Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando
Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan
On March 7, 2021, SCBWI Japan welcomed, via Zoom, Andrea Wang and Kana Urbanowicz to share with our members their experiences of writing and illustrating the award winning, non-fiction picture book Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (2019).
Andrea began by telling us how the book had started with her initial quest to find out who had invented instant ramen—that universal convenience food her kids love so much. Her extensive research revealed not just the who, Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor, but the when, the how, and the why. The why, as Andrea noted, provided the emotional core of the story. Discovering the emotional core, she acknowledged, can help transform a non-fiction manuscript from textbook style into picture book style.
Andrea gathered biographical data on Ando as well as general information about the historical period and she urged us not to be afraid to ask everybody and anybody for resources and information. Authenticity with non-fiction is essential, and Andrea was careful to include only verifiable facts and recorded dialogue in her text.
When little bee books won the right to publish the book, Andrea stipulated that she wanted an American-Japanese or Japanese illustrator to do the artwork. She felt strongly “about having an illustrator who could portray that postwar setting with accuracy and sensitivity.” Her publishers agreed, and they found Japan-based freelance illustrator Kana Urbanowicz. Kana revealed that she came to the attention of the publishers because of a popular short-loop animation she had posted on her social media. She heartily encouraged the illustrators in our group to use social media to promote their work.
Like Andrea, Kana researched Ando’s life, and made frequent visits to the nearby Cup Noodles Museum, one dedicated to Ando’s life and work. She took photos and made sketches of the reproductions of Ando’s workplace and collected period related maps and photographs to ensure accuracy. When Andrea saw Kana’s initial illustrations, she knew immediately that Kana was the right illustrator for the book.
Kana commented on how Andrea’s manuscript influenced illustration layout, that it had “good tempo, speed and repetition, and I wanted to represent that in the pictures.” She also wanted to reflect the themes of ingenuity, perseverance and compassion Andrea had used to structure the story, not only within the main illustrations, but also in the endpapers.
When the meeting opened up to general questions, Andrea and Kana were given the opportunity to ask each other questions first, as this was, coincidentally, the first time they had ‘met.’ While Kana does not speak English, and Andrea does not speak Japanese, with the help of Kana’s artist husband, Mateusz Urbanowicz, plus translation skills of Naomi Kojima and Mariko Nagai (both of our regional advisory team), the conversation between Andrea, Kana and participants went smoothly.
There were plenty of questions, and evident throughout the session was how much Andrea and Kana had enjoyed, not only the project itself, but discovering new information about Ando and his instant ramen. Andrea commented on how important it is to work on something you’re passionate about, since a picture book can take a significant amount of time from initial idea to finished book—in this case about five years.
When our meeting ended, I was both inspired and a little hungry. It was a real treat to learn about Andrea and Kana’s work. Visit their websites to learn more about past, current, and future projects: Andrea Wang and Kana Urbanowicz .
Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.
For a second helping of reflection on this event, tuck into Exploring a Picture Book by Momofuku Ando by Andrew Wong on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group Blog.