At five feet tall, Esther Yu Sumner has a big vision for life. The 39-year-old marketing professional, now a published children’s author, is always in pursuit of her next creation—her energy and creativity has led her friends to call her a “hummingbird.” Whether she is sewing an apron for her niece, making grape juice from her neighbor’s grapes, drawing pictures of her imaginary friend Pie or baking bread, she embodies her mantra that creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. A simple creative act, she says, can lift us up when we are struggling, and yield astounding joy.
What was the religious or spiritual background of your childhood?
My parents were both converted to the LDS church when they were in their teens. My mom took an English class in Taiwan that was taught by missionaries, and my dad had missionaries knock on his door in Taiwan. Growing up, my faith was a guiding star. I always had a belief in God. I always wanted to make good choices that make being here meaningful and fun.
The words we use shape how we understand ourselves and interpret the world. What was your upbringing in relation to words?
There was always a love of language, in terms of reading and writing, in my home. From a very young age my mom would take me to the library and I’d check out the limit of 21 children’s books. I’d read through them, and she’d take me back the next week. When I was old enough, I rode my bike to the library and would fill up my little bag with books.
How would you describe the qualities of the wisest people you’ve known, and what makes them wise?
They have a desire to learn. I think my parents and my husband are very wise. They have the ability to step back and see the big picture, and not just react to circumstances.
Your friends compare you to a hummingbird, full of energy and activity. Is there a physical activity that you most enjoy?
Yes, mountain biking! Someone asked me once, “When are you the most happy?” and I think it’s when I’m going downhill on a mountain bike. I usually have a giant grin on my face. It’s where I can think.
In addition to your love for mountain biking, you also love to create stuff. You draw, write, sew, garden, and bake, among other things. What inspires your creative energy?
About eight years ago, I was having a tough work year. I heard a couple of talks about creating and being true to yourself that really inspired me. There are things you can do to help yourself when you’re struggling—like serving others, which I’m a huge fan of—but creating is another thing that we can all do. In the “Happiness, Your Heritage” talk from the October 2008 General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf talked about how we all have this innate desire to create, and it’s this God-given right that we have. That talk helped me choose between two jobs.
I also heard the story of stained glass artist Tom Holdman, who has a significant speech impediment. He shared how his stutter really affected him and yet he found joy through his art. He’s had this amazing career creating stained-glass windows for LDS temples. His story really impacted me.
What are your favorite ways to express yourself?
Writing and drawing. My drawing is very loose and casual, so I call it doodling. That was one of the things I loved about President Uchtdorf’s talk — that to create something, you don’t have to be the best, you just create things that bring you joy, and that can bring joy to others.
Part of being creative is just being willing to try new things. I have a friend who gave me a pile of grapes and I decided I wanted to learn how to make grape juice. I just got on the internet and figured out how. That was one of my creative moments this weekend. It was very satisfying.
I would have just eaten the grapes, but you taught yourself how to make grape juice.
Google is wonderful. [laughs]
You recently wrote and published My Nativity ABCs, a children’s book with illustrations. What inspired you to write it?
Whenever I’m struggling in life, I go back to President Uchtdorf’s talk and I try to find ways to be creative. I wrote this children’s Christmas poem during a time when I knew I needed to do something creative. In the meantime, I had also been serving in the primary for the last seven years, as a primary chorister and now as president. Primary kids are my favorite people. I love that age. I love the things we teach them, and in particular the stories from the scriptures, like the story of Mary and Joseph — not just baby Jesus being born in the stable, but the whole journey. Children learn really well through short rhymes, so it was fun for me to take a story that I love from the scriptures, put it in a format that’s easy for children to follow, and do it in a way that could be creative. It’s an alphabet story. The first line is “A is for Angel that spoke of Christ’s birth.”
I originally wrote this poem in 2014, and in 2015 I thought, “Ok, this is the year. I need to illustrate it and get it published.” And when I say published, I meant in my own format that I could just give to my primary kids. I wasn’t thinking about getting it professionally published. I drew little pictures that went with the lines of the poem, found a website that printed fairly inexpensive miniature books, and I made copies for the families in my neighborhood. I had a friend who I really respect tell me, “My family read this. We really think that you should get this published.” The way she said it, I thought, “I should try.” So, I sent it in, and Cedar Fort wanted the story. It turned out beautifully.
I wrote this book with my primary kids and my nieces and nephews in mind, but I really feel like it’s a book for everyone. I hope it makes Christmas more meaningful for them — that they’re really thinking, “Wow, this is what Christmas is about.” This book is an opportunity to sit down with your family and have a meaningful moment.
Do you have any advice for people who serve in primary callings, or parents with young children, and how to engage children in spiritual learning?
The church handbook makes it clear that a primary leader’s job is to teach them, but it’s supplemental teaching. First and foremost, they should be learning spiritual things in the home. I’m in a neighborhood where the parents are highly invested in their children, and you can see it reflected when the kids come to church and participate in primary. I think a lot of it is just being open and having conversations with them. It’s a willingness to let them be curious and ask questions.
For people serving in primary callings, find ways to be more proactive beyond preparing a lesson each week. Get to know your kids. For example, if you teach the 7-year-olds, you could attend their baptisms when they turn 8 or talk to your class about upcoming baptisms. It’s always a good thing for the children to see that you’re there for them. Anytime you can reach out, they will totally embrace it.
At A Glance
Name: Esther Yu Sumner
Location: Lindon, Utah
Occupation: Senior services product manager at Adobe, writer and doodler
Schools Attended: Brigham Young University
Favorite Hymn: How Great Thou Art