Last Dragon "light up the book," according to School Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Chang. Together the author and artist convey Peter's initial discouragement at being left in his great-aunt's home for the summer in Chinatown, as well as his growing excitement as he finds an old ten-person dragon in a shop window and sets about enlisting the aid of various Chinatown residents to help repair it. Critics praised Soentpiet's richly detailed watercolor illustrations, which "are warm, colorful, and full of details unique to Chinatown," Leone McDermott concluded in her review of The Last Dragon for Booklist.

Equally well received were Soentpiet's illustrations for Bradby's More than Anything Else, a fictionalized account of the young Booker T. Washington's struggle to learn to read. The artist "makes the most of lantern, candle, and hearth-lit settings," remarked Elizabeth Bush in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "casting deep shadows around the finely individuated features of his characters." Also enthusiastic, Quill & Quire critic Joanne Schott observed that Soentpiet's striking images of lamp-lit characters are reflective of a central theme of Branby's book: that literacy, like light, can illuminate the darkness of the mind.

In Peacebound Trains, Soentpiet's illustrations again reflect the strong emotions of his characters as he depicts the sadness of Sumi, who watches the trains go by her home in South Korea, waiting for her mother to return from a stint in the army. She is comforted by her grandmother, who tells the heartrending story of the train that separated her own husband from his wife and family as he remained behind to defend the family home from the communist invasion of Seoul years before. "The richly colored illustrations are splashed with light, and convey the unfolding drama," remarked Cynthia K. Richey in School Library Journal. Critics praised the unusual combination picture book/chapter book for the information its pictures and text yield about the civil war in Korea as well as the hardships of life during wartime in general.

As Soentpiet's career has continued, so has the list of his illustration credits. Of his work for Liz Rosenberg's picture book The Silence in the Mountains, about a boy named Iskander and his family's flight from their rural home to a new life in America, a Publishers Weekly contributor credited the illustrator for creating the "portraits of lined faces and the sunlit countryside that lend the book its emotional appeal." Hazel Rochman, reviewing Alice McGill's Molly Bannaky, a biography of the woman who would become grandmother to African-American mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, wrote that Soentpiet's "big, richly detailed watercolor narrative paintings" help provide the story's historical context. And in Momma, Where Are You From?, a picture book by Bradby that recalls a woman's memories of growing up in the segregated South, "Soentpiet carries through the mood of a cozy household," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the reviewer going on to note that the illustrator's "close-up portraits convey a radiant joy."

In creating illustrations for books such as Yin's Coolies, as well as Peacebound Trains, Soentpiet does a great deal of library and other research prior to beginning his drawing. For this reason some of his books take up to a year to complete. As he noted on his Web site, "Cultural accuracy is important.… Though Asian communities share similar values and physical features, they have their own cultures, which helps to distinguish their uniqueness." After he finishes his research, he further explained, "I use friends and family as models to play the parts of the main characters." Models will wear costumes the artist creates, as well as makeup that aids Soentpiet in creating the proper emotion and mood. Rather than have his models pose, Soentpiet then takes photographs, and uses these while sketching and painting. In Coolies, which relies heavily on costume to tell the story of the Chinese immigrants that worked to build the railroads and other infrastructure despite the extreme prejudice directed toward them in the United States, Soentpiet draws on his modeling technique to good effect; In Booklist Hazel Rochman praised his "strong, realistic watercolor paintings, in shades of blue and gold," while Margaret A. Change noted in School Library Journal that Soentpiet's "impassioned" illustrations contribute "emotional resonance" to Yin's story about "despised immigrants whose heroism matched the towering mountains of the West."

In addition to working as an illustrator, Soentpiet devotes much of his time to visiting schools, where he encourages budding artists and writers.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Around Town, p. 1457; May 1, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of The Last Dragon, p. 1580; February 1, 1999, John Peters, review of The Silence in the Mountains, p. 982; February 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Momma, Where Are You From?, p. 1117; February 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Coolies, p. 1059; February 15, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of My Brother Martin, p. 1088.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1995, Elizabeth Bush, review of More than Anything Else, p. 47; October, 1996, p. 48.

Horn Book, September-October, 1995, pp. 586-587; March-April, 2003, Mary M. Burns, review of My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 224.

Publishers Weekly, March 7, 1994, p. 70; March 22, 1999, review of The Silence in the Mountains, p. 92; August 2, 1999, review of Molly Bannaky, p. 84; January 31, 2000, review of Where Is Grandpa?, p. 103; December 11, 2000, review of Coolies, p. 85; April 9, 2201, review of Jin Woo, p. 74; December 10, 2001, review of Where Is Grandpa?, p. 73.

Quill & Quire, October, 1995, Joanne Schott, review of More than Anything Else, p. 47.

School Library Journal, May, 1994, Janet M. Bair, review of Around Town,, p. 104; May, 1995, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Last Dragon, p. 93; January, 1997, Cynthia K. Richey, review of Peacebound Trains, p. 75; March, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of Coolies, p. 230; May, 2001, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Jin Woo, p. 112; October, 2002, Maureen Wade, review of Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor, p. 65; February, 2003, Susan Scheps, review of My Brother Martin, p. 129.

ONLINE

Chris Soentpiet Web site, http://www.soentpiet.com (April 2, 2005).

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