She has collaborated with Margy Burns Knight on five books:
(all Tilbury House, Publishers)
In 1997 they received the National Education Association Author-Illustrator Human & Civil Rights Award for their body of work.
O’Brien has also illustrated a number of her own books, including two retellings of Korean tales:
a picture book in graphic novel form, which was named a "Booklist Top Ten Graphic Novels for Youth" and won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the Aesop Prize.
With her grown son, Perry O'Brien, she co-wrote
a non-fiction book for 10 years and up, which won the 2010 Maine Literary Award and was named one of the "Notable Books for A Global Society" by the International Reading Association.
Her most recent books are
O’Brien’s passion for multiracial, multicultural, and global subjects was kindled by her experience of being raised bilingual and bicultural in South Korea as the daughter of medical missionaries. She attended Mount Holyoke College where she majored in Studio Art, and spent her junior year abroad at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. In addition to creating books, she has been involved for many years in diversity education and leadership training. She is also a performer, and has created a one-woman show entitled “White Lies: one woman’s quest for release from the enchantment of whiteness." She writes the column, "The Illustrator's Perspective," for the Bulletin of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and a blog, "Coloring Between the Lines." She lives with her husband on an island in Maine, and is the mother of two grown children.
"My career creating multicultural children’s books is a direct response to my childhood in Korea, which kindled in me a fascination for the beauty and glory of human differences, and a passion for the truth that, across our differences, we are all one human family. We belong to each other. That’s what I’m trying to get to, through all my work."