Chieri Uegaki - Author
Chieri Uegaki is a second-generation Japanese-Canadian who was born in Quesnel, British Columbia. By the age of one, she and her parents had moved to East Vancouver, where she and her two sisters grew up.
Chieri attended Sir John Franklin Elementary School. Initially, she had to take English as a Second Language classes as she spoke mostly Japanese at home. An excellent ESL teacher and an inherited love of books helped develop Chieri's skills quickly, and language arts became one of her favorite subjects.
Chieri then went to Templeton Senior Secondary. As she neared graduation, she was thrilled to discover that the University of British Columbia offered a degree in Creative Writing. She submitted a portfolio of writing samples and was accepted into the program.
Chieri's first picture book, Suki's Kimono, was a result of losing two children's writing competitions. She took a story she'd written at UBC almost a decade earlier, rewrote it as a picture book and submitted it. After being shortlisted in that first competition, Chieri honed the story even more and entered a second competition.
Again, Suki's Kimono did not win. And, again, the story was shortlisted. But this time, the shortlisted titles were passed on to several Canadian publishers. Two publishers requested a copy of Chieri's manuscript, and Kids Can Press came back with an offer to publish.
Suki's Kimono, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch, was released in 2003. Chieri enjoyed working on the picture book so much that she decided to continue writing for children.
Rosie and Buttercup was published by Kids Can Press in 2008. Chieri has also written stories for Chirp and chickaDEE magazines as well as for Pearson Education.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin is Chieri's third picture book.
Chieri lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband and two dogs, Nika and Rosie.
Quesnel, British Columbia
3) Where do you live now?
I live on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia in a house that my husband renovated a few years ago. We have moved ten or twelve times in the fifteen years we've lived here, and I think we'll probably move a few times more.
4) Do you have any pets?
We have two lovely dogs named Nika and Rosie. Both dogs are rescues from Washington State. Nika is the more serious older dog and Rosie is the happy-go-lucky kid sister.
5) What is your favorite book?
I have a changing list of books I love, but consistently, I'd have to say my favorite children's books are Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess. My mom bought me these two books when I was eleven years old to take on a summer trip to Japan. I can remember being in the bookstore in the mall, standing in front of the children's book section and my mom pulling these two titles off the shelf, telling me how much she loved these stories as a girl. I read those books over and over that summer to the point where I pretty much had them memorized. I reread them every year or two.
6) What are your hobbies?
I enjoy baking and cooking, mostly because I like to eat well, and I have recently started collecting vintage kitchenalia. I also go through phases of taking photos, making crafts and repainting or repurposing thrift store finds. I also like to watch movies and, of course, I love to read. If I had endless free time, I would like to grow vegetables in my weedy garden patch, learn to play an instrument and train our dogs.
7) When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was about seven. My dad had a small photocopier or mimeograph-type machine for some reason, and so there was this supply of 11 x 17 paper lying around. I used to take a few sheets and write up my own front page for a family newspaper I called the Pender Street Times (we lived on East Pender Street in Vancouver at the time).
8) What was your schooling or training?
I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and I've taken several writing courses at Simon Fraser University's downtown Vancouver campus.
9) How did you get involved with children's books?
Children's Literature was one of the genres I concentrated on at UBC and I really enjoyed writing for children but never seriously considered taking it beyond the classroom. Then one day many, many, many years after graduating, I was looking for some way to get back into writing. I always work better with a deadline, so when I saw an ad for a children's writing contest, I decided to rework an old story I'd written back in my UBC days as a picture book manuscript and entered it. My story didn't win, but it was shortlisted, so that gave me the confidence to enter it into another competition. I had no expectations but was thrilled when the story, Suki's Kimono, was shortlisted again. This led to my work being read by Kids Can Press, and they liked it enough to publish it.
10) What is the thing that you like the most about creating children's books?
I know how important books were to me as a child, and I still love reading picture books, so to be able to write something that could possibly become a child's favorite story is very inspiring and incredibly fun. I also love that picture books have pictures! I have my own vision of what things look like while I write, but it's always exciting to see how the illustrator interprets the text, and getting to see the artwork for the first time is like opening a present.
11) How do you research your stories?
I talk to kids and to parents. I read books or articles on specific topics I'm interested in and also do lots of research on the internet. The stuff I learn may not make it into the final text, but it informs it.
12) Do you have any tips for young creators?
Listen more than you speak. Read everything and take notes.
13) What is your favorite childhood memory?
It's hard to narrow things down to one favorite memory. I was lucky enough to have had a very pleasant childhood. Probably the greatest thing I can look back on with gratitude is the amount of freedom I had in terms of where or how I played.
I can remember the summers in East Vancouver where I grew up, playing in our yard, the neighbors' yards, in alleys, even in the blackberry bramble-covered lot down the block, for hours, without any noticeable supervision. There were a lot of kids in our neighborhood and we were always running around, playing games and make-believe and creating our own adventures.
I also remember making a lot of ornate mud pies and trying to sell them to my sisters.
14) What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had? It's not listed on my resume, but when I was in the first grade, I was chosen, along with many other students, to participate in the filming of a movie scene being shot at my school. I was directed to take a cup of milk from the counter and walk back to my desk. This scene turned out to be part of the ending in the movie The Food of the Gods that actually played in theaters. I got paid twenty dollars.