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Benson Shum - Anzu the Great Kaiju and Anzu the Great Listener

Benson Shum shares ANZU THE GREAT KAIJU, a story about a kaiju with an unconventional gift, and it’s sequel, ANZU THE GREAT LISTENER, which asks us to consider how not all acts of kindness are perceived as intended.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Anzu the Great Kaiju by Benson Shum

Page Length: 40 pages

Ages 4 to 8


All great Kaiju are born with a super power to strike fear in the heart of the city. But Anzu is different.


Instead of mayhem, he likes May flowers. Instead of striking fear, he prefers to be sincere.


Can Anzu find a way to make his family proud and stay true to his kind self?


From Disney animator and illustrator Bensom Shum comes an adorable and heartwarming picture book about making your own way and the unexpected power of gentleness.



Anzu the Great Listener by Benson Shum

Page Length: 40 pages

Ages 4 to 8


Anzu the kaiju loves to tend to his bonsai.


Whenever he feels overwhelmed or unsettled, it helps him pause and reminds him to just . . . breathe.


One day, when Anzu hears crying in the distance, he's eager to help! The flower-power that makes his bonsai bloom has a way of making others smile.


But when Anzu's flowers seem to lose their power, hurting more than they help, he's not sure where to turn--until he remembers some valuable lessons he learned from his bonsai tree.


In Anzu the Great Listener, creator and Walt Disney Studios animator Benson Shum illustrates the importance of patience, empathy, and above all, taking the time to listen.



NOTABLE QUOTES

ADDITIONAL LINKS

TALK ABOUT THE EPISODE

CREDITS

AFFILATE LINK DISCLAIMER


Listen along:


FULL TRANSCRIPT:


[1:03] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. I also LOVE giant monsters. Godzilla? YES! King Kong? Bring it! Basically any oversized video game boss? I’m there for it. And in the books we’re talking about today, the giant creature is the star of the story!


This is a podcast all about exploring big ideas in children’s books and the way that stories can help us feel seen, understood, and valued.


Helping me out on today’s episode is Julia.


Julia: Hi! My name is Julia. I’m 7 years old and I’m from Maryland.


Today on the Children’s Book Podcast, Benson Shum is a children’s book author and illustrator. He’s also an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, working on films including Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Frozen 2, and Encanto.


Benson lives in sunny, southern California.


Matthew: Anzu the Great Kaiju by Benson Shum

All great Kaiju are born with a super power to strike fear in the heart of the city. But Anzu is different.


Instead of mayhem, he likes May flowers. Instead of striking fear, he prefers to be sincere.


Can Anzu find a way to make his family proud and stay true to his kind self?


From Disney animator and illustrator Bensom Shum comes an adorable and heartwarming picture book about making your own way and the unexpected power of gentleness.



[2:58] Meet Our Guest: Benson Shum


Benson: Hi. My name is Benson Shum. I'm an author and illustrator. And I'm also an animator at Disney as well. And my books are Anzu the Great Kaiju and Anzu the Great Listener.


Thank you so much for having me here.


Matthew: Listeners, we are talking about one character and two books today. Alright!

But first, we’d better start at the basics. Have any of you heard the word “kaiju” used before?


Jules, you’ve read these books with me. What is a kaiju?


Julia: A Kaiju is a big monster. Like, let’s say it’s as big as a dinosaur.


Matthew: Woah! Do they have any special powers?


Julia: Yes. They can have different powers.


Matthew: Like what?


Julia: Like, maybe a water power.


Matthew: Oh cool!


Matthew: Ooo! Love that description! Let’s hear how Benson describes a kaiju.


Benson: So a kaiju is a Japanese term for giant monsters. So an example of a kaiju would be Godzilla or even King Kong, actually. Through my research I realized that King Kong was a kaiju. So that's a, that's a really cool surprise.

So, essentially, anything that's giant monsters.


Matthew: Did you ever play Super Mario 3D World? In their expansion pack, Benson, it's called Bowser's Fury, and Bowser gets a superpower where he turns into a kaiju, a giant cat Bowser that just wrecks havoc on everything.


Wonderful connection. But, uh…


Benson: Oh, that's pretty cool.


Matthew: When I was talking to, when I was talking to my daughter, it was, “What's a kaiju?” We talked about monsters, and I immediately was like, “Oh yeah! You play this game. That's, that's what that is!”

Benson: Yeah. That's cool.



[4:37] Subverting Expectations


Matthew: I love a good story about subverting expectations. Have you heard that phrase before? “Subverting expectations”. It means not doing things how others might expect you to do it. It means the readers or viewers expect one thing, but are given something different instead. And it’s a technique that can be really satisfying if done well.


Benson does it really well. But I was curious why he turned his attention to kaiju in the first place.


Benson: What inspired the kaiju was that I always kind of like fascinated by monsters, towering over cities and buildings, and causing all this destruction and just the allure and fantastical element of them.


Power Rangers was a really big show that I watched as a kid, you know? And there's all these, you know… They transform these robots or even these big monsters that aliens in fighting. And I just love that, that side of things.


But then I was also thinking as I was writing this book or starting to create this book, like what is going through their minds? Like, do they all want to destroy everything? Like, you know, I wanna, I kind of wanna peer into their heads and their thoughts. Like, are they enjoying destroying things? Like are they being told to do this? And try to get into their minds that way? And that's kind of how I thought about, well… What if not all of kaijus want to destroy? What if they wanna bring joy or kindness? What would that look like in their world?



[6:04] What Kind of Reader Did You Have In Mind?


Matthew: Lots and lots of readers love stories involving monsters. I am certainly one of those kinds of readers. Maybe you are, too? Do you have a favorite movie monster? Or video game kaiju? Or story creature?


When Benson created Anzu, he wasn’t just thinking about creating a kaiju. He was thinking about the personal connections you, the reader, would make with this kaiju.


Benson: I think I was kind of writing for... It was kind of, I think, for in some ways, all ages. I feel like, um, because we talk in the book, we talk about empathy and caring and listening and patience, and I feel like whether you're a kid or adults like us, um, we sometimes need a reminder that we need to just take a pause and take the time to just listen to one another, instead of, you know…


I think naturally you wanna help people, you know, when they're in need or distress or something, and that's a natural thing. Um, and we will do whatever we can to, to get them to that state where they're happy again, as fast as possible. But sometimes it's, I think it's a nice reminder to kind of just listen, you know, and that silence between the two or whoever, um, can make all the difference.


And, and while I was writing that, I was trying to stay in that mindset and give. to, to a friend or to a family member or to, you know, a guardian of some sort. So that was kind of where my mind was at while I was, while I was writing.



[7:39] Ben and Anzu, Anzu and Ben


Matthew: If I can just have an aside, I'm sure you go through this too, but thinking about, you wrote this one book, I wonder how you're going to take that and what the treatment is gonna look like for this second book. And I just truthfully had no idea where you were gonna go with it. I didn't read any synopsis, I didn't read anything. I just, I, I did what I like to do, which is just pick up the book and read. Mm-hmm. . Um, and the two books to me really have such different focuses or dynamics, but to me, they also really recognize the complexity of a kid that we really contain.


All these other big things going on. Can I, can I, Fill the shoes of this person. Can I help this person or be a good listener? There's, there's so many different things that can be explored and I I love that you're doing it with Enzo. Um, you, you explore, as I was saying, an Enzo, finding your own voice and celebrating what makes you, you, um, which is hard when you've got grownups around you that, that you look up to or that. You wanna be like this or like that. It's hard to sort of walk your own path. I wonder in what ways, as you were creating Zu to begin with, what ways you, Ben Shimel similar to Zu or, or what ways you are different?


Maybe you were creating a character that was this ideal for yourself, completely different from, I have no idea, but I, I wonder what, how, what, what you share with your character.


Benson: Yeah. Thank you for that. Yes. I think, um, yeah, I do have hope to have some bit of Anzu, um, when I was writing this story because I think. growing up for me, I, you know, I've always wanted to be an artist, right?


And, um, the fam my family was like, oh, you know, you should go into accounting and, and you know, whether it's, or sciences and stuff like that.


And, and even though I like those things, art was really a big, being creative was really big part of me. Um, and. . And I think as I got a little older and I wanted to pursue that as a career, um, they were supportive, but they were more like, well, you can do this and then maybe you can do this later.


You know? And, and it wasn't until I actually published my first book where my family actually finally understood what I did, even though I was working in animation for like 15-20 years. They saw the movies I worked on, but they still didn't quite click until they saw a book and they were at one of my events and the kids were reacting to it and, and parents were reacting to it.


And that's when they're like, “Oh, I get it.” And, and I feel like with, with Zu it was like, I think sometimes we can say this is what we wanna do, but when we actually do it and they see it, I think that's when they might sort of see how you view things, you know? So, and it's just kind of, you know, we wanna make people happy.


Like, you know, growing up I wanna make my family proud as well. Um, but as, as I get older, I think even kids kind of like when they find something that's individual to them, making them happy would actually make people around them just as happy,


Matthew: You do this really clever thing in your character development in both books, which is that Anzu's parents, at surface value.


They have destructive powers. Um, grandma has a destructive power, can light things on fire. We can uh, you know, move the earth, move these rocks. We can have lightning come and Anzu it would seem, has this sort of pacifist power, flowers, plants. The way you present Anzu, it's almost hard to imagine that you could, will.


That power in a menacing way. Of course you could. Absolutely. You could. And I love that in this second book, that's exactly what you explore. That the thing that, that you may feel is, is something that can help others, can actually cause a lot of destruction. And also the monster, the that that village in the second book was missing.

You can imagine, could have been a terrible monster with the power of flooding and could destroy everything. But those villagers said no, that that brought us, that that helped the plants grow, and that helped us and, and, and provided for us in those ways. And I think that looking at the duality of, of our impact on others is something that truly I deeply admire in your work here, Benson. It really is something, thank you. That to me, makes these books last and last. I really have continued to think about them ever since I first read them. .


Benson: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.


[12:39] Anzu the Great Listener


Anzu the Great Listener by Benson Shum

Anzu the kaiju loves to tend to his bonsai.


Whenever he feels overwhelmed or unsettled, it helps him pause and reminds him to just . . . breathe.


One day, when Anzu hears crying in the distance, he's eager to help! The flower-power that makes his bonsai bloom has a way of making others smile.


But when Anzu's flowers seem to lose their power, hurting more than they help, he's not sure where to turn--until he remembers some valuable lessons he learned from his bonsai tree.


In Anzu the Great Listener, creator and Walt Disney Studios animator Benson Shum illustrates the importance of patience, empathy, and above all, taking the time to listen.



[13:41 ] Being a Great Listener


Matthew: I have no doubt that you have talked in school about being a good listener. Whether you’re one of our youngest listeners, or you are starting double-digit birthdays, or even if you’re a grownup listening with us.


Being a good listener is a tough skill that you’ll work on your whole life. But it’s also one of the most important skills for any of us to work on. Being a good listener shows that you care about what the person across from you is saying. It’s a connection. It’s a way to value and honor the person in front of you.

Julia, you’re in 2nd grade. I’m sure you’ve talked lots about being a good listener. What does it look like to be a good listener?


Julia: Being a good listener is you follow the directions. You listen to your teacher and your friends. And you do whatever your teacher says.


Matthew: Oh, I love that. Nicely said. Thanks for sharing those real examples.


Benson, what does being a good listener look like to you?


Benson: I think being a good listener is taking that time to kind of, like, really listen to like listen to someone, cuz like, uh, I think we all listen in different ways.

Um, and, um, I think just kind of letting the person finish what they're saying is an act of listening, you know? And then you can kind of jump in and be like, oh, you know, and respond to it. Um, and maybe not trying to solve a problem if they have a problem and just kind of let them speak what they're saying. And then, you know, if they ask for help, then maybe you can jump in and have a suggestion. I think that's, that's, um, an act of, uh, listening as well.


And sometimes even just sitting together and not saying anything, you know, after the person has said something, um, and just kind of, you know, it get, it can get uncomfortable, you know, when there's silence. But I think the other person that it's wanting to be listened to wanting to be heard is, I think that's a big thing. And it's just being present, is being a great listener.



[15:53] Book Extras


Matthew: I’m about to ask Benson to share his message with all of you, but first, Benson had some really fun book-related things to share if you find a copy of his Anzu books in a bookstore, your library, or if someone shares them with you.


Benson: In the book actually. We, if you open the book, you know, there's, I did a really fun thing that I worked with the art director on. If you lift the jacket, you're gonna get a little surprise from the first book.


Um, and then from Anzu the Great Listener, the second book, we made a poster actually at the very back, um, um, behind the jacket. So if you open it, you had this big long poster that kind of talk about listening and, you know, taking a deep breath and breathing out and to. Reset on your mind. Um, so that might be a little fun thing that you can have in your classroom or even at home.


Matthew: Quick reminder: the jacket is that long piece of paper that’s sort of the cover over the cover of a book. When you remove the jacket from Anzu the Great Kaiju, as Benson shared, there’s completely different book cover art. And when you remove the jacket from Anzu the Great Listener, not only is the book cover art different, but the back side of the jacket is this beautiful poster about being a good listener. Such a cool surprise!


Benson: And another thing I wanna kind of add is that a really great friend of mine who's also an amazing author named Marcy, Colleen, she created a fantastic, uh, teacher's guide for both the first book and the second book.

And I made some activities to go along with them so they're free to download at home or even, uh, to use in your classroom. So I just wanna put that out there.


Matthew: I will definitely make sure I link to those in the show notes in case you’re a grownup listening and you want to use the activities in your class or home.



[17:41] A Message from Benson Shum to You


Matthew: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed our time with Benson Shum today. I know I did. And, it’s made me think a lot about the assumptions we sometimes make of other people and how we can all work to be better listeners with each new day and new interaction we share.


As we end our time together, Benson had a message that he wanted to make sure we shared.


Benson: Be kind. Listen to one another. Um, ask, you know, ask your teacher, a librarian like yourself, a friend, a family member, um, like, “How are you doing today?”

I think, and listen to what they have to say. Like, to be heard and listened to can make a person's day from just those few words.



[18:30] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Benson? Where can listeners find you?


Benson: Uh, sure They can find me on my website, uh, www.bensonshum.com. Um, and on the social media platforms, I'm on Instagram, Twitter, um, and TikTok and Facebook. Um, and my tag is at bshum79.

Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


Want a copy of Anzu the Great Kaiju or Anzu the Great Listener? Jules, where should people look?


Julia: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at Bookshop.org.


Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at kidslisten.org.


Anything else you want people to know, Squish?


Julia: Have a great day. And… Everyone loves you in life.


Matthew: Awww. Everyone loves you. You know? We don’t always act like it, but I have a feeling we do have love for one another, if only we make sure to show it.


And, on that note… Be well. And read on.




End Of Episode

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