Author Profile: Anne Sibley O’Brien

Author/Illustrator of A Path of Stars

122832435“As the population of Greater Portland grows more and more diverse, all of us who share this city are being given an extraordinary opportunity: to actually contribute to creating the kind of community we want to become. My dream is that this project will challenge us to stretch and grow as we explore our commonalities and differences; to discover ourselves in each other; and  to make room for all of us to live together as true neighbors.” –Anne Sibley O’Brien

Anne Sibley O’Brien has been indispensable in her role as the Community Adviser for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland and co-creator of “I’m Your Neighbor Books.” Her children’s picture book A Path of Stars, which she is both the author and illustrator, has been honored by the Asian Pacific American Association and was named a 2013 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the illustrator of another I’m Your Neighbor, Portland featured title, Moon Watchers written by Reza Jalali. A Path of Stars tells the story of a Cambodian American girl who helps her grandmother Lok Yeay find peace and happiness after receiving tragic news that brings back memories of fleeing Cambodia as a refugee.

VISIT Anne Sibley O’Brien’s blog “Coloring Between the Lines” for reflections on race, culture and children’s books

JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on August 10th to celebrate this title

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

Anne teaching students how to draw a lotus flower, an important symbol in Cambodian culture, at Canal School in Westbrook, ME

On Writing A Path of Stars

When approached by the Maine Humanities Council for the New Mainers Book Project, Anne Sibley O’Brien remembers writing in her journal, “Who am I to undertake this, to presume the ability to know, to understand, to represent?” While O’Brien’s background of growing up in Korea gave her a connection to Asia, she “knew that my own experiences and perspective weren’t sufficient to tell an authentic Cambodian-American story.” Instead she hoped that by immersing herself and being on the receiving end of the Cambodian American experience, a story would come through her.

O’Brien read many books of Cambodian survival stories, including First They Killed My Father, A Blessing Over Ashes, Children of the Cambodian Killing Fields, and Bamboo and Butterflies. Much of her research also came from her friends, Veasna and Peng Kem, who related their personal stories and experiences in Cambodia and their escape during the war. She gathered research about the effects of trauma with a specialist in torture and genocide and learned how it was often the third generation who “begins to dig” and tries to revive the memories suppressed by the the first generation. With this information, O’Brien began to find the bone structure of A Path of Stars.

For the illustrations, Anne studied reference photos, most notably Kari René Hall’s photo essay, Beyond the Killing Fields, for Cambodian faces. She also watched Cambodian dance and listened to Cambodian music. She noticed that gold was a reoccurring color in Cambodian culture; from the dance costumes to the statues to Cambodia’s environment, which led to her decision to do gold underpainting. She also noticed rounded qualities and an undulating line in Cambodian culture such as in the written language, Khmer, art and the dance moves and tried to incorporate this aspect in her illustrations.

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