An Interview with Kobi Yamada on His New Children’s Book, Trying.

Nov 10, 2020
Kimberly


Think about a talent you’ve developed. Do you remember what it felt like when you first began? The excitement, the frustration, maybe even the self-doubt? The journey from exploring an interest to mastering a new skill is filled with wonderful lessons. But it can include some bumps too.

New York Times best-selling author Kobi Yamada has written a powerful book about the experience of trying something new. Of embracing passions, confronting failures, and discovering new parts of yourself along the way. We asked him to share the inspiration behind his new book, Trying.


How did you come to the title?

Coming to the title Trying was itself a bit of a “trying” experience. When originally creating this book, we wanted to put the focus on failure and the benefits of failing. But as we continued to work on it, we realized that while failure was an important part of the story, it was not the whole story. The real message of the book is about giving your best effort, not giving up, and dealing with setbacks. We love the title because the word “trying” has two meanings. The first meaning is: “annoying, problematic, difficult. Straining one’s patience and will to the limit.” The other meaning is: “attempting to do or accomplish, striving, giving effort.” Both definitions are instructive and instrumental to our story.

How do you hope this book will help people redefine failure in their own lives?

Failure is something that we often try to avoid and with good reason. It’s not pleasant, it can be disappointing, and even painful. But we wanted to help readers to see that failure is a necessary ingredient to getting better. In fact, in many ways, we are able to build life skills and discover qualities in ourselves we may not have found without failing.

Embracing a growth mindset is a theme throughout these pages. How do you hope the book will help readers embrace the full spectrum of their creative process?

Whenever we see someone remarkably talented, or something that is beautiful or masterfully done, what we are really seeing is countless hours of effort, perseverance, tenacity, and overcoming difficulties. And so creativity and artistry are not so much qualities as they are processes and skills, learned through repetition, hard work, and practice. They are cycles of trying, failing, and trying again.

Too many times we measure our own beginning to somebody else’s mastery. When we do this, we not only discount all of the work and dedication it took for that person to master that skill, we also unfairly judge ourselves as inadequate or incompetent. This is just our internal critic talking, and it fuels and amplifies our insecurities. It convinces us that we can’t measure up. In our attempt to avoid failure, we stop taking risks and trying new things, and this prevents us from discovering new facets of our courage and our strength. We wrote this book to highlight the power of a growth mindset. Because it isn’t just about mastering something, it’s about growing and striving and learning all the days of our lives.

How does the black-and-white illustration style support the message of the book? And what did Elise Hurst, the illustrator, bring to the telling of the story?

The black-and-white, monochromatic style of illustrations with selective, minimal use of color is a central part of the storytelling in Trying. It helps to portray the emotion and the struggle in a way that is elevated, gorgeous, and symbolic. Elise brought so much to the storytelling of this book. She highlighted the emotional journey, from disappointment, feeling inadequate, failing, and trying again. She also emphasized the compassion, caring, and support needed to press through challenges, build resiliency, and nurture necessary life skills. It was such a pleasure collaborating and brainstorming with her on how we would visually tell the story.

Elise is a genius and she had so many brilliant ideas about bringing our book to life. She has a remarkable ability to both ground her illustrations in the real world and to lift our imaginations to places we could only dream of. She has developed a rare skill that takes time and an incredible amount of dedication, much like the accomplished character in our book.

Spread

In Trying, the sculptor refers to failures as “friends.” Are there any particular friends that inspired you to write this story, or friends you wish you had made?

I have had many failures in my life, and they didn’t seem friendly or really positive in any way at the time they were happening. In fact, they felt pretty awful. It was only in hindsight, with more perspective and experience, that I was able to see them for what they were. They were important and positive influences on me, even if I had wished they had never happened. They helped me to change my attitude and my orientation about my doubts and fears. In their own way, failures enabled me to embrace the process of trying, facing challenges, falling down, getting back up, pressing on, and learning and growing. And so, I am grateful for them.

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Discover the magic and meaning of mistakes through Trying today.