Salina Yoon is an award-winning bestselling children’s book author/illustrator who lives right here in our backyard. From her home office in San Elijo Hills, she has written nearly 200 books for children, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Her newly released book, BE A FRIEND, carries the perfect heart-warming message for February as we focus on the value of friendship. We just had to SHARE it with you.
BE A FRIEND is about a boy who is a mime. Dennis doesn’t speak a word and he loves to express himself with this unique art form, always wearing his black and white striped shirt and top hat. While the other kids laugh and play, Dennis is off playing in his own silent world.
As you read the story, you see these red dashed lines that Salina uses in the artwork to illustrate all that Dennis is creating in his mind and trying to convey. And while Dennis loves expressing himself in his own unique way, he definitely feels “different” and lonely. Just as mimes often perform as though there is an invisible wall between them and the audience, for Dennis this disconnection feels very real.
“I think everyone can identify with feeling different for one reason or another. I use the mime character as a metaphor for the uniqueness in all of us,” Salina shares.
Salina vividly remembers what it was like when her family emigrated to the United States from Korea when she was just four years old. She started kindergarten not knowing a word of English and even at that young age, she was embarrassed and didn’t feel like she fit in. So, like her main character, Dennis, Salina stayed quiet most of the time.
Luckily, Dennis isn’t alone for long. He finds Joy. Joy is the second character in this book and they become fast friends. Joy accepts Dennis as he is – where he is – which Salina thinks is an important part of friendship. Friendship changes you, but it doesn’t change who you are. Dennis is still a mime. He doesn’t change who he is to make a friend. Instead, he becomes more of himself and his heart grows.
BE A FRIEND is a wonderful story that celebrates the differences in all of us and the importance of friendship. Salina remembers when she made her first real friend in first grade and how much that changed her life by allowing her to be herself. Instead of flying under the radar and keeping silent at school, her true personality emerged. That’s what friendship does for you.
“My hope for this book is to encourage readers (both children and adults) to embrace their uniqueness no matter how different they feel, and to keep their heads up. If your head is down, you might never see the friend that’s reaching out. Look up. And be a friend.”
What a great message for us as a community. “Look up. And be a friend.” Sometimes we are so absorbed in our own lives or we allow ourselves to become disconnected because we just don’t fit in. Instead, if we just reach out and make friends, it is these very connections that build a stronger community and allow us to express ourselves more fully.
Salina and her husband, Chris Polentz, moved into San Elijo Hills just two weeks after their wedding in 2001. As you can imagine, together they have watched the community grow and evolve over the years. Their family life has also evolved right along with it as they now have two sons who are busy and active in the community through school and sports. They have seen first-hand how living in a community demonstrates the value of friendship – reaching out and getting to know the people around you.
BE A FRIEND is a great way to start a conversation about friendship at your house. How to be a friend doesn’t come naturally for most. It is something we have to learn. And, there is no better place to practice it than where you are right at this moment.
Sometimes we are Dennis and sometimes we are Joy. The important thing is to “Look up. And, be a friend.”
Congratulations on the new book Salina!
Salina Yoon is an award-winning bestselling author/illustrator of nearly 200 books for children, both in the U.S. and abroad, including the beloved Penguin picture book series, as well as FOUND, STORMY NIGHT, and the newly released BE A FRIEND, published by Bloomsbury. You can grab a copy of BE A FRIEND at B&N Bookstores or B&N online and Amazon. You can also connect with Salina on Twitter: @salinayoon.