Q&A with Glenview author Mandy Yom addresses inclusivity
Glenview's Mandy Yom, who shares a birthday with her brother, Don, received a unique present on her eighth birthday.
On Feb. 27, 1980, Yom and her 11-year-old brother and their parents, Youngman and Moonja, emigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea.
"Their thinking was, we're going to give you the gift of education and we're going to go to the land of opportunity," Yom said. "You can do anything in America, is how they viewed it."
Speaking no English and having settled in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, where the few Asian people around were relatives, Yom undertook a long-distance correspondence class with her grandfather, an English professor in South Korea.
Years and many experiences later, that background translated to Yom graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in early childhood education. She then taught English to kindergartners at Elizabeth Meyer School in Skokie for 22 years.
The school had 50 different languages represented, she said, and if she had 20 students in her class there might be 10 different languages spoken among them.
Yom has been married 24 years to Scott and been living the past four years in Glenview after spending 15 in Arlington Heights. She resigned her teaching job in June to spend more time with her son, Myles, and do fun things like play the ukulele and write.
On Sept. 15, 2021, Atmosphere Press published her first book, "Nami's New Friend," for children ages 4-8. Partially autobiographical, it addresses themes of acceptance, belonging, identity and friendship, as well as diversity, representation and feelings about immigration.
This July, "Nami's New Friend" was included among Literary Today magazine's "Best Books." It's on shelves at the Glenview Public Library and available through sellers such as Barnes & Noble, Target and Amazon. The best bet to get Yom's book may be through her website, namazznbooks.com, which she can inscribe.
She donates a portion of sales from her website to immigrant students to purchase school supplies.
It turned out Yom's parents were right 42 years ago. This is a land of opportunity.
"I can't believe I wrote a book," Mandy said. "I'm living a dream."
The following are Yom's email responses to questions, edited for length and clarity.
Q. What inspired you to write a book?
Yom: As a teacher, I saw a need for more inclusive children's books that included diverse people, groups and experiences. I also felt my story would provide valuable insights to what it is like to be a new immigrant child, who was unfamiliar with the culture or language, to attend school for the first time in America.
Q. What parts of your life made it into "Nami's New Friend?"
Yom: About 50% of the details of my life made it into the book, such as my grandparents picking my family up at the airport. However, I would say 90% of the feelings Nami felt throughout the story was true to how I felt.
Q. How did you connect and work with illustrator Joanne Wong?
Yom: I met my illustrator at a children's book writer's workshop that I attended at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania in 2019. I wanted to work with an Asian illustrator who had a similar experience as I did, and she did. She was born in Hong Kong but grew up in the (United Kingdom).
Q. How has the response been?
Yom: I am so incredibly thankful for all the support I've gotten, especially from fellow educators. My book is being used to teach about the themes that were mentioned previously for preschool kids all the way to prospective future teachers in higher education. I've also received positive responses from families who either can relate to my story personally or have learned something from my book.
Q. Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yom: I am working on a couple different projects with diverse characters whose stories also have a different perspective than what we are typically shown in current children's books.