Interview with Author/Illustrator Yuko Green


Yuko-greenPick up any pop­u­lar chil­dren’s book in Hawai’i, and chances are that it is illus­trat­ed by Yuko Green. The award-win­ning author/illustrator of dozens of chil­dren’s pic­ture and activ­i­ty books, Yuko’s mixed-media art­work is unmis­tak­able with its vibrant col­ors and delight­ful sub­jects that chil­dren love. Her work cel­e­brates the peo­ple, nature, and tra­di­tions of our islands.

We are so pleased to talk sto­ry with Yuko today.

Alo­ha, Yuko, and wel­come! For those who havenʻt met you yet, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Alo­ha mai kāk­ou! I am an illus­tra­tor and author of children’s books, liv­ing on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. I am grate­ful to have had oppor­tu­ni­ties to illus­trate and/or writ­ten more than forty children’s books and many chil­drenʻs activ­i­ty books, with Hawai­ian themes since 1989. I am also an art teacher for children.

I moved to Hawaiʻi from Japan in 1987. I have lived in Hawaiʻi more than 35 years, so I call Hawaiʻi my home now and like to call myself kamaʻāina 🙂

Your art is so expres­sive and col­or­ful. If you had to choose a favorite project, which would it be and why?

Maha­lo for your kind words!

I love to cre­ate illus­tra­tion with an array of col­ors I see every­day in Hawaiʻi, and these vibrant and mul­ti­col­ored illus­tra­tion has become my sig­na­ture style. For my art, I use water­col­or, col­lage, and dig­i­tal mixed media to cre­ate illus­tra­tions. Work­ing with tex­tu­al mixed media (tra­di­tion­al­ly or dig­i­tal­ly) adds visu­al inter­est to my illus­tra­tions, so mixed media col­lage is my favorite tech­nique I use at this moment, and I have been using this tech­nique for most of my recent books, includ­ing my lat­est children’s book Tūtū’s Secret writ­ten by Glo­ria Itman Blum.

I was illus­trat­ing this book when our first grand­daugh­ter was born, and since this sto­ry was about the rela­tion­ship between tūtū and grand­daugh­ter, the sto­ry res­onat­ed with me. This book also allowed me to grow as an illus­tra­tor, learn­ing to add the details dig­i­tal­ly to my large forms of col­lage and find­ing the bal­ance of those two ele­ments. So this book turned out to be my favorite project.

Illus­tra­tion @ Yuko Green from Tūtūʻs Secret by Glo­ria Itman Blum (Island Her­itage, 2023)

What was the jour­ney like to becom­ing an artist? Did you always knew you could cre­ate art?

As long as I remem­ber, my dream was to illus­trate chil­dren’s books, from my young age. That dream came true when God brought me to Hawaiʻi. In my ear­ly career, I was giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to illus­trate a text­book by Bess Press in 1989 and illus­trat­ed and designed many island prod­ucts by Island Her­itage Pub­lish­ers. I also illus­trat­ed many cul­tur­al paper dolls for mag­a­zines and a pub­lish­er on the con­ti­nent, Dover Pub­li­ca­tions, for about ten years.

Then from around 1996 through 2000, I illus­trat­ed a series of Hawai­ian theme edu­ca­tion­al col­or­ing books, includ­ing Hawai­ian Plants and Ani­mals and Exot­ic Flow­ers for artists (76 pages), for Dover. To accom­plish the task, I did inten­sive research and study, and that knowl­edge became my foun­da­tion for illus­trat­ing Hawai­ian chil­drenʻs books. I give thanks to God how He has guid­ed my illus­trat­ing career, which I have nev­er dreamed I’d have when I first land­ed on the Big Island.

I also can­not thank enough for the rela­tion­ship I have with Island Her­itage since my first encounter in 1993 design­ing island prod­ucts and my first book in 1997. I illus­trat­ed many chil­drenʻs books, board books, paper doll books, and col­or­ing and activ­i­ty books, and we con­tin­ue to work to cre­ate for island kei­ki to this day. One of the longest sell­ing books I illus­trat­ed with them, Humu: The Lit­tle Fish Who Wished Away His Col­ors, is 23 years old now! The author Kim­ber­ly A. Jack­son and I are still good friend, and we are learn­ing ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi, Hawai­ian lan­guage, togeth­er now.

What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art? 

When I see kei­ki read­ing my books in the library or oth­er pub­lic places, or when moms of my art class stu­dents tells me they used to read my books when they were young, I feel so hum­bled and grate­ful, and feel reward­ed for my hard work.

Illus­tra­tion @ Yuko Green from A Song for the Col­ors and Flow­ers of Hawaiʻi by Kawaika­puokalani Hewett (Island Her­itage, 2019)

Who would you say are your biggest supporters?

My fam­i­ly. My two daugh­ters have seen their mom illus­trat­ing chil­dren’s books from their young age, and have been my best crit­ics, giv­ing me hon­est and valu­able feedback.

My hus­band, Stephen, has always been there for me in every way to encour­age me and sup­port me, whether to assist me to decide on the career path or to decide between this col­or or that col­or for the keik­i’s dress on a page. He was born and raised in Hawaiʻi, with knowl­edge and love for Hawaiʻi’s nature and cul­ture, that has giv­en me tremen­dous insight to all aspects of island themes. He always believe in me, even when I lose con­fi­dence, and so I know his faith in me made me to be the artist I am today.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

Being a Japan­ese native, I have always want­ed to work for Japan­ese pub­lish­ers one day. Since 2017, I have illus­trat­ed two col­or­ing books for a Japan­ese Chris­t­ian pub­lish­er, Olives Press, and cur­rent­ly am work­ing on the third one.

I am also work­ing on the 5th col­or­ing book with a local orga­ni­za­tion, Kei­ki Heroes, on local kei­ki char­ac­ters I devel­oped with com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers when COVID start­ed. This project led me to work with sev­er­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions in Hawaiʻi to help and edu­cate kei­ki on var­i­ous issues. I am very grate­ful that I can help these caus­es through my art. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

As much as I love cre­at­ing and illus­trat­ing books, I enjoy hav­ing real rela­tion­ships with my young read­ers. So my hopes and dreams for the year to come is to devel­op rela­tion­ships in my com­mu­ni­ty and on the Big Island, and in Hawaiʻi at large, to reach out and doing art with chil­dren. My on-going goal is to do more kei­ki art work­shops and teach art in the classroom.

I also have this dream of cre­at­ing a book illus­trat­ed with chil­dren’s art, and it looks like it will hap­pen soon thanks to a work­shop I offered on “Col­or­ing Book Cre­ation” for ages 13–18 at East Hawaiʻi Cul­tur­al Cen­ter in Hilo. The work­shop theme is “Māla­ma ʻāi­na”, about endan­gered ani­mals and plants of Hawaiʻi and how kids can help to pro­tect them. 

Illus­tra­tion @ Yuoko Green from Honu, Honu, Where are You? by Tam­my Paikai (Island Her­itage, 2016)

Where do you get your inspirations?

Hawaiʻi’s rich and diverse cul­ture, his­to­ry and nature have become my pri­ma­ry sub­ject and inspi­ra­tion for cre­at­ing my chil­dren’s books. Over the years, my alo­ha for the ʻāi­na has grown deeply in me and is reflect­ed in my books for kei­ki, whether in vivid sto­ries of tra­di­tions of Hawaiʻi or illus­tra­tions fea­tur­ing many native plants and animals.

In addi­tion to books, what oth­er kinds of art do you do?

Besides illus­trat­ing and writ­ing children’s books, I am also an art edu­ca­tor. Cur­rent­ly, I enjoy teach­ing in the K‑5 art pro­gram at Waimea Ele­men­tary School. Teach­ing young chil­dren is my oth­er pas­sion, and I feel so grate­ful that I can share our beau­ti­ful world through art with them.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing illustrator?

Besides improv­ing your artis­tic skills, know­ing who you are can help you nav­i­gate your illus­trat­ing career. For exam­ple, when I just start­ed, I con­cen­trat­ed on cre­at­ing my paper doll books. It’s such a niche mar­ket, but it was a good deci­sion for me to focus on that niche because I real­ly enjoyed doing it and not many peo­ple was doing it at the time. Over time, my illus­tra­tion skills improved because I was cre­at­ing lots of art.

Anoth­er advice is to start local­ly instead of tar­get­ing big mar­kets and com­pet­ing with a large group of artists. When you start local­ly, such as on local mag­a­zines, newslet­ters, and busi­ness­es, you start to devel­op your style. You also learn about the illus­trat­ing busi­ness as you hone your skills. You become more expe­ri­enced, and your port­fo­lio grows.

Are you active on social media? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say?

My web­site is, and my Instra­gram account is I also always appre­ci­ate hear­ing from my read­ers. I have received such nice mes­sages from teach­ers, par­ents, and grand­par­ents. I read and respond to all of them, even just to say hello. 🙂

Maha­lo, Yuko, for talk­ing sto­ry with us! We wish you all the suc­cess in the world! To learn more about Yuko Green and her books, please vis­it her web­site or at Insta­gram

Images cour­tesy of Yuko Green.