Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Isabella Kung

© Isabella Kung


Oct. 28, 2022

We are excited to feature author-illustrator Isabella Kung and her picture book, NO SNOWBALL! (Orchard Books), out on Nov. 1. Enter to win a copy!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

Hello, my name is Isabella Kung and I’m originally from Hong Kong. I moved here as an exchange student when I was 16 and now reside in San Francisco with my husband and two royal cats! Since I could remember, I’ve always loved drawing and would doodle all over my textbooks, anything to make my concrete world more colorful. 

© Isabella Kung

After years of persuasion, I finally got the support of my parents to study at the Academy of Art University, where I graduated with a BFA in Traditional Illustration. Even as a student, I’ve been drawn to the world of children’s books! I love telling stories through my art, and later through my words as well. I adore using traditional mediums like watercolor and ink, and I have found no other industry that celebrates my passions more fully! In picture books, I can create a whole world, share ideas, stir imaginations and evoke emotions with my words and my illustrations, how amazing is that! Moreover, it is an honor to be able to delight and entertain children, to teach and show them our world, to empathize and tell them they are not alone... By keeping them in my mind as I create, I feel ever the more connected to my inner child too. 

© Isabella Kung

Congrats on your picture book, No Snowball! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.

Thank you! No Snowball! has always been a seedling of an idea, even as I was submitting No Fuzzball! I loved the concept of Queen NoFuzzball encountering her complete opposite – an itty-bitty, clueless, overly enthusiastic, and affectionate white kitten! After that, the nature of their relationship – the classic sibling rivalry and love, just fell into place. It was so fun writing such opposing characters and imagining their interactions. I drew inspiration from my own experiences as the younger sibling who always wanted to be included; as the older cousin who got annoyed at my younger cousins; as the caring babysitter who watched over my host sister and neighborhood kids… and I learned a lot from my own cats' reaction to a foster kitten too! I hope readers can relate to Fuzzball and Snowball’s relationship. And no matter how annoying siblings can be sometimes, they are family, and it’s always better when they are on your side. I hope it encourages reluctant older siblings to take their younger siblings under their paws. And to the younger siblings, I hope they are never discouraged to be themselves.

© Isabella Kung

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

It is all relative, right? To most, it might seem like something in between, though it felt long and winding. Technically, I illustrated my first published book while I was still in college – It paid peanuts and I’m a bit embarrassed but I don’t regret it one bit, I learned a lot about the business side of being an illustrator. When I graduated, I signed with an artist representative agency, Wendy Lynn & Co, which got me work illustrating for small press and educational books/programs. 

© Isabella Kung

Although I was working as a professional illustrator and instructor, I wasn’t fulfilled with the type of projects I was doing. I wanted to work in trade publishing; I wanted to illustrate funny, heartfelt, ridiculous, and creative stories; I wanted to illustrate my own stories too! That’s when the writing bug bit me. I was inspired after attending a few SCBWI conferences and hearing authors/illustrators speak about their journeys! I realized that writing is just another skill – like drawing or painting. As long as I have a good concept and the willingness to work on the craft, I will eventually be able to create a picture book that I’m proud of! So, I took a few writing courses and began my new goal of publishing my own stories! 

When I was ready, I parted ways with my art representatives and started querying literary agents. My first agent was Danielle Smith – a very well-known “smagent” that shocked the children's book industry. I won’t go into detail, but if you are interested you can read all about it in this PW article.

What I initially thought was two years of bad luck, rejections and near-misses turned out to be two years wasted – many lies were told and nobody saw my work. Fortunately, the entire Kid Lit community was incredibly kind and sympathetic to all of us former clients. Many offered support and advice, some even opened their inbox for queries! As shocking as the news was, I was also preparing for an international trip two days later! I knew it would drive me crazy to be unable to take action while traveling, so I shoved all my emotions aside and stayed up all night to send out three queries before I left. One of those queries is to my current amazing agent Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Two months after signing with her, I received two offers for No Fuzzball! I still remember that phone call, it was the most exciting moment of my life!

© Isabella Kung

The more you learn about other’s road-to-publication stories, the more you’ll realize most of us have long and winding journeys. Behind each “overnight success” story are years of hard work, persistence, and a dash of luck. So to those who are struggling right now, hang in there!

As an author-illustrator, do the words or images come first when creating a story? What is your preferred illustrative medium

Depends, I find my process varies with each project. For No Fuzzball!  the character came first. For No Snowball! I started by writing their first interaction together. Regardless of which came first, I tend to start working on both the text and illustrations early –during the storyboard phase. Then I can start playing with the pagination, the rhythm of the story, the story arc and fine-tuning the balance between the text and illustration

As for my preferred medium, that would be watercolor or ink. I love the transparent and luminous quality of the paint, the range of textures, and the unpredictability of medium. Sometimes, the painting process is like taming a wild animal, you have to carefully observe and truly understand its nature in order to manipulate or guide it to create the desired results. Whenever I paint, I can loose myself in the process for hours, enjoying that “flow” state and shutting out the rest of the world.

What projects are you working on now?

I have one story on submission about two twin Koalas who are similar in many ways but are very different at the same time! I hope can find the right publishing home soon! I am also working on my very first near-wordless picture book. This story is very different from what I’ve created before. It is a very emotional and personal story for me too. I was trepidatious at first, doubting why I even want to work on something so out of my comfort zone. But this idea/vision has been revisiting me again and again for the last 4 years, so I feel compelled to create it! Like what Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic, your “muse” will find someone else to tell its story if you ignore it time and time again, so I here I am digging deep and working on it! (Happy now, Muse?)

© Isabella Kung

What advice would you give to an aspiring author-illustrators

First of all, if you have an idea you’ve been mulling over in your head, don’t worry about getting it right, just get it down on paper (or screen). First drafts are always terrible, but once it is out, you can finally play with the story and be able to judge how to take it further. Know that revisions are a key part of the process and don’t be afraid of it! Listen carefully, take notes and take time to process critiques, even if you disagree with it at the time. When you are ready, join SCBWI to learn about more about the industry, network, connect and submit!

© Isabella Kung

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I am a major night owl. Often going to bed around 3-4 am. The quiet of the night is the best time for me to think and to work, especially when I have to paint for long stretches of time without interruptions. It gets worse when I have a tight deadline, sometime I will work till sunrise around 6 am! Not the healthiest schedule but it is sometimes necessary.

Where can people find you online?


Instagram: @isabellakungill

Twitter: @isaberryk 


Isabella Kung is the author and illustrator of NO FUZZBALL! (Scholastic, 2020), about a fuzzy feline Queen that was described as an “expressive, endearing little chunk of well-meaning evil” by Kirkus Reviews. The sequel NO SNOWBALL! (Scholastic, 2022) introduces an adorable interloper to the Queendom! Isabella also illustrated over 120 cats for the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS (Candlewick, 2021). Her illustrations have received accolades from institutions such as the Society of Illustrators, Spectrum Fantasy Art, 3x3, Creative Quarterly, and SCBWI. Outside the world of publishing, Isabella teaches illustration and watercolor classes at Storyteller Academy and Etchr Lab. Isabella resides in San Francisco with her husband and two adorable – you guessed it – cats! She is represented by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary.

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  1. Great interview! Thank you for sharing about your new book. Congratulations!

  2. This book looks so much fun to read and the illustrations are so cute. I enjoyed seeing this artist's range of art and am a fan.

  3. Thanks so much for this interview! I can’t wait to check out ALL of your books, and share them with my cat-loving two-year-old, too!

  4. I love how you kept bitterness out as you relayed your path to publication and thank you for your integrity. Congrats on two adorable books with great themes!

  5. Congrats--I love the illustrations and can't wait to read your book to the cats at the SPCA where I volunteer!

  6. Thank you for sharing the ups and downs of your road to publication. It's encouraging to know that even though you lost two years, you persevered and went on to publish these wonderful works...with more to come.

  7. This looks so fun! I have a lot of readers at my school who love books about animals, so this would be perfect for them.

  8. I love cats! This book looks delightful! Great job on persevering through such difficulties! Congrats and best wishes!

  9. This book looks great! Think my twins would love it! Hope we win.


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