Where did the inspiration for the story come from? Is it based on personal experience?
The initial inspiration for Sombrita came from a true story about a friend’s child. One summer, they accidentally ended up raising a stag beetle and, as a friend of the father, I was there to see the child confront the reality of death for the first time. The child’s calm and collected response made it feel like they had their own way of dealing with it even though they’d never had this experience before.
After we talked it over, I felt that the whole thing had been an interesting experience in itself and I found the delicate emotions at play deeply moving. Some scenes appeared in my mind and I hoped that I could develop them into a picture book. To create the story for Sombrita, I linked the incident with some of my own childhood memories of our family home in the mountains where my brother and I would play games together on the steep terraced fields.
Why did you choose to make the protagonist a stag beetle rather than a cat or a dog, or maybe another animal that humans encounter more often in the modern world?
I envisioned the scenes from the book taking place in the mountains and forests, but most pets today are kept at home which is far from the natural world of plants and external environments that I wanted to portray in the story. I hoped it would feel like leaving the city behind. Thus, I didn’t give much consideration to replacing the stag beetle with another animal. Part of me also hoped that I could encourage children to understand and care about animals other than cats and dogs. However, once the book was published I got some feedback from readers who said that the book reminded them of their own relationships with their dogs or other pets and it made me really happy to hear them share these feelings.
What is the significance of the “dad” character in the story?
After I started creating picture books, I often heard people mention that most of the adult characters in children’s books were mothers, and a lot of fathers really felt that disparity when they were reading books aloud to their children. I didn’t have a set stance on it when I was writing the story and I believed that whether the parent was a mother or a father wouldn’t have an effect on the development of the plot. Given the vast number of picture books in the world, I thought perhaps it would be good to give fathers a chance to see themselves in a picture book as they read it aloud.
Which is your favorite illustration in the book?
Personally, I really like the page where the young protagonist is surrounded by various plants, insects and butterflies. It was a deep memory from childhood when I was very young and instantly felt the atmospheric rhythm of nature, the tranquillity felt wonderous to me as a child from the city and I tried to capture this feeling in the illustration.
When I was playing tag in the mountain field terraces that had been left to lie fallow, I noticed all sorts of creatures and sometimes I came across tadpoles or strange insects in the small pools of water. I remember one time just as I was about to jump over a ridge between the fields, I discovered a fat green caterpillar happily munching away on some leaves about ten centimetres in front of me. I had no choice but to hold onto that fear and it was only after I leapt steadily over the ridge that the feeling started to ferment within me.
- Lee Jo-Shin: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=361
- Sombrita: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=374