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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 27
1. SundayMorningReads

Could you take a second to answer this question for me? If you need another option, just leave a comment. Thanks!

It IS Asian Pacific Heritage Month! The Hub is running a nice Asian themed series which began with Cindy Pon and most recently featured Asian themed books. How are you celebrating this month?

One of the main purposes of blogging is to speak what’s on your mind. I don’t expect bloggers to have my same perspective on anything, but if you’re going to put it out there, be willing listen to opinions that may challenge what you say. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, as my mom would say! Recently blogger Jen Doll was criticized for provided an all white listing of outstanding YA  girl characters of color. After much criticism, she paused, reflected and shared this.

I was just this morning reading an interesting post on a library blog that took thoughts from outside the library world and did a very interesting job of applying the principles to how libraries should evolve. Well, until I got to this.

 My take – Celebrate diversityHow interesting it is to read in Kawasaki’s article that “former teachers make the best salespeople because they ask a lot of questions”.  Often times our library patrons forget that those of us working in school libraries are teachers.   With the dual qualification of teacher and librarian, we hold a powerful range of skills to engage and assist.   Don’t lose sight of it!   With the essential support of librarians, library technicians, library assistants and a range of volunteers working hand in hand with teacher librarians, we present our patrons with a very diverse range of talent, knowledge and skill.

 While we all certainly all have diverse views on what diversity is, I found this one to be quite limited. So I posted a response which said something like “I was really enjoying this list until I got to the fourth item. If librarians are not able to see the world outside their own race, religion or sexual preference then they’re limiting their effectiveness. Librarians should open the world to those they serve.”

I say my response was something like that because my response was deleted! The only ones that remained were responses that praised the author for such a nice post. Talk about lacking diversity, about limited perspective! I cannot assume any ethnic or religious identity on this person, but I can clearly see someone who is controlling and limiting what could be a dynamic and engaging conversation. It really felt like the hand of someone who feels rather entitled and maintains a rather limited view of how immensely diverse the work really is.

Then, there’s the issue of deleting comments. I’ve done that quite sparingly. Most notably, when I kept going back and forth with someone who disagreed with me because I didn’t like a book. I’ve also deleted comments when I’ve posted a grant or scholarship and someone thought I was providing the funding. Other than that (and spam), I provide an open mic.

Many librarians, educato

3 Comments on SundayMorningReads, last added: 5/7/2012
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2. Picture Books for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Part 3 (Japan)

 photos by *Randee and sir_mencius.

Konnichiwa! Ogenki desu ka?

Ready to spend a little time in the Land of the Rising Sun? Perhaps you wouldn't be adverse to a savory, artfully arranged dinner box containing salmon teriyaki, shrimp and vegetable tempura, tsukemono, negamaki, seaweed salad, and several slices of maki-zushi. Oh, and miso soup, of course! What's that? You're pressed for time? Well, what about a nice bowl of ramen or a cute little bento box?

 Geisha bento by Sakurako Kitsa.

I was happy to find a few more Japan-related picture books. Today's menu includes kite flying, origami, ghosts and historical fiction. When you're done slurping your noodles, dip into these fine titles!

Enjoy your meal!

Douzo Meshiagare!

BUTTERFLIES FOR KIRI by Cathryn Falwell (Lee & Low, 2003). Kiri, who loves to draw, paint and make things, receives a colorful origami set with an instruction book for her birthday. She eagerly tries to make a purple butterfly, just like the one her aunt placed on her birthday gift, but after a couple of folds, she accidentally tears the paper. Disappointed and frustrated, she decides to practice using plain notebook paper, but after a few more folds, the same thing happens. She continues to practice without success, until one Spring day, she's inspired to paint a picture of the pretty flowers she sees in the park. Things are fine until her paint smears. After she dries her tears of frustration, she comes up with a creative solution to finish her painting by cutting shapes from her origami papers. And the finishing touch? A beautifully folded yellow butterfly! Bright, colorful, cut and torn paper collages nicely complement this satisfying story celebrating art, determination and mastering a new skill. Includes instructions for folding an origami butterfly.


GHOSTS FOR BREAKFAST by Stanley Todd Terasaki, pictures by Shelly Shinjo (Lee & Low, 2002). One night, the Troublesome Triplets, who are always together and known for their constant worry and complaints, pound on the young narrator's door with frantic reports of ghosts in Farmer Tanaka's field. Mr. Omi, Mr. Omaye and Mr. Ono wring their hands as they describe the terrible long, thin, white apparitions "dancing

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3. Picture Books for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Part 2 (China)

 photos by liveline, lionel bodilis, and Ayda7.

So, last time I featured some picture books about Korean culture and joyfully gobbled up a full platter of Jap Chae with Bulgogi. Turnip and won bok kimchee, fishcake, beansprout and watercress namul, lotus root and cinnamon tea perfectly topped off the meal. I must admit -- I don't usually limit such lipsmacking goodness to the month of May, but since it's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I have good reason to whet your appetite to the max so you can celebrate heartily with good books and good food.

Just as Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in this country, there has never been a shortage of China-related books for any age group. Every major city has a Chinatown, but not necessarily a Korea-town or a Japan-town. For quite awhile, I had to "pretend" I was Chinese in an attempt to identify with the sought-after element of Asian-ness I craved in books. So I encountered Laurence Yep, Betty Bao Lord, and Maxine Hong Kingston before I discovered Yoshiko Uchida, Lensey Namioka, Cynthia Kadohata or Linda Sue Park.

 Soup dumplings photo by stynxno.

There are many more China-related picture books I want to read. I'm rounding up some of my recent finds in today's post, and then I'll feature several Japan-related books in Part 3. I can just imagine biting into a warm soup dumpling, the happy talky talk in a busy dim sum restaurant, the sizzle and crackle of hot oil in a wok beckoning sliced onion, green beans, carrots and pork. Today's menu includes a ghost story, a gorgeous visual poem, and a family adjusting to life in America. Should we eat and then read, or read and then eat? 

Why don't we just dig in?

BOY DUMPLINGS by Ying Chang Compestine, pictures by James Yamasaki (Holiday House, 2009). Yum! Take one hungry Garbage-Eating ghost, a plump and juicy boy, an outrageous recipe for 1000 dumplings, and you've got just the right ingredients for a hilarious trickster tale. One night in Beijing, a skinny ghost roaming the streets discovers the buckets containing his usual food offerings are empty. After three days without food, he becomes desperate, grabs a chubby lantern-carrying boy and takes him home. But before the ghost has a chance to eat him, the impish boy tempts him with a delicious recipe for boy dumplings, which he simply cannot resist.


Extremely gullible and growing hungrier by the second, the ghost traipses through the village gathering the outlandish ingredients (10 pounds stinky garlic, 50 pounds rotten onions, 40 pounds wormy cabbage, 1 large bottle soy sauce, 1000 moldy dumpling w

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4. a taste of hawai'i


Well, hello there!

I can see you've been working very hard, and thought you might be craving a little tasty something right about now. Since it's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I've whipped up a little tropical buffet for your virtual dining pleasure.

These photos were taken on our last trip to Hawai'i, where our main activity was gorging ourselves frequenting restaurants in the name of cultural research. Included are: Olive Methodist Church Bazaar (kimchee, sushi, Korean pancakes), huli-huli chicken in Haleiwa, Hokulani Bakery (cupcakes and cookies), Cinnamon's (curry chicken salad), Willows dinner buffet (check out my cousins loading their plates), Shiro's Saimin Haven (teriyaki barbecue stick), Tadashi (tempura udon), couple of lunch wagons, Uncle's Fish Market and Grill (fried mahi sandwich).

This represents maybe two or three days worth of food, and we were there for 10 days. As I've said before, in Hawai'i, eating is more than a pastime or social occasion. It's an institution. So ono!

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5. Shanghai Messenger

Each page in Shanghai Messenger (Lee & Low Books, 2005) has red Chinese screens framing poetry by Andrea Cheng and art by Ed Young. This beautiful picture book for children in the third to sixth grades tells the story of Chinese American Xiao Mei's first trip to China to visit her relatives.

I see my face
in the rice water,
two braids
hanging down,
fuzzy curls
all around,
half Chinese
half not.
In China
will people stare
at my eyes
with green flecks
like Dad's?
Will they ask
why didn't Grandmother
teach me Chinese?

Cheng's stirring free verse poems evoke Xiao Mei's fear about traveling to China all by herself, and her doubts from being surrounded by a language, people, and lifestyle that are strange to her. We also see Xiao Mei's love for her life in Shanghai really grow. When she returns to Ohio, Xiao Mei misses all of her relatives and longs for her family in America and her family in China to be together.

Young's spot illustrations in pastel, ink, dye, charcoal, and Conte crayon are impressionistic. They are sublime, effectively evoking all of Xiao Mei's conflicting feelings. How does he do that?

I believe that in Shanghai Messenger, Cheng and Young truly capture the beautiful yet complicated bond a young Asian American has with her Asian motherland.

6 Comments on Shanghai Messenger, last added: 6/1/2009
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6. Author Interview: Edna Cabcabin Moran

Today, I am SO PROUD to present my interview with Filipino American author illustrator Edna Cabcabin Moran. *bursts with pride*

Welcome, Edna!!

Author/Illustrator, Edna Cabcabin Moran. Photo by Mark Moran.

Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

My parents are from Eastern Samar, Philippines, an historic island in the Visayan island chain. My father was a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who brought my mom and older siblings to this country. I am the first American-born child in the family. Growing up, I always felt like I straddled two cultures. I'm very American in the way I dress, speak and carry myself. I don't know Tagalog and I lost touch with my parent's dialect, Waray Waray. However, I have strong cultural roots and have retained much of my Filipino-ness which includes a deep, abiding respect for the elders and their stories.

Perhaps the family meal is a good indicator of how one is raised? My parents always served rice with meals which usually comprised of seafood and stir-fried meats with vegetables. We even had rice for breakfast-champorado or chocolate rice porridge-one of my favorite childhood dishes. I rarely ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or fast food for meals until I was in my teens.

What kind of young reader were you?

I had zero interest in books and reading until the middle of first grade, when my teacher, Miss Henderson, worked her magic. She encouraged me to paint and draw as much as I wanted. Miraculously, I went from the lowest to the highest reading group in a short time. When I turned eight and got my library card, I went on a reading rampage, devouring stacks of books each week. I loved Greek myths, folk tales, stories about famous people as children and anything my older sister was reading. I was also a fan of chapter books, the Encyclopedia Britannica and comic books.

What were you like as a young artist?

I daydreamed all the time, frequently lost in my own world. However, ours was a creative home. My mother crocheted and sewed. She made us paper dolls with renditions of nipa huts from her beloved homeland. I watched my older siblings draw and started mimicking them. Soon, I developed my own style of drawing. When I first tried painting, I fell madly in love with it, loved color and used it boldly. In upper elementary school, I developed a reputation for drawing people (and my friend, Belinda, was the "go-to" gal for hand-drawn horses). I received tons of encouragement from my teachers and even won a drawing contest and scholarship at age eleven. Drawing and painting became as essential as breathing.

What inspires and motivates you to be an author illustrator for children?

As a writer and artist, I'd never completely left the world of the child. I loved my childhood! It was a time of wonder and discovery and of seeing life through a wide lens of hope and possibility.

I love being around kids. I've taught, entertained, coached and played with kids in work, volunteer and personal settings. Kids are an exceptional audience. Curious, eager and unjaded, they'll follow you deep into the jungles of story. But they aren't easily fooled or impressed. If they like or dislike something or sense that you are "insincere," they won't hesitate to tell you. They keep me "honest" in my work and I relish that challenge.

What was your path to publication as an author illustrator for children?

I've always loved storytelling through writing and pictures. I smile when I think of some of my earliest stories--the mouse who painted abstracts and a fable featuring a giraffe named Geoffrey (pre-ToysRUs). I wrote almost as much as I painted but I was known for my visual work because I kept most of my writing to myself.

Maurice Sendak's iconic book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE made a huge impact on me when I was a teenager. I had a visceral reaction while reading that book to my nephew. I knew that picture books had a special place in my heart but it was years later, after I had my first child, that I listened to my Muse and took initiative. I started taking classes on picture book illustration, participating in critique groups and building my portfolio. I was primarily interested in being an illustrator but once my Muse had a feel for creating manuscripts and book dummies, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write and illustrate my own concepts.

THE SLEEPING GIANT: A Tale From Kauai. Edna's first picture book earned the 2007 Ka Palapala Po'okela Honorable Mention.

"Fish scales fell to the ground and gave way to flesh... Bulging fish eyes changed into human eyes, framed by heavy black brows."

"Pualani's heart raced. Her na'au, gut feeling, pressed her to keep walking until she stood at the giant's feet."

What are your chosen mediums? What is your creative process like?

I favor mixed media for my painterly style—acrylic underpainting with chalk pastel or gouache with colored pencil. For my line-art, I use Tombow brush pens or Faber-Castell PITT pen then digitally apply touches of color.

My creative process begins with my Muse who is usually engaged in a dance of ideas and visual references. She can be coaxed into appearing at brainstorm sessions or she'll drop in unexpectedly, sometimes when I'm driving. It's my job to capture the ideas and impressions on paper.

My artwork develops in stages: I go from thumbnails and rough sketches to highly-rendered drawings. In the final stage, I paint using my mediums of choice. I like to work on two or three paintings at a time to maintain energy and consistency between the pieces. By the end, I hope to have all the individual paintings "sing" as a complete work of art.

Some of Edna's artwork:

Promotional bookmark.

Spot line-art image used in "The Bulletin," the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators magazine.

Cover for Kira Willey's award-winning musical yoga album.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book tours, school visits, or workshops?

I enjoy doing author/illustrator visits and am thrilled to present to students of all ages, at a wide range of venues. My presentation style is conversational, fun and interactive. I like to highlight cultural and visual information, as well as, include personal and professional back-stories. Invariably, I end up complementing classroom curriculum with my assemblies due to the wide scope of material I cover. However, my workshop program is flexible and I'll gladly work with staff to tailor something for their students.

A visit with the students of Kamilo'iki School, Honolulu, HI.

An illustration demo, Children's Book Week, Barnes & Noble, Hawaii Kai.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American author illustrator for children?

Bridging the Asian Pacific cultural perspective with Western sensibilities within a given story poses a significant challenge. There's the logistic of keeping within the parameters of the work, such as limiting word count for the picture book format, and the art of crafting a seamless explanation for the cultural aspects.

The rewards for bridging the "cultural divide" are severalfold: One's voice develops an authenticity which can propel the story to a higher level. Readers gain insight and appreciation for the culture.

Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult book authors and illustrators? What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult books? Why are they your favorites?

I admire a number of Asian American authors and illustrators--Ed Young, Grace Lin, Lisa Yee, Allen Say, William Low to name a few. Each has a strong voice that comes through in his/her work.

I'm pleased to see more Asian American and Pacific Island books entering the market. I have many favorites; however, off the top of my head, I love LON PO PO and SEVEN BLIND MICE by Ed Young and Lisa Yee's MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS. I also have a favorite adult title that deserves mention: WHEN THE ELEPHANTS DANCE by Tess Uriza Holthe. It is a "storyteller's book" and it spoke to my heart. I'd read it during my travels to the Philippines this spring. Again, these are just a few titles I'd recommend. There are more—so many more...:-)!

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

Over the years, I've danced hula with my halau, Na Lei Hulu, at Asian Pacific celebrations and concerts. This month, I've had some school assemblies and a family night event. It was a pleasure sharing my background and passion for hula and Hawaiiana. Hopefully, the audience walked away with a better understanding and appreciation for Pacific Island culture.

Edna dances hula with Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. Photo by Lin Cariffe.

At Earhart School's family night, Edna teaches a sitting hula.

What are you working on now?

I illustrated a new book that's coming out in the fall. It's titled, CAN YOU CATCH A COQUI FROG?, written by Vera Arita. Also, my poetry appears in a middle grade anthology that will be out next year. I have several works in progress—a few picture books and a novel.


Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Edna! Thank you so much for visiting Into the Wardrobe and celebrating with us. :D

And now for some link luuurv. Click here to read Jama Kim Rattigan's interview with Edna over at alphabet soup - it includes a recipe for lumpia!

7 Comments on Author Interview: Edna Cabcabin Moran, last added: 5/30/2009
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7. more hot stuff: bonus recipe!

For those of you who'd like some homemade kimchee to go with Linda Sue Park's recipe for bee-bim bop, here's my mom's recipe for cucumber kimchee. I always look forward to having some when I visit my family in Hawai'i. Thanks, Margaret -- you're the best Korean cook!


4-5 cucumbers (preferably Japanese cucumbers, which are smaller and crunchier)
about 1/4 cup kosher salt or Hawaiian sea salt/coarse
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
15 stalks chives, cut into 1/8" lengths (do not chop)
1 T chili garlic sauce (can be found in Asian markets)
1 T ground Korean red pepper (dried)

1. Wash unpeeled cucumbers. Cut off ends and cut into 3/4" bite-size quarter chunks.

2. Place in bowl and spread sea salt lightly. Toss and stir to distribute salt. Allow to sit about 1/2 hour. Rinse cucumbers in cold water and taste. If too salty, rinse cucumbers again in cold water. Drain in colander.

3. In mixing bowl, combine red pepper, dash of sugar, chili garlic sauce, garlic, ginger and chives. Add cucumbers and mix. Refrigerate. Ready to eat same day or several days later.


In case you missed any of this month's potluck recipes, or just want to go back for seconds, here's the complete menu:

Cover Image   Lisa Yee -- Yin Yin's Wontons

Cover Image   Lensey Namioka's Chinese Chicken Salad

  My sister Sylvia's Bay Scallops with Lemon Sauce

Cover Image   Mitali Perkins' Bengal Red Lentils (Masoor Dal)

Cover Image  Cynthia Chin-Lee's Chinese Almond Cookies

Cover Image  Linda Sue Park's Bee-Bim Bop

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8. friday feast: any way you slice it



"Poetry emphasizes the moment and minutes and unrepeatable processes of the soul making itself. You feel the enormous pressures put upon language, because each word has to be chipped out of silence and chosen out of desire. When you read a great poem you get a sense of continuous danger that the poem won't go on. That blank space at the end of each line isn't just spatial, it's intellectual and emotional. It confronts what's ungraspable in our lives and can't be put into words."
Suji Kwock Kim

On this last Poetry Friday of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, I'm excited to share a truly exquisite poem: "Monologue for an Onion," by Suji Kwock Kim.

The onion as a metaphor doesn't seem so remarkable in itself; upon reading the title you've probably already assumed the poet will talk about "layers" and peeling them away to get at the truth. Yes, there is that, but there's a bigger irony at play here, because the onion will implore you (and the person addressed in the poem), to stop peeling, stop cutting, stop chopping and relentlessly searching, and you will be compelled to do just the opposite.

Each time I read the poem, I feel the need to reread it. I want to get at its truth, its core. Regardless of what the onion says. Perhaps it is human nature to search for deeper truth, to not accept something at face value, even if it means destroying yourself in the process:  "Is this the way you go through life, your mind a stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth, Of lasting union -- slashing away skin after skin From things, ruin and tears your only signs of progress?"

Here's what else I like:

 ~ the poem is constructed like an onion, continuously winding in on itself. Kim doesn't use conventional end rhyme, but embeds it in the middle of lines (stanzas 3-4 with rhymes "skin" and "in" and "life" and "knife").

~ the onion declares from the beginning that it holds no further truth or meaning than what its outer layer shows, yet as we continue through the poem, more and more is revealed with each stanza.

~ the violent images of a knife slashing and destroying have political connotations; this and other poems in Kim's collection examine the pain and turmoil of a divided Korea, and the tyranny of the Japanese occupation.

~ the infusion of many ironies: the one cutting the onion looks for a center when he himself lacks one, the one who has cut the onion is in pieces, etc.

Ultimately, human beings seek love, understanding, and truth -- the heart of things. But the onion tells us we have "a core that is not one." We will always remain divided, for as soon as we uncover one thing, fresh desire will slash through us once again.

by Suji Kwock Kim

I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion -- pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

~ from Notes from the Divided Country (Louisiana State University Press, 2003).

(Read the rest here.)

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Wild Rose Reader.

**Don't forget! Enter to win a signed, personalized copy of CHINA: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book (Williamson Books, 2008) by Debbi Michiko Florence, just by leaving a comment here no later than Wednesday, June 4, 2008.

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9. May Events

(Click on event name for more information)

Get Caught Reading Month~ USA

National Share-a-Story Month~ United Kingdom

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month~ USA

Asian Heritage Month~ Canada

Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature to be Announced~ USA

USBBY - Bridge to Understanding Award Winner to be Announced ~ USA

Discovering Ethnic Minorities - Storytelling Workshops for Children~ Hong Kong

5th Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature~ ongoing until May 3, New York, NY, USA

35th Buenos Aires International Book Fair~ ongoing until May 11, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Books Illustrated Traveling Exhibition: An Australian Menagerie -Australian picture books~ongoing until mid Jun, China

Exhibition of Prize Winning Works of 16th Noma Concours (2008) “Palette of Dream Colours IV”~ ongoing until Jul 5, Tokyo, Japan

The Child and the Book Conference: This Land is Our Land~ May 1 - 3, Nanaimo, BC, Canada

BOOKFEST - The Vancouver Island Children’s Book Festival~ May 2, Nanaimo, BC, Canada

IRA’s 54th Annual Convention: Reading, Writing and Conversations~ May 3 - 7, Minneapolis, MN, USA

ALOUD: a Celebration for Young Readers~ May 4 - 6, Toronto, ON, Canada

WordPower~ May 4 - 8, Fort McMurray, AB, Canada

Tehran International Book Fair~ May 6 - 16, Tehran, Iran

Mapfre Hay Festiva~ May 7 - 10, Alhambra, Spain

Once Upon a Time: Children’s Book Illustrators, Then and Now~ May 8 - Jun 14, Oakland, CA, USA

Mt. San Antonio College’s Children’s Literature Day~ May 9, Walnut, CA, USA

Children’s Book Week~ May 11 - 17, USA

New Zealand Post Book Awards Festival~ May 11 - 20, New Zealand

Forest of Reading, Festival of Trees~ May 13 - 14, Toronto, ON, Canada

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival~ May 13 - 17, Auckland, New Zealand

Surabaya Book Fair~ May 13 - 17, Surabaya, Indonesia

Seoul International Book Fair~ May 13 - 17, Seoul, Korea

The 5th China International Cultural Industries Fair~ May 15 - 18, Shenzhen, China

African American Book Festival~ May 15 - 16, Mt. Vernon, NY, USA

Mother’s Day Readings With Authors Mitali Perkins, Christina Seid, Pooja Makhijani, and Others~ May 16, New York, NY, USA

Children’s Books Ireland Conference: Challenge and Change in Children’s Books~ May 16 - 17, Dublin, Ireland

National Black Book Festival~ May 16 - 17, Houston, TX, USA

Sydney Writers’ Festival~ May 18 - 24, Sydney, Australia

The Foundation for Children’s Books New England Voices Series with Author/Illustrators Grace Lin and Giles Laroche~ May 19, Boston, MA, USA

Bisto Children’s Book of the Year Awards Presentations~ May 20, Dublin, Ireland

The Guardian Hay Festival~ May 21 - 31, Hay-on-Wye, United Kingdom

WriteAway Conference: Something Old, Something New -approaches to classic literature, culture and heritage in education~ May 22, London, United Kingdom

Storytelling Association Singapore Presents Silver and Gold: Precious Stories to Inspire Young and Old~ May 23, Singapore

World Village Festival~ May 23 - 24, Helsinki, Finland

Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and Annual Book Fair~ May 23 - 31, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Library and Information Week~ May 25 - 31, Australia

National Simultaneous Storytime~ May 28, Australia

International Latino Book Awards Presentations~ May 28, New York, NY, USA

Reading Matters Youth Literature Conference~ May 28 - 30, Melbourne, Australia

BookExpo America~ May 28 - 31, New York, NY, USA

Thessaloniki Book Fair~ May 28 - 31, Thessaloniki, Greece

The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature Exhibit: The Wizards of Pop -Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart~ May 28 - Sep 19, Abilene, TX, USA

Canadian Library Association National Conference and Trade Show~ May 29 - Jun 1, Montreal , QC, Canada

World Book Fair~ May 29 - Jun 7, Singapore

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10. Author Interview: Joyce Lee Wong

"Sixteen-year-old Emily Wu is a good daughter, good student, good artist, and good friend. She works hard at school and in the Chinese restaurant she helps her parents run. But her life, which once seemed as sweet as the bao zi dumplings she and her mother make together, now feels stifling. Just as her paintings transform a canvas, Emily wants to create a new self.

Then Nick, a sexy transfer student, asks her out. His kisses and the other girls' envious glances give Emily a thrilling, disconcerting new vision of herself, so different from the one she sees in the eyes of her parents and friends. Which Emily is the real Emily?"

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! This month, Into the Wardrobe's reviews and interviews will be celebrating Asian and Asian American children's and young adult books and their authors and illustrators. So I hope you'll stop by often to join the conversation on Asian and Asian American literature for the young and young at heart. :D

I'm kicking things off with the perfect bridge from American National Poetry Month to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: an interview with Joyce Lee Wong, author of Seeing Emily (Amulet, 2005), a beautiful young adult novel in verse.

Joyce, can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I’m a second-generation Chinese American. After finishing college in Taiwan, my parents came to the States for graduate school, intending to return to Taiwan after finishing their studies. Instead, they met and married here, and my father accepted a job offer in Virginia, where I was born and raised.

It’s interesting— when my second-generation Asian American friends try to define certain aspects of ourselves as originating in Asian or American culture, it seems as impossible to isolate one strand from the other as it is to completely separate the raw egg white from the yolk.

This is something of an oversimplification, but I’ve heard it said that first generation immigrants strive to assimilate into the majority culture, whereas the second generation has the luxury of seeking to reclaim their cultural roots. I have found this true, in some instances, for example, when I consider the contrast between my mother’s wedding dress and mine.

My mother wore a traditional white wedding dress, lace-trimmed and decidedly Western. I wore her dress at my wedding, but not the one she wore to hers. Instead, I wore a qi-pao that my mother wore when she was my age.

This photo was at my wedding, where I’m wearing the qi-pao my mother wore when she was my age:

I’ve tried to capture this dichotomy in Seeing Emily, as in the following lines from the poem, “Sailing For America,” where Emily sees a photograph of her mother as a college student:

The young woman
in the photograph
wore a rose-colored qi-pao,
a long Chinese dress
with a slit at the ankles.
at this picture
I was struck by her features and expression
and I saw how much
she looked like me…

I could almost feel the salt breeze
teasing her dark, wavy hair,
styled like Au-de-li Hepburn’s in Roman Holiday.
Perhaps that day
the ship’s captain,
a friend of my grandfather,
passed her a red-cheeked apple he’d saved…

How did that apple taste
as my mother bit through the smooth,
shiny skin and crunched into sweet,
white meat? Perhaps
she licked a stray drop of juice
from her knuckle,
tasting ocean
and in that moment
of sweetness and brine
my mother looked out
over the endlessly waving sea
scattered with diamonds of light
and imagined the shores
of America.

What is your love story with young adult literature?

YA literature speaks so poignantly and directly to me because it is such a wide-open genre-- innovative, fresh and diverse as the very teens for which it is written. Just as I love the immediacy, beauty and power of the literature, I particularly enjoy writing for this age group. Teens are on the cusp of discovering themselves, beginning to form the ideas that will define their evolving adult selves.

With their media savvy and as they grow up in an information-saturated world, teens today seem, in many ways, much more sophisticated than my friends and I were at their age.

This was taken when I was Emily’s age:

Yet teens are often still wonderfully child-like in their enthusiasm and in the intensity with which they experience life and its corresponding emotions. They can also be a difficult audience to reach, so the experience of speaking to teens through one’s writing is a tremendous pleasure and privilege.

What is your love story with poetry?

Poetry is beauty and power: the music of language and the grace of a line, the strength of true emotions mingled with the power to awaken one’s reader to a new experience or idea. Heady stuff, indeed!

For me, writing a poem is like painting a picture. It is holding up a lens through which the reader can peer and see your world as you envision it.

My parents are both musical, and they often sang my sisters and me songs (poems set to music) in English and Chinese. From the time we were small, they also read to us, both prose and also such classic children’s poetry as Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown. These rhythms, American and Chinese folk songs, poetry and prose, formed a musical backdrop to my childhood and influence me still, as I write.

What inspired you to write Seeing Emily?

Seeing Emily, my first book, is a Young Adult novel-in-verse. While it is not autobiographical, I drew upon my experiences, growing up in Virginia and traveling to Taiwan, to write it.

I trace Emily’s beginnings to my college days, when I found myself writing a series of poems about my experiences living in Virginia, Taiwan, and Spain. While I’ve continued to write fiction and other forms of poetry, these narrative poems kept reappearing in my writing, and in Emily, they ultimately coalesced in a sequence of poems chronicling a high school sophomore’s quest to discover who she is.

Emily Wu, the book’s protagonist, wants desperately to break away from her family, in order to find a new vision of herself. She has difficulty seeing which of the reflections of herself she perceives in the eyes of others (her friends, her family, her new boyfriend), is the real Emily. I think this is something we all have to go through— discovering who we are as we grow into our adult selves— and I wanted to write about a girl who navigates the stormy waters of the teen years as she makes her own way.

Why did you decide to write Seeing Emily in verse?

Seeing Emily began as a collection of poems, which I submitted to my amazing editor, Susan Van Metre. These poems chronicled one character’s childhood, pre-teen and teen years, and Susan noticed that they were growing from what appeared to be the kernel of a novel. Her suggestion that I write additional poems and ultimately craft a novel seemed right for this piece, and I proceeded in that direction.

So the novel-in-verse began as a set of poems which assembled themselves in novel format, somewhat later in the process. I think this is the way it is with creative writing— the writing decides what form best suits it, and you, the writer, must listen to your writing (and in my case, also to the suggestions of a gifted editor!) and shape it into the form that allows its unique story to shine through.

What was the path to publication for Seeing Emily? Was it difficult to find an agent and a publisher?

I entered a group of poems (that later became a part of Emily) in the SCBWI’s fabulous Ventura / Santa Barbara Writers Day contest and won the privilege of having my editor read my submission. She said she could envision the poems as a collection for middle grade and YA readers, and asked if I had additional poems to submit. I did, which I sent her, and in the process of writing and editing these poems, we realized that this set of poems actually wanted to be a novel. To my delight, she made an offer on the book.

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult literature is not as deep or as complex as literature for adults?

Teens (like children and tweens) are disenfranchised (until age 18), and they have little purchasing power. Thus, whenever a product or service is offered for children or teens, it is often valued significantly lower than a comparable product or service for adults. I think these factors contribute to this misconception about YA literature.

Until very recently, there was less money to be made from publishing children’s and YA literature, as compared with the adult publishing industry, and this is often still the case. In a society that often correlates quality with price, it is, unfortunately, unsurprising that adults who are unfamiliar with the breadth and depth of contemporary YA literature would make this assumption.

What is your response to this misconception?

This is my challenge to Into the Wardrobe visitors: the next time you hear someone compare the quality of YA literature unfavorably with literature written for adults, ask him whether he’s read any YA books recently. If the answer is no, as it often is, recommend several of your favorite YA titles!

Why do you think there is a recent trend of writing young adult novels in verse?

With the success of such pioneers of this genre as Karen Hesse and Virginia Euwer Wolff, publishers saw that novels-in-verse were a promising form, one that has found a wide, enthusiastic readership among teens as well as teachers and librarians.

Novels-in-verse entice reluctant readers, who are less intimidated by shorter lines and more white space on the page. They also appeal to sophisticated readers, who enjoy the challenge of diving deep within a particular image or metaphor and using their imaginations to make a poem sing for them personally.

For me, the form combines the immediacy of the image and its corresponding emotion with a narrative thread that draws the reader in.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult writer?

When I was growing up, there was a scarcity of Asian American protagonists and characters in the books I was reading. We’ve seen great strides in this area, from many wonderful authors writing about Asian American characters, and I’m honored to join their ranks. It is a deep pleasure to hear from tweens, teens, and adults who tell me they can relate to Emily. Readers from diverse backgrounds-- Asian, Caucasian, Latino and African American… have told me that Emily’s story resonates with feelings and experiences they’ve had growing up. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of writing— hearing readers say that they’ve connected with your book on some level.

As for the challenges, I believe your question perfectly captures the conundrum Asian American YA writers face. As proud as we are to take on the important work of writing Asian American YA fiction and poetry, neither do we wish to be defined by these parameters. As necessary as it is to increase the range of voices speaking out through YA literature, the danger lies in being too narrowly construed. What is the solution? We need more writers speaking from different perspectives— more diversity, whether cultural, gender-based, or economic… Into the Wardrobe readers (and writers), we want to hear your voices!

What are your favorite Asian American young adult books?

I’m going to list a few, among those that I’ve read recently: Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, An Na’s A Step From Heaven, Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, Kyoko Mori’s Shizuko’s Daughter, Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, Paula Yoo’s Good Enough, Janet Wong’s Behind the Wheel.

Do you celebrate American National Poetry Month?

I celebrate the Academy of American Poets’ tremendous efforts to focus popular attention on the art of poetry, National Poetry Month in particular. For me, reading and writing poetry is part of my daily life. This morning, while working on my next novel in verse, I re-envisioned a metaphor, streamlined an image, polished a poem-in-progress. I find that reading and writing poetry awakens a different part of my mind than reading and writing prose, and I hope that National Poetry Month has encouraged us all to read and write more poetry!

How did you celebrate it this year?

This year, one of my most enjoyable moments in celebration of National Poetry Month has been sitting down for this interview with you, Tarie, in which you’ve created this lovely bridge between National Poetry Month and APA Heritage Month, allowing me to talk a little about the foot I have in each world (one iambic and one jiau, or foot in Mandarin). See how much fun I’m having? :)

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?

Now that I live in Los Angeles, I sometimes feel that every month is APA Heritage Month, in that, depending on what neighborhood one visits, one can be instantly immersed in not Asian-American culture, or more narrowly, Chinese-American culture, but in cultural hallmarks that are specifically Taiwanese-American in flavor. For example, the quintessentially Taiwanese boba tea is so popular in the San Gabriel Valley that you’ll see Latino or Caucasian kids drinking it (and yes, slurping up those chewy tapioca balls through the big, bright straws) just as readily as their Asian friends.

How will you celebrate it this year?

How else? By eating my favorite Asian desserts-- shaved ice with taro, green bean and pineapple chunks; champagne mango over rice soaked in coconut milk; mochi; halo halo with ube and caramelized plantain, yum!

What young adult books are you reading now?

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Almost Alice by Patricia Reynolds Naylor and Rewind by William Sleator. As a YA writer, I read YA literature for pleasure, as well as from a craft-analysis perspective. Each of these books stands out, for the unique, strong voice of its protagonist and for each author’s considerable skill as a structuralist. One of the best things you can do as a writer (other than writing, of course!) is to READ. I highly recommend any of the books I’ve listed here.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another novel-in-verse. When I begin a new book, I start with the voice, the emotions, the conflict. A book begins to take shape for me through images, feelings and moments of intense emotion. It is not until later that the inner scaffolding emerges. Of course, the process of writing is highly individual and many writers work from very detailed outlines— experiment, and see what works best for you!

Wow. Thank you, Joyce, for your thought-provoking and enlightening answers to my questions! Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! :D

11 Comments on Author Interview: Joyce Lee Wong, last added: 5/18/2009
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11. Review and Interview: Passage to Freedom Illustrated by Dom Lee

In 1985, Chiune Sugihara received the "Righteous Among Nations" Award from Yad Vashem, the famous Holocaust memorial in Israel. Chiune Sugihara was the first and only Asian to be given this award.

In 1940, Sugihara was representing Japan as a diplomat in Lithuania. Polish Jews sought visas from Sugihara. They wanted to travel through the Soviet Union to Japan in order to escape the Nazis. The Japanese government did not allow Sugihara to issue the visas, but he gave them anyway, because he knew that if he didn't many people would die. In this way, Sugihara saved the lives of thousands of Jews.

This amazing story is told through the eyes of Sugihara's then five-year-old son, Hiroki, in Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low Books, 1997).

This picture book for ages six and up is a different, interesting, engrossing, and powerful way for children to learn about the Holocaust. I doubt there are many other (if there are any at all) Holocaust stories told through the point of view of a Japanese boy witnessing great compassion and courage! I also think it is a perfect story of parents who practice what they preach. Hiroki's parents always told him to think about other people before he thought about himself. The Sugihara family did just that when they risked their safety to help Jews escape the Nazis.

If you are wondering, yes, I was choking up while reading Passage to Freedom.

Dom Lee's illustrations for Passage to Freedom were unbelievable. When I found out that he created the illustrations by etching on beeswax applied to paper and then painting on the etchings, my jaw literally dropped. What amazing skills! The illustrations are so realistic that they look like sepia-toned photographs from the 1940s:

Dom Lee was born in Seoul, Korea. He has a BFA in Painting from the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University and an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He now lives in Georgia, USA.

Today, I have the great honor of hosting Dom at Into the Wardrobe and interviewing him for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Dom on Dom (from his official website):

When I was a kid, my father was an artist and life was not easy for my family. We were constantly moving from one home to another, and because of this, I never really had the chance to make friends. Drawing was my only form of entertainment. I learned from a very early age that even my surroundings could inspire art. Whenever I saw something that I liked, I observed it carefully, returned home, and drew it. When I walk around the city and see tragic scenes, like a homeless person or the broken windows of an abandoned building, I still feel a kind of love and want to share that kind of feeling with the children who will be looking at what I've drawn. I like to tell stories about people through my paintings.

What was it like growing up with an artist father?

My father worked at home, so I was acquainted with the smell of oil paint since I was a child. I played in a toy house constructed from my father's big canvases. When I realized that those canvases were more important than an ordinary plastic or wooden toy house, I knew I would be an artist as well. I occasionally watched my father work and saw many pictures from his art books. I was particularly impressed by Rembrandt's paintings, Greek statues and Michelangelo's masterpiece sculptures. I also loved to see many sculptures of Rodin. Those years of childhood were a great influence on my life. Therefore, I was naturally interested in art.

You started drawing at an early age. What were you like as a young artist?

Because of seeing many pictures in my father's art books, I was already drawing in a very realistic style. Whenever I see someone or something, I would mentally draw them, or pretend to draw them with my finger. This habit was quite helpful when I really started to draw and paint. Through my school years, art was always my favorite class.

You have held numerous exhibitions in Korea and the United States as a fine artist. What was your road to publication as a children's book illustrator?

When I attended the M .F.A. Illustration of School of Visual Arts in New York in 1991, there was a group exhibition held as a degree show at the Art Directors' Club of New York City. Arther Levine, who was an editor from Putnam, saw my work, and he introduced me to Philip Lee, the publisher of Lee & Low Books. Philip was looking for an illustrator for Baseball Saved Us. Like Ken Mochizuki, I never thought I would be a children's book illustrator before. That book changed the course of my life.

(Some illustrations from Baseball Saved Us, including a couple of rough sketches:)

What motivates you to illustrate for children?

When the story makes a deep impression on my mind, I want to share the story with others. To me, sympathy is the most important attribute of the illustrator. When I interpret the author's words into works of art, I do not merely represent a tale. I try to see the world through the eyes of the characters in the book and show the reader what they see. In this way, I hope to inspire children not only to have a good imagination, but a sense of reality as well.

Why is encaustic beeswax painting your chosen medium?

For painting, I was never satisfied with general media such as water color, oil paint or acrylic. Something always felt missing. Because I like both painting and sculpting, I always looked for a technique which could bridge both worlds. I melt encaustic beeswax onto paper and then scratch out images like etching. What results is a kind of relief sculpture on the paper, and working like this is a kind of sculpting. When I first begin working, I am much more comfortable with a surface that is already filled with melted dark wax, more than a bare white canvas or paper. I can see the image from the wax surface the way a sculptor may see from a chunk of stone.

What do you think of traditional art versus digital art?

Digital art is very convenient and easy to handle in many ways. With the development of computer art technique, digital art is beginning to dominate the art world. But I think the mass-produced and flat nature of digital art will never surpass the delicacy of an original painting or sculpture. It's like the difference between the experiencing live music versus recorded music.

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

I like Ted Lewin's realistic watercolor pictures. They are honest and straightforward. I also like Chris van Alsberg's innovative use of perspective. The angles he uses are always fresh and effective. I heard that in order to capture these perspective, he made model sculpture for all the main characters of his books.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American children's book illustrator?

Because I am a Asian American, I often get jobs illustrating Asian American stories. I am particularly happy to illustrate stories if they are about a Korean-American, like Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story. In the interests of authenticity, publishers tend to believe Asian American illustrators do a better job for Asian American stories than non-Asian Americans. In many ways, it's true and unavoidable. But sometimes I feel like I'm limited to a stereotype. I wish I could illustrate more stories beyond Asian American subjects.

(A couple of illustrations from Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, including their rough sketches:)

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How will you celebrate it this year?

No, not really.

What did you think of Passage to Freedom when you first read it? What did you like best about the story?

Back then, I didn't know much about the Holocaust. I just knew that six million Jewish people were killed by the Nazis in World War II. Through researching the historical background of the story, I learned a lot about the Holocaust, and I was glad that I could contribute to commemorating this important history with my art. I was impressed by the extraordinary bravery of Mr. Sugihara and the strong support from his family for his decision.

What exactly was your process for creating the illustrations in Passage to Freedom? And how much research did you do? Did you use models/source pictures or did you draw from your memory/imagination?

I visited the Holocaust Museum at Washington D.C., and was strongly impacted by what I saw. The movie Schindler's List gave me great inspiration as well. Because the story is nonfiction, I used images from photos as references for the characters in the book. My editor sent me the book Visas for Life written by Yukiko Sugihara, Mr. Sugihara's wife. There are about forty black and white family photographs in the book. After the the war, when the Sugihara family was imprisoned in Russia, all of their belongings, including their family photos, were confiscated. Those forty photos in the book Visas for Life were the only photos which survived. So I managed using those forty photos and other reference photographs from my background research. For authenticity, I insisted that I was going to make my illustrations monotone, to honor the black and white photos that I referenced. First the editor was reluctant with this idea, but finally she agreed. When the book was finished, everyone was glad that we did so.

What are you working on now?

Now I'm working on a picture book from the Korean publisher Bori Book. The story is about a very old tree. In rural Korea, most towns only have one, or a small group of really old trees. When a town was established, people would planted a tree, or a group of trees. If that tree survived as the town developed over many generations, people started to worship the tree. They would call the tree 'Dangsan naamoo' and believed it had very strong spirit. Dangsan is a kind of title of great prestige. Naamoo means tree. The Dangsan naamoo in my story is about 500 years old. The author found that tree in the deep forest outskirts of a deserted town, where he is trying to reestablish a new farming community. Now I'm almost done the sketches. The book will be published this autumn.

Dom, thank you so much for your beautiful answers to my questions. Thank you so much for sharing with Into the Wardrobe readers! Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. :o)


0 Comments on Review and Interview: Passage to Freedom Illustrated by Dom Lee as of 5/6/2009 6:17:00 PM
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12. Author Interview: Lisa Yee

Let us welcome to Into the Wardrobe Lisa Yee, . . .

author of the middle grade novels . . .

and of the young adult novel . . .

Lisa, thank you very much for stopping by to join the celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I am Chinese American. My mother was born in Los Angeles, and my father was born in Seattle, Washington. However, both sets of {my} grandparents came to America from Canton, China.

(Lisa's parents, before Lisa was born)

What inspires and motivates you to write books for children and young adults?

I just can't help myself. It was something I have always wanted to do and I am drawn to books for kids. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that I peaked when I was about 12 years old.

What was your path to publication as a children's and young adult book writer?

I had been every other sort of writer there was--journalist, copywriter, screenwriter, etc. Everything but what I wanted most: author. So finally, I realized it was something that was going to plague me for the rest of my life unless I gave it a shot.

I was pulled out of the slush pile by Arthur Levine, editor of the Harry Potter series. He really mentored me and it's because of him that I have a career in books.

(Lisa and Arthur Levine)

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

I surf the Web and am on Facebook more than I want to admit. But all of this is warm-up. I'm not one of those authors who can just sit down and go at it. I have to noodle around a while before I can settle down and write. And then by then it's usually time to pick up my kids from school or have a snack. Therefore, I get most of my writing done very late at night when there are fewer distractions.

(Lisa's office)

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

A bad writing day is when I am on a deadline and nothing gets done. When those days happen, and they do, it just means that I have to be more conscious of how I spend my time the next day. I give myself daily and weekly goals, so I know when I'm slacking.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American children's and young adult book writer?

I really never thought of myself as an "Asian American author." However, it's come to my attention that that's what I am! Honestly, I've been surprised by how many kids identify with me or some of my characters because they are Asian American. I didn't have an agenda when I first started writing, I just wrote about kids like me.

As for the challenges, some people have told me that I'm a role model--so I have to be careful not to blow it!

(Lisa giving a luncheon keynote at the First Joint Conference of Librarians of Color)

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

This year I had the honor of being named one of Fox Sports Networks' Americans in Focus. They selected several Asian Americans and produced short segments that are running throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month on FSN-TV. Mine can be viewed here . . .

Lisa Yee

Or you can see it on my blog here.

Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult book writers? What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult books? Why are they your favorites?

Linda Sue Park is fabulous. Her novel A Single Shard won the Newbery Award and when you read the story, it's clear why. Paula Yoo's Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds is a great picture book. And Shaun Tan's graphic novel, The Arrival, is absolutely brilliant. His storyline about an immigrant, coupled with his unique illustrations, make this one of my favorite books.

What are you working on now?

I have a new series coming out in September that stars a fourth-grader named Bobby Ellis-Chan. His father is white and his mother is Chinese. The first is called Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) and it's for ages 7 - 10. The illustrator is Dan Santat, who's a Thai American.

I'm also working on a new middle grade novel that will probably be out next year.

Your books are available in bookstores in Asia! Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Really? I didn't know that! Very cool. To my readers in Asia, "Hellooooo, I hope you like the books. I'll keep them coming if you keep reading them!"

4 Comments on Author Interview: Lisa Yee, last added: 5/25/2009
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13. Author Interview: Cindy Pon

On the day of her first betrothal meeting--and rejection--Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams. And that’s just the beginning.

Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals. Her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. And then she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers.

Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance--of anything with the making of legend.

Hello! Today we continue our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with an interview of Cindy Pon, author of a new Asian fantasy for young adults, Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2009).

Cindy, can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

my mother was born in guang xi, china. my father was born in taiwan but his family was originally from guang dong. i was born in taipei and immigrated to the united states when i was six years old. i was an esl (english as a second language) student--and it's something that is deeply ingrained in my childhood. i think when you go to a new country where you can't understand a word that is spoken, it makes quite an impression.

Why do you write for young adults?

i actually stumbled upon this wonderful genre quite by accident. i had written a straight adult fantasy (so i thought). it wasn't until i began querying for agents that i was clued into the fact that Silver Phoenix could indeed be a young adult book. it contains many prevalent themes {in young adult books} such as rebelling against what's expected, the search for yourself, falling in love for the first time...

What inspired you to write Silver Phoenix?

i've written since i was in elementary school. i wrote short stories and poetry all through my teens, but stopped completely during my twenties. it wasn't until i had my bubs back to back in my thirties that i returned to my first love--writing. i really needed something to call my own again. i took a few classes on writing and decided i would try completing a novel. i wanted to combine two interests--fantasy, my favorite genre, and chinese culture. i had just started as a chinese brush art student and was eager to learn more about my roots.

What was the path to publication like for Silver Phoenix?

hard. writing a novel and then revising it for a year was just the beginning. i decided after i was done i loved it enough to try and see it to publication. i thought my book deserved it--that i deserved it. i queried 121 agents and got probably just as many rejections. i had a feeling that though some agents were drawn by my story and prose--they were afraid to take on the project--seeing that asian fantasy was not what was currently on the young adult market. it was certainly a challenge. and the "close ones" hurt the most.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

my book went to auction and i was...in disbelief. it was utterly surreal. i had phone chats scheduled with editors from major publishing houses in new york city between packing lunches for my bubs and putting them down for naps. i really couldn't wrap my mind around it. when i made the decision to go with virginia (my editor) and greenwillow books, i was still feeling so stunned. i couldn't believe that i was given my dream. i was thrilled and TERRIFIED. i've said it before and i'll say it again--it takes a lot of courage to chase your dream, it takes even more courage to live it.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult book writer?

i think the fact that what i've chosen to write is a little different than what's out there. it can be seen as a "risk". but honestly, i've only met so much encouragement since being published. i couldn't have asked for more support from the writing and reading community. i know it's impossible to write a book that every reader will love--but if Silver Phoenix touches a few in the way i intended, it'll all be worthwhile. if i inspire any other asian-american teens to follow their own writing dreams, that would be amazing.

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this month?

i don't! or i haven't for a long time. before the children, we did attend festivals when living in northern california. now our weekends are filled with birthday events and play dates and such. but i live my life like an asian american every day--in the things i discuss with my children, in my art, in what i read, in my language and in my food. i hope to lead just by living and example. i really want them to have a strong sense of their chinese heritage. i hope that they do grow up with that.

What are some of your favorite experiences so far from signings, interviews, and other promotional activities for your novel?

the signings were wonderful. it really made me feel like an author. and truly, the best part was seeing all my friends come to help me celebrate this achievement. so many of them were as excited for me as i was. it really touched me. i had support from online friends i'd known for years but had never met. my heart was full after both signings.

(Cindy with a writing friend, Mike Jung, at a signing in San Francisco)

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Silver Phoenix to be award-winning, or for Silver Phoenix to be bestselling? Why?

can't an author have both? haha! i choose neither. i really would like my book to find the readers that will love it. that's what i wanted from the very start--to send my novel out into the world and reach as many readers as possible who will enjoy it. anything beyond that would just be icing.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

i was really into anne rice and piers anthony as a teen. i also went through a vc andrews and sweet valley high period. i read agatha christie (poirot only!) as well as jean auel. stephen king was certainly a favorite and i also read the hobbit as a teen. i didn't read LOTR until i was in college or perhaps even after. i started reading iris murdoch (a severed head) when i was a junior, i think.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

i'm embarrassed to say i haven't read many at all. when i grew up, i don't think i've ever read a young adult book with an asian-american or asian character--much less a main character. after i discovered i would be publishing in the young adult genre, it's been a scramble to try and play catch up reading within this genre. i've got dragoneye reborn, north of beautiful, book of a thousand days, millicent min, girl genius ALL in my pile to be read. not to buy, i already have them--just haven't had the chance to read them yet! i'm looking forward to the reads!

i'm very excited that this generation has much more to choose from in reading diversity. i hope it continues to grow and it'll be more so when my children are teens.

What young adult books are you reading now?

i'm currently reading the ARC for EYES LIKE STARS by lisa mantchev which will be out in a few months. omg. wonderful. so unique, beautiful prose, fantastic characters and dialogue, a complete original. i high recommend it. another reason my pile keeps growing is i'm reading a lot of ARCs by other deb authors. which is truly exciting and fun!

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult literature is not as deep or as complex as literature for adults? What is your response to this misconception?

i think perhaps some adults consider the genre "childish". i think anything but. i've read some amazing young adult books and i'm barely scratching the surface. i think that the teenage years are one of the most volatile and most intense. there is so much going on physically, emotionally, sexually, intellectually, spiritually--on every level. i'm not quite sure any other time period in life can compare truly.

and to say that writing about that time period, from that time period is... not complex or boring or whatever label someone chooses to use. i think that's simply silly. if you bypass young adult as a reading genre, you know what... your loss.

What are you working on now?

i'm working on the sequel to Silver Phoenix and also a children's picture book featuring my chinese brush art!

(a cover from Cindy's dummy for her picture book)

Cindy, thank you for celebrating your debut novel and APA Heritage Month at Into the Wardrobe. I truly hope Silver Phoenix becomes a bestseller AND an award-winner!

8 Comments on Author Interview: Cindy Pon, last added: 6/15/2009
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14. Author Interview: Jama Kim Rattigan

I am so happy that today's guest is Jama Kim Rattigan...

the author of these picture books. :D

Jama's blog alphabet soup, which "offers food for thought and fine whining," is one of my favorite blogs. It features children's books, young adult books, art, interviews, bunnies, alphabet pasta, soup, cakes, cupcakes, flowers, poetry... Every day, Jama blogs about what is cute, excellent, lovely, awe-inspiring, and heartwarming. And she responds to every comment! If you love literature for the young and young at heart and food, and you don't already visit alphabet soup, all I can say is: Why???

I consider Jama a very special online friend, so I am particularly pleased to be interviewing her. Welcome, Jama!

Can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I’m a third generation Korean American who grew up in Hawai’i. Both of my grandfathers emigrated from Korea to work on the sugar plantations. My paternal grandmother was a picture bride, and my maternal grandmother made the long journey from Korea all alone at age 15 to join her parents, who were already in the Islands. I’m in awe of my brave grandparents, who were part of the first wave of Korean immigrants to the United States. They had to labor long hours to earn a living, and struggled with discrimination.

If someone in casual conversation asks about my ethnicity, I’ll usually say, “I’m from Hawai’i,” because I identify more strongly with local Island culture than I do with Korean culture. I’ve never been to Korea, and I don’t speak Korean.

Why do you write books for children?

Books saved me when I was growing up. With parents busy at work, and a brother with his own friends and interests, I was often left alone to my own devices. I know how much the right book can mean to a child with questions and a longing to venture beyond a small, circumscribed world.

As I read, though, I could never find myself in any of the stories. I did feel the same as some of the characters, but none of them were Asian, and Hawai’i seemed like a non-place. So I guess writing for children is my way of hopefully giving them a tiny portion of the comfort, validation, and entertainment books afforded me at a crucial time in my own life.

What was your path to publication as a children’s book writer?

I started by writing and submitting short stories to children’s magazines, collecting my fair share of form rejection slips. The periodicals were always overstocked with fiction, so I decided to try my hand at nonfiction. When I heard that Cobblestone Magazine was doing a Laura Ingalls Wilder issue, I jumped at the chance, and submitted my idea for a piece about Laura’s daughter, Rose, who had convinced her mother to write the Little House books. My article was accepted on my husband’s birthday.

After a few years of writing picture books, and having them rejected as well, I finally entered one of them in Little, Brown’s first New Voices, New World Multicultural Fiction Contest. On the day the U.S. entered the Gulf War, I was notified that my book, Dumpling Soup, was chosen as the winner!

(Click here to read an inspiring recipe for a picture book - how Jama cooked Dumpling Soup!)

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American children’s book writer?

The greatest reward is receiving positive feedback from kids and parents, who are happy to read stories reflecting their own experiences. Dumpling Soup is less about a particular Asian culture than it is about celebrating the unique cultural diversity that characterizes Hawai’i, and on a larger scale, America. It is exciting to be writing at a time when so many new voices are being heard, and cultural stereotypes are being shattered.

The biggest challenge is grappling with the label, “multicultural author.” At times it feels like a lot to live up to, and at others, limiting. While some of my stories certainly could be categorized as multicultural, or more specifically, “Asian American,” I’ve always written from my experience primarily as an American, who just happens to be of Asian descent. While I’m happy and proud to write about and share my Hawaiian heritage, and understand the need for authors to have a “brand” or identity in the publishing world, it is disappointing to have a good story rejected by a publisher because it’s not multicultural, i.e., what my readers would expect. Labels are convenient, but exclusionary. I’m more a product of my social environment, so that’s the place I write from.

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I only started celebrating it because of my blog – last year with a series of potluck posts featuring Asian authors and their recipes, and this year, with some book reviews, and a profile of one of my favorite illustrators, Allen Say. Of course I’ve been indulging in some extra sushi, dim sum, Korean barbecue, mochi, chow fun, chicken tikka and biryani!

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a voracious reader as a child, and could safely call the library my second home. In addition to such classics as the Little House books, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Women, and Noel Streatfeild’s shoe books, I was obsessed with Beverly Cleary, Carolyn Haywood, Lois Lenski, Eleanor Estes, and Maud Hart Lovelace. The Boxcar Children and Island of the Blue Dolphins also stand out, but in essence, I wanted to be Ramona Quimby.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children’s and young adult books?

The list is very long, but some that come to mind at this moment are:

Shizuko’s Daughter by Kyoko Mori
Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka
Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
Year of the Rat by Grace Lin
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look
Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
Long Season of Rain by Helen Kim
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.

What children’s and young adult books are you reading now?

Calvin Coconut by Graham Salisbury
Healing Water by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Harper Lee: Up Close by Kerry Madden
Julia’s Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber
And a slew of picture books!

What inspired you to start your blog? And what inspired you to combine food and children’s and young adult literature in your blog? What motivates you to keep blogging?

I started blogging about a year and a half ago to join the wonderful conversation about children’s books that I found online, and to find my “voice” again after some years away from writing. I was so inspired by the great bloggers I discovered in the kidlit community, and lurked for several months before getting up the courage to enter my first comment on the Blue Rose Girls. Each comment became easier, until it seemed the natural thing to do to have my own blog so others could reciprocate.

A blog featuring food and children’s books seemed like a deliciously exciting idea, because it would combine two of my greatest passions, and I hoped it would give my blog a unique identity, beyond being yet another writer or book review blog. I discovered through writing Dumpling Soup, that food is the great equalizer, a common denominator that instantly arouses interest and invites conversation. The blog’s name, “alphabet soup,” is a nod to my first book, as well as a reference to a chapter book I’m currently working on, which features a young alphabet collector.

What motivates me to keep blogging? Mainly, all the great people in the kidlitosphere, and the fact that blogging is mentally therapeutic, good writing practice, and a great creative outlet. It’s challenging to post every day: I’m part food-writer, part interviewer, part book reviewer, part historian, part photo essayist. I see blogging as an art form, much like handwritten letters once were, and I try to keep things upbeat, inspiring and informative. My mantra: “take the reader by the hand and show him what you love.”

What are you working on now?

In addition to the early chapter book mentioned above, I’m revising several picture books – two are set in Hawai’i, and the others are humorous stories featuring duck and panda chefs and their culinary misadventures.

Thanks so much for inviting me to be part of your Asian American Heritage Month celebration, Tarie! Aloha and Salamat!

Thank YOU, Jama. It has been a real pleasure chatting with you. :D And now I will go read your latest blog post... Oh, shoot! It's about flowers in food! See you at your blog!

11 Comments on Author Interview: Jama Kim Rattigan, last added: 6/1/2009
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15. Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley

Stopping by today to proudly talk about her Asian American heritage is the beautiful Justina Chen Headley - young adult book author, co-founder of readergirlz (an online book community for teen girls), and winner of the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature.

Welcome, Justina!

Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I am Taiwanese-American. My parents were both born in Taiwan, and I was born here in America.

What inspires and motivates you to write for young adults?

The teen years fascinate me—they’re at once formative and frustrating. Those are the years that form a person into an adult, yet so many of the rites and rights of adulthood are withheld.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

I try to journal for a few minutes at the start of my writing day. There’s something about pen connecting with paper that I find to be hugely liberating. And then I’ll write for 3-4 hours a day, oftentimes with a candle burning.

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

A bad writing day is when life overtakes my writing time, encroaches on the time I’ve set aside to create. I try to keep my writing time sacred, which means not scheduling anything during those hours. I’m not entirely successful at that!

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult book writer?

To be honest, I see myself as a young adult author who happens to be Asian-American rather than letting my race define who I am. For now, I’m intent on populating my books with characters of different ethnicities because I feel like there’s a dearth in representation in our fiction today. That gives me the room to create characters I want to write about, including Terra Rose Cooper in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL who happens to be white with a port wine stain on her face—and her love interest, Jacob, a teen boy who was adopted from China. I love being able to introduce my culture to people--whether that's through incorporating passages of food, of country, of history.

Justina's books for young adults:

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I eat Pan-Asian as much as I can throughout the month! Three years ago, I celebrated the month by embarking on a Hi-YAH! book tour with Janet Wong and Grace Lin.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a voracious reader, but unfortunately, YA wasn’t as well-developed as a category. My favorite books were by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume, but my all-time favorite book is THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, a book for all ages.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

I’m so happy that more and more Asian American authors are writing young adult. Everyone should check out Paula Yoo, David Yoo, An Na, Mitali Perkins.

What young adult books are you reading now?

I can’t wait to get my hands on Cindy Pon’s new YA novel!

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult books are not as deep or as complex as books for adults? What is your response to this misconception?

I wonder if people mistake length for depth? In any case, I am first to say that I think some of the best literature being written right now is for young adults. That’s one of the reasons why I co-founded readergirlz—the world’s largest online book community for teens. We are all about celebrating YA novels with strong, gutsy girl protagonists. Check it out at www.readergirlz.com and www.readergirlz.blogspot.com.

What are you working on now?

I’m juggling two different projects, one a contemporary YA novel and my first YA fantasy series—a retelling of a Chinese fairy tale. I took a phenomenal research trip to Dunhuang in China, part of the Silk Road. Fabulous!

Your books are available in bookstores in Asia. Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Be proud of our heritage! And read, read, read!

Justina, thank you for dropping by and chatting with me today. :D

6 Comments on Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley, last added: 6/1/2009
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16. Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa

Story and haiku translations by Matthew Gollub
Illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone
Calligraphy by Keiko Smith

Cool melons --
turn to frogs!
If people should come near.

Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa (Lee and Low Books, 1998) is so beautiful that I got teary-eyed the first time I looked through it. This picture book tells the story of Kobayashi Yataro, the haiku master otherwise known as Issa. Issa was born in Kashiwabara, a small mountain village in Japan, in 1763. He liked observing birds and insects, and spent a lot of time playing alone in the woods. It seems natural then that he started writing haiku as a young boy. (Traditional haiku describe a single moment in nature.)

Issa's mother died when he was three and his father remarried when he was seven. Issa and his stepmother didn't get along at all, so when Issa was only fourteen, he was sent away from his home. He went to Edo, which is now known as Tokyo, to work and study under a master poet. Issa's poems were soon being published in books and eventually he took over the master poet's school.

When Issa was thirty, he stopped teaching, shaved his head, donned a priestly robe, picked up a pilgrim's staff, and started a journey in the tradition of haiku poets. For seven years, he traveled around Japan by foot and wrote haiku - and he found great joy in this lifestyle.

Asleep on the ocean --
a folding fan
shades me from the moon.

Finally, Issa returned to his village in time to nurse his father during his last days. And even though Issa still could not get along with his stepfamily, he promised his father that he would settle in the village and start a family of his own there. And there Issa continued to delight in nature, write haiku, and teach students until the day he died in 1827.

The new year's first dream --
I see my village
and wake to a chilly tear.

If you want to learn A LOT more about Issa and his life or about haiku in general, you MUST read Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!. Interspersed with Issa's life story are thirty-three of his lovely haiku. Each haiku is also written in Japanese in the outer page margins. Keiko Smith wrote the calligraphy using traditional materials: charcoal, paper, water, and brush. There's also a very helpful and very interesting author's note at the end with lots more information about Issa's work and about haiku in general.

This book has inspired me to have more contact with nature, to reflect more, and to try to write my own haiku. :)

Check out the blog of children's book writer Susan Taylor Brown for more posts on poetry today.

3 Comments on Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa, last added: 5/23/2009
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17. wok this way: china and korea stir fry

It's been quite a month -- flowers, salad, strawberries, and Asian Pacific American Heritage. As far as I'm concerned, every month is a time for ethnic pride, learning more about other cultures, and getting excited over books that feature new voices and perspectives. Do you need an excuse to eat more dim sum? Not me!

One of the ways I've been celebrating APAHM is to pick up some of the picture books I'd heard about, but never got around to reading. It was good to see titles featuring more Korean, Japanese, and South Asian characters, alongside the plentiful store of Chinese books. We still need more stories about Hawai'i and the Philippines, though, so I'd better get busy. 


Anyway, today I'm serving up this tasty stir fry combining the flavors of Korea and China. Each title brims with its own brand of color, texture, and emotional resonance: 

THE SQUIGGLE by Carole Lexa Schaefer, pictures by Pierr Morgan (Crown Publishers, 1996). A spirited little Chinese girl finds a red piece of string on the ground and exuberantly imagines what this newfound squiggle could be -- a dragon? a great wall? the circle of a deep still pool? When she shares her perceptions with her classmates, of course they "get" it right away and let out a big cheer. The marker and gouache illos on oatmeal speckle tone paper are fresh and simple, pulling the reader right into the fun. I love the "slither slish, push-a-pat, crack crickle hiss" of the narrative! A real charmer.



NEW CLOTHES FOR NEW YEAR'S DAY by Hyun-Joo Bae (Kane/Miller, 2007). Translated from the original Korean, this sweet first person narrative follows a little girl who's celebrating the Lunar New Year by putting on new clothes her mother has made for her. There is joy in each piece, from the crimson silk skirt, to the rainbow-striped jacket, delicate socks embroidered with flowers, to the hair ribbon of red and gold.

Hyun-Joo Bae's winsome illos showing the girl's expressions as she wraps the skirt around herself, tumbles over while putting on her socks, and struggles with her hair ribbon, are wonderfully captivating and provide an emotional focal point for the largely formal, precisely composed settings. An Author's Note describes the significance of new clothes for New Year's Day, and there's a lovely diagram of the costume with proper Korean names for all the pieces.


WAITING FOR MAMA by Lee Tae-Jun, pictures by Kim Dong-Seong (North South Books, 2004). This haunting, poignant little tale, set in 1930's Korea, features a small boy waiting at a streetcar station for his mother to arrive. It's winter, and the boy seemingly waits a long time, in the cold and snow, as conductors on arriving streetcars answer his question about the whereabouts of his mother with a matter-of-fact, "Do I know your Mama?" The pastel and pencil illustrations, rendered in subdued ivories, browns and olives, enlarge the story, which is told in Korean Hangeul alongside its English translation. The boy is a paragon of patience, so tiny on the platform amongst other travelers, so alone in a big world. The final double page, wordless spread shows the boy and his mother walking home hand in hand in the midst of a blizzard. The story seems simple, but it's capable of stirring deeper emotions, primarily because of the illustrations (the story was originally published in a newspaper in 1938).

MY MEI MEI by Ed Young (Philomel, 2006). This is the true story of how Ed Young and his family went to China to adopt a little sister, or "mei mei" for his daughter Antonia, and how she learned to be a big sister to little Ananda. Told from Antonia's point of view, it traces the significant moments of this sibling relationship -- starting from when Antonia first asks for a little sister, to them flying the "friendly sky" to China, to seeing Ananda for the first time, to experiencing jealousy and realizing "she was not all she ought to be" (requiring special teachers to learn to walk and talk). There is love and warmth in the simple yet significant ways the sisters eventually bond, and the gorgeous gouache, pastel and collage illustrations render the experience with such luminosity it takes the breath away. That I can feel a father's love in every aspect of the story's execution only deepens my veneration for it.


RUBY'S WISH by Shirin Yim Bridges, pictures by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle Books, 2002). A simply told, inspiring story based on the author's grandmother's experience of growing up in turn-of-the-century China at a time when females were married off rather than educated. Ruby (named for her love of the color red), displays an independent spirit and love for learning, even while respecting what tradition dictates. Young readers will likely admire Ruby's quiet determination as she continues with her studies while fulfilling domestic obligations. Thanks to a special relationship with her wise and enlightened grandfather, Ruby eventually realizes her wish of attending university. Sophie Blackall's gouache illos effectively depict Sophie's unconventional personality and contain just the right kind of details to keep readers engaged all the way through.


MY NAME IS YOON by Helen Recorvits, pictures by Gabi Swiatkowska (FSG, 2003). The satisfying story of how a Korean girl, Yoon, learns to adjust to her new life in America. Feeling alone and alienated from her classmates, Yoon resists writing her name, which means "Shining Wisdom," in English. She much prefers to write her name in Korean, where the "symbols dance together," saying that in English, all the lines and circles stand alone. Each day as the teacher encourages her to write "Yoon" in English, Yoon chooses instead to write a word that reflects her inner feelings -- a CAT, which could hide in a corner, or a BIRD, which could fly back to Korea. 

One day, a classmate gives Yoon a cupcake, and she expresses her happiness by writing CUPCAKE. Growing feelings of acceptance coupled with the teacher's smiles, finally prompt Yoon to write her name in English, as she realizes she will still be Yoon in any language. Swiatkowska's paintings dramatically depict Yoon's transition from alienation to acceptance, as they go from starkly spare and surreal to warm and humanizing.


UNCLE PETER'S AMAZING CHINESE WEDDING by Lenore Look, pictures by Yumi Heo (Atheneum, 2006). Feisty, spirited Jenny feels like "an umbrella turned inside out" at the prospect of her Uncle Peter's upcoming nuptials. After all, she's always been his best girl, and now, Stella, an interloper in a red dress who's the new center of Peter's universe, threatens her every happiness. Several fascinating Chinese wedding traditions, including bargaining for the bride, bed jumping, and exchanging good luck money, are described in Jenny's forthright, humorous voice. The lively telling is tempered by Jenny's very believable sadness at losing her uncle, and Yumi Heo's quirky, Maira Kalmanesque pencil, oil and collage illos perfectly depict this noisy, hectic family celebration with its jumble of emotions. Jenny will win you over from the start.

                         Happy Reading!

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18. Author Interview: Roseanne Thong

Welcome Roseanne Thong, author of children's picture books with a distinctly Asian flavor! :D

Roseanne, you have worked as a journalist and as an English teacher. What was your path to publication as a children's book writer?

My path to publication as a children's writer was purely accidental! After my daughter, Maya, was born, I was inspired to write stories on basic themes that appeal to toddlers: shapes, colors, and numbers. Unfortunately, I just locked these ideas in a drawer, thinking that no one would be interested, other than my own child. One day, a good friend saw the manuscripts and insisted that I send them out to children's publishers. I learned how to send a query letter by joining SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) and sent my manuscripts out to SCBWI's list of recommended publishers. A year later, I had sold my first book!

What motivates you to write children's books?

My world around me: what I see as I'm walking down the street, and working with students, what I care about regarding human interaction, and the things that bring a smile to my own daughter's face. I also am motivated to write about Asian culture, in a way that makes it interesting and exciting for all children. I write on universal themes, but often, with a unique Asian flavor.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

Finding quality time to write is the most difficult obstacle that I face, and more important than the process of writing, is the process of finding time to write! You can't write in between phone calls, paying bills and cooking. You need a chunk of quality, quiet time. What I can do on these days, is to list out ideas...in a prioritized way...so that when I am presented with time...I already know what I'm going to focus on.

On my writing days, I don't answer the phone between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. I put a sign on my door that says "Mom at work," and don't let anyone enter. I schedule all appointments for my non-writing days. Then...as soon as I have time...it's a mad race to get ideas down. I write as much as I can, with as little editing as possible. Then, later on, I will go back and edit those ideas--keeping the good and throwing out the bad.

Your picture book Round is a Mooncake (illustrated by Grace Lin and published by Chronicle Books in 2000) is a really fun and engaging book of shapes found in Asia (round rice bowls, square name chops, rectangle inking stones, etc.). I love it! What inspired you to write Round is a Mooncake?

It was the eve of the Moon Festival in Hong Kong, where I lived and taught English for 14 years. I was shopping in my local neighborhood, when I noticed the full, round, harvest moon, round lanterns, round mooncakes, round baskets of round fruit. I was suddenly inspired by round shapes. I grabbed my pen and an old electric bill I had in my purse, jotted down a rhyme that poured seamlessly from my thoughts...

Round is a mooncake
Round is the moon
Round are the lanterns outside my room...

The Wishing Tree (illustrated by Connie McLennan and published by Shen's Books in 2004) is based on a real wishing tree in Hong Kong. It's a touching and inspiring story about a boy named Ming and his grandmother who every year make wishes using the tree. What inspired you to write The Wishing Tree? Do you often make wishes on Chinese wishing trees?

When I lived in Hong Kong, my family and I would make a wish every year at the local Wishing Tree.

But this book was inspired by several questions that I'd been thinking about for years, not necessarily related to the wishing tree...."What purpose do wishes play in children's lives, and why do some children wish for things that can't come true?" My own daughter always wished for a dog, but we could never have one...I'm terribly allergic to animals, and we lived in a small apartment without a yard. As I explored questions about wishing, I developed a male character in my mind named Ming, who also wished for something that could not come true. I guess my daughter was the inspiration.

I also love Gai See: What You Can See in Chinatown (illustrated by Yangsook Choi and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2007)! It's an absolutely delightful picture book about the things one can see at a Chinese street market, from songbirds to velvet shoes with pearls and beads, to dragon fruit and sticky jellies. What inspired you to write Gai See? What are your favorite things in Chinese street markets?

As with Round is a Mooncake, Gai See was inspired by a walk through my local Chinese street market or "Gai See" in Cantonese. I noticed the unique sounds, textures, smells, tastes, and visual stimulation, and then presented myself with a question that turned into a book...

What in the world could you possibly see
at an old Gai See beside the sea
on a hot and steamy, melt ice creamy
summery Saturday morning?

What are the challenges and rewards of writing Asian-influenced children's books?

The biggest challenge of writing an Asian-themed book is being culturally accurate, both in text and with illustration. Sometimes, the illustrations are not appropriate: they might show a Japanese item, rather than a Chinese one, or colors or numbers that are culturally offensive or even foreign to Chinese. I also worry that I might not have understood customs or traditions fully. Therefore, I run my text past 3 or 4 'experts'...librarians, teachers, and others, who can make sure the text sound authentic.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books? What Asian or Asian American children's books are you reading now?

Wow...there are so many good ones. Just a few that come to mind are "Baseball Saved Us" by Ken Mochizuki, "Monsoon" by Uma Krishnaswami, and various books by Allen Say, Paul Say and Minfong Ho. I'm currently re-reading "Farewell to Manzanar" for the 5th or 6th time.

What are some of your favorite experiences from living in Asia for more than 15 years?

Asia is an incredible place. While there is always something new and unexpected around every corner, my favorite experiences are the mundane...the chirp of cicada (like crickets at a soccer match) on a warm summer day, the beckoning taste of dragon fruit, star fruit and mangosteen, the call of street hawkers, and warm, humid air from the South China sea.

(Roseanne with her daughter Maya at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong)

You are American and your husband is Malaysian-born Chinese, so your daughter enjoys a very rich mixed heritage. Does your family celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

We celebrate everything that comes along...it makes life more exciting! A few times a year, I take my daughter to the bookstore (her idea of the proverbial 'candy shop') and let her pick out two books on a particular theme. We'll celebrate by delving into the newest Asian-American authors and books.

(Roseanne and Maya at dragon boat races in Hong Kong)

What are your upcoming books for children?

My latest is a book entitled "Wish" (Chronicle Books, 2008), it is a book of international wish-making traditions. It recently was named "Best of the Best Book" from Chicago Public Library, and was a "Notable Book" recommended by Smithsonian Magazine.

Another book called "Fly Free" will be published later this year. It is a book about Karma, written in a way that young children can grasp. It takes place in Vietnam, though the concept is universal...that good karma or good deeds generate goodness.

Thank you so much Roseanne for taking the time to answer my questions today. And I thank you for writing books for children that are great introductions to Asian culture!

0 Comments on Author Interview: Roseanne Thong as of 5/26/2009 7:17:00 PM
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19. 7 Weird/Random facts About Me

I have been tagged by Joh at johblogs. I’ve never been tagged before, but figure I’ll give it a go. Here’s how it works: Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their

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20. the perfect blend from lensey namioka

 It's time for the second course in our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month potluck!

Last week, Lisa Yee ( [info]lisayee) tempted us with her
won ton appetizers, but she wouldn't share Colin Firth. This has left me hungrier than ever. How about you?

I've been a
Lensey Namioka fan since the early 90's, when I read the first book in her Yang family series for middle grade readers, Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear (Yearling,1994). I found the story of 9-year-old Yingtao, the only one of four siblings who is not musically inclined, warm and captivating, and it provided something relatively rare in books featuring Asian characters back then -- humor. 

Yang the Youngest and His Terrible EarYang the Third and Her Impossible FamilyYang the Second and Her Secret AdmirersYang the Eldest and His Odd Jobs

I was ecstatic when Lensey followed up with three more books spotlighting Yingtao's sisters, Yingmei and Yinglang, and his older brother, Yingwu. Each sibling, with his/her respective personal, social, and cultural challenges, is lovingly depicted in Lensey's engaging and refreshingly simple prose.

Lensey's most recent book is a young adult novel called Mismatch (Delacorte, 2006), which I devoured over the weekend. Fifteen-year-old Sue Hua, a Chinese American girl whose family moves from culturally diverse Seattle to a mostly white suburb, falls for Andy Suzuki, who plays violin in the school orchestra. They are seen as an ideal couple since they are both Asian, but this is just one of many misconceptions that are examined and dispelled in the course of the novel.

Sue's grandmother has painful memories of the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. Andy's father harbors resentment over ill treatment he received on a visit to Beijing. What I found especially enlightening about this story is that it moves beyond familial disapproval of Sue and Andy's relationship, to questions of personal identity and reverse prejudice. When Sue and Andy go to Japan on a school orchestra trip, questions of ethnicity are deepened as they interact with their host families.  

Lensey herself was born in Beijing, and could not speak English when her family moved to the U.S. at age nine, so she knows well the problems of cultural assimilation. She attended Radcliffe and UC Berkeley, and majored in mathematics, but decided she liked writing better. After marrying Isaac Namioka, a fellow mathematician, she visited Japan and became interested in the culture (she has written a series of samurai adventure mysteries set in 16th century Japan).

Mismatch beautifully weaves together Lensey's wisdom and understanding of both Japanese and Chinese mores. The intercultural and intergenerational dynamics make for a fascinating and often surprising read.

I was nervous emailing Lensey, since I've admired her for so long, but discovered she is the generous, unassuming person I hoped she would be. She was busy packing for a trip to Europe, but took the time to send a favorite childhood recipe. She says, "The amounts of the ingredients are all approximate, since my mother didn't have a recipe, and I just learned from watching her make the dish."

I made this Sunday night, and found it to be easy, light, healthy and delish. Since tastes differ, I advise adding the soy sauce gradually until desired saltiness is achieved.


2 cups cooked chicken meat (can be boiled or microwaved), torn into shreds, about 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup (or less) soy sauce
3 T sesame oil
2 stalks scallions, cut into slivers about 1 inch long
slivers of celery and cucumber, 1 inch long (optional)

Mix together all ingredients and serve cold.


For more about Lensey and her books, visit her
website. There is also a nice feature about her at papertigers.org.

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21. 2662-mile wok: surprise guests!

                                Jim and Sylvia

What's most exciting about a potluck?

ou never know who'll pop in and what they'll bring!

Some of you may remember my half-sister Sylvia, gourmet chef to the stars. For the alphabet soup Cookie Party in December, she shared a couple of red carpet recipes.

Today, Sylvia and her husband, Jim, have wokked all the way from Bend, Oregon, just to share a favorite stir fry recipe with all of us. Chinese cooking is Sylvia's specialty, so be sure to give this sumptuous dish a try. Syl is also an accomplished musician who once gave Martin Sheen guitar lessons. Best listen to some favorite tunes during the preparation and consumption of this dish, to make the flavors really sing!


1/4 lb. bay scallops
snow peas, thinly julienned
fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
red bell pepper, thinly julienned
green onion, thinly sliced into long strips

(These are just suggestions for veggies you can use. Be sure to compliment the scallops, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. Also, color should be a consideration. You may substitute chicken slices, shrimp, or even deep fried pieces of fish. If you use the latter, stir fry your veggies first, then add sauce, and then carefully combine the pieces of fish with the rest.)

Seasonings: 1 T finely minced fresh ginger


4 T lemon juice
3 T sugar
2 T chicken stock
1 T light soy
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest cut into fine shreds

1. Heat wok or fry pan to high and add about 1 T oil and roll around to cover.

2. Add seafood or meat. Do not be tempted to add more or your ingredient will not seal properly and wil let off too much liquid. If necessary, do it in two batches. Stir fry until your ingredient turns opaque. Remove from heat to a platter.

3. Return wok to high heat. Add 1 T oil and roll to cover. Add seasoning and saute a few seconds.

4. Add veggies and stir fry until al dente. Add sauce. Return meat or seafood to the dish.

5. If you prefer, add small amount of cornstarch mixed with water or chicken broth. Add a little oil to the mix to avoid lumping and add enough broth to make a sauce with a little body, but not too much. Taste and adjust seasonings.

                            THANKS SYL!


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22. Adapting to different realities

We’ve recently posted our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to the PaperTigers website (click now or click later, but do hop on over and enjoy the new features) and, as usual, we had more material then we could fit into the update. So here are some additional thoughts for you to mull over:

I found interesting words by authors Linda Sue Park and Laurence Yep pointing to an intersection, so to speak, between fantasy/science fiction and multicultural literature. And the idea that the themes and scenarios explored in some science fiction books might resonate with immigrant and biracial children is an intriguing one…

In a video interview to Reading rockets, Laurence Yep speaks of “adapting to different realities” in a time when books reflecting his own experiences didn’t exist:

I lived in an Afro-American neighborhood and went to school in Chinatown. So the books that I really found true to my own life were fantasy and science-fiction, because in those books you have children from an ordinary world or ordinary place taken to another world, where they have to learn strange, new customs and a strange, new language. Those books talked about adapting, and that was something I did every time I got on and off the bus.

And Linda Sue Park says, in her answer to a question from Cynthia Leitich Smith about the lack of non-white protagonists in fantasy and science fiction:

Fantasy and science fiction generally posit the protagonist as an “other,” amid races and species that are not of this world. Some writers whose lives are lived as part of the majority might feel that they have to leave the real world, as it were, in order to place their characters in environs of alienation. But writers of color don’t need to do that–we’ve got plenty of alienation right here (…). As we continue to get more comfortable in the mainstream of both life and literature, I think we’ll start to see more characters of color in other genres. These things take time.

From a time when fantasy and science fiction about “alien worlds” were closer to home for a young Chinese American boy than the rest of the available stories, to a time when all genres, including fantasy and science fiction, feature characters of color… Now that’s something to think about and root for.

0 Comments on Adapting to different realities as of 5/19/2008 6:14:00 PM
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23. presidential potluck with mitali perkins

Friends, can you smell that positively divine aroma of fresh ginger, turmeric, cumin, chilies, and mustard emanating from your computer screen? 


Thanks to First Daughter Sameera "Sparrow" Righton and her creator, Mitali Perkins, we can enjoy some authentic Indian food at our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month potluck today! 

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to don my salwar kameez and bhangra around the kitchen. I just read the first two books in Mitali's First Daughter series, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton, 2007, 2008). Loved them.

    Cover Image    Cover Image
                   Perfect for young readers 11 and up!
I admit I didn't know quite what to expect. I had enjoyed The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen and Monsoon Summer. Positively adored Rickshaw Girl, which, as you probably know, has received loads of well deserved accolades, the latest of which is the 2008 Jane Addams Honor Award.

In 16-year-old Sparrow, I found a highly intelligent, compassionate, resourceful humanitarian, who just happens to be the President's adopted daughter. In Extreme American Makeover, we see how Sparrow's strong sense of self prevails, despite a physical makeover and attempts to "Americanize" the Pakistani heritage out of her while her dad is running for office.

Once her dad wins the election, they move into the White House, where things get even more interesting. In the second book, we see just how many of the White House "rules" Sparrow adheres to, as she interacts with her cousin Miranda, plays Cupid for her mom's personal assistant, hangs with her SARSA friends at the Revolutionary Cafe, longs for her soulmate, Bobby, deepens her friendship with not-so-privileged Mariam, and of course, continues to blog. Despite the restrictions of a high profile lifestyle, somehow Sparrow manages to stay true to herself and positively affect those around her.

And how about those oatmeal scotchies! We first tasted them in Extreme American Makeover, but in White House Rules, these frosted wonders take on a life of their own. After the Swedish Ambassador raves about them, they become a staple at White House teas, enabling Miranda to earn some needed funds. Never underestimate the value of farm fresh milk! All I know is, I MUST make those cookies. Good thing Mitali has linked to some scotchies recipes here.

Speaking of recipes, Mitali has brought a childhood favorite today. She says, "We used to eat this almost every day when I was growing up. I LOVED it as a kid, mixed with steaming basmati rice and a side of hot mango pickle, and still do!"

So go ahead, whip this up. You know you want to. And while it's simmering, peek into the White House to see what Sparrow is up to. I want her there come November.


1-1/2 cups red lentils
3-1/2 cups water
6 sliced serrano chilies
1/4 tsp turmeric
1-1/2 tsp salt
4 T vegetable oil
1 cup minced onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 T panch phanon mix (equal proportions of whole cumin, fenugreek, anise, mustard, and Indian black onion seeds mixed and sold as one spice; you'll need to get this at an Indian store and it's called "five spice mix")
4 dried small red chilies (depending on how spicy you want it)
3 cloves crushed garlic

1. Rinse lentils well, add water, serrano chilies, turmeric and salt. Bring carefully to boil and cook over low to medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Adjust salt.

2. While lentils are cooking, cook onions in a frying pan in two tablespoons of oil until they are golden brown (approximately 10 minutes), stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and ginger and continue cooking until the tomatoes turn into a delicious and fragrant mush (approximately 8 minutes). Stir constantly so that tomato mixture doesn't stick. Turn heat to low if necessary.

3. Scrape out the tomato mixture into the lentils and stir it in. Let lentils sit while you make the spiced oil.

4. Do a quick rinse of the frying pan, without soap, and dry thoroughly. Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil and heat over medium high heat. When oil is hot add panch phanon mix and heat until the seeds begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add red chilies and fry for another 15 seconds, until they turn a little darker. Turn off heat and add the crushed garlic and let sizzle for about 30 seconds. Stir this mixture into the lentil/tomato mixture and serve with rice. Adjust salt.

Lots more talk about life between cultures at Mitali's Fire Escape! (Have you seen her interview with Spencer Christian on View from the Bay? She looks mahvelous!)

Visit Sparrow's blog for the latest on real-life First Kid wannabes.

Mitali is also one of ten authors featured at Fusion Stories, celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month.


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24. friday feast: jazz chops


"You do not sew with a fork, and I see no reason why you should eat with knitting needles." ~ Miss Piggy


Chop chop!

I'm serving up something cool!

The other day, I was scouting around for some Asian American poetry and ran across this gem. It made me realize I've been taking chopsticks for granted all my life. I guess that can happen, if using them is like blinking your eyes or breathing, and you can't even remember when you first picked them up!

Lawson Inada, an internment camp detainee in WWII, infuses his poetry with elements of jazz (which I love). Music sustained him through that painful experience, and jazz, in particular, was the common language in the Black and Chicano communities he was a part of after the war. 


In "Inada and Jazz," Julianne Chang says, "his jazz poetics works to redress the pain of racial trauma by enacting an alternative to the dominant time of the nation. His jazz poetics of repetition and improvisation enable re-stagings and re-workings of a troubled past, while his poetics of syncopation enact the rhythm and status of the racially marginalized subject as one outside standard national historic time."

Today Inada is considered by many to be the father of Asian American literature -- he was the first Asian American to publish poems with a major NYC publisher, and is currently Oregon's Poet Laureate.

So pick up your sticks and savor Inada's jazzy take on a 3,000-year-old tradition.

~ from Drawing the Line (Coffee House Press, 1997)
by Lawson Inada

When you think about it,
eatin' with sticks 
is the natural thing to do;

that is, without getting all
sociological about it,
it makes logical sense

to handle your food
with these smooth extensions
of your fleshy fingers --

that way, the hot
is truly cool,
bit by bit making its way

south to your mouth
as you choose
what you chews,

chowing down on, say,
succulent shoots of bamboo
with sticks of bamboo

as you come full circle
in the ecological 
sense of things

(Read the rest here.)

Community bowls of poetry 
available today at Becky's Book Reviews

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25. SOUP'S ON: Debbi Michiko Florence in the Kitchen Interview!

        Debbi at her book launch party held at Books, Inc., 
        Mountain View,

I'm very pleased today to welcome Live Journal friend and children's author, Debbi Michiko Florence ( [info]d_michiko_f) to the alphabet soup kitchen! 

Debbi's first book, China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book, was just released in March, and it's a beauty. A scrumptious volume containing over 40 activities and fascinating chunks of info about everything from China's history, geography, culture, language, arts, to the all-important topic of food, it is the perfect hands-on learning resource for school or home.

Did you know the wheelbarrow was invented in China? What is the typical school day like for kids there? Maybe you'd like a calligraphy or chopsticks lesson, or are in the mood to embroider, make a clay soldier, juggle, or feast on mooncakes or dumplings. With an appealing format full of photos, cartoon drawings, maps, and diagrams, CHINA will surely get kids 8-13 excited and keep them engaged.

Debbi is visiting today from her home state of California, where she lives with her husband, teenage daughter, and rat terrier, Trixie. A full-time writer, Debbi has also been a fifth grade teacher, pet store manager, raptor rescue volunteer, and an Associate Curator for Education at the Detroit Zoo. She loves to travel, and has lived in such interesting places as Mexico City and Shanghai. Her next book, JAPAN, is due out next year.

Congratulations on getting your first book published, Debbi! Since CHINA is part of an existing series, how did this project come about? How much leeway were you given in selecting specific topics to include?

Thank you! I was very lucky to be asked to write this book. My friend, Nancy Castaldo, who has written many fabulous activity books on nature and the environment, was speaking to an editor when the editor mentioned she was looking for someone to write a book for kids about China. Nancy, who has read my work, recommended me and mentioned that I was living in Shanghai. The editor spoke with my agent, I wrote an outline, and I was given the contract! I have a background in education, so I think that helped. Because my book would be the first in the Kaleidoscope Kids Series under the new publishers, I had a lot of leeway. I was able to pick and choose the topics, with some guidance from the editor.

                        CHINA: A KALEIDOSCOPE KIDS BOOK
                  by Debbi Michiko Florence, pictures by Jim Caputo 
                     (Williamson Books, 2008), ages 8-13, 96 pp.

The research must have been a lot of fun. How did you gather all your information? Can you describe any especially interesting, surprising, or even frustrating experiences you had during this process?

It was a bit overwhelming at first. There was so much to learn and know and research and double-check! I probably over-researched. I was grateful to my editor for fact-checking and to my Mandarin teacher for her help. Because I lived in China, I was able to experience some of the things I wrote about first hand. That was pretty exciting!

            Debbi with her favorite dim sum treat, dan taht (egg custard), 
            at Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai, China

I think the most frustrating experience for me was not knowing when to stop researching and start writing. I whined to friend and author Jerry Spinelli and he gave me this advice: "You can sit on the bench and study the game forever, but you'll never score until you take off your sweats and start shooting." Wise words! I think I knew I had enough research material, but was scared to start writing. Once he said that, I started writing, and the words just flowed, because by that time I did indeed know the material.

Briefly take us through the stages of bringing this project to completion, once you signed the contract.

I spent weeks and weeks researching and taking copious notes by longhand on yellow legal pads. I was lucky to have a large desk in China! I had piles of paper all over the desk and on the floor. Also on the floor, I had a huge map of China. It was like walking through a maze in my office.

            Debbi at the Great Wall

I typed up my manuscript on my computer, using my notes as I wrote. I kept separate files for each section. Once I finished writing the entire draft, I created and wrote up the activities to go with the text. That was the most fun for me, since I had had experience with that when I was an outdoor school teacher, classroom teacher, and Associate Curator of Education of a zoo.

  In front of a canal in Suzhou, China

I revised and proofed my manuscript and had my daughter test the activities to make sure the instructions were clear and that the activities worked out. I had to make some adjustments. I turned in my draft to my editor. We went back and forth on rewrites and edits. I proofed a final galley and then it went to print! The entire process took place within a year!

             Debbi's daughter tests the panda mask activity from CHINA

I especially love the chapters, "The Inventive Chinese," "More Than Chow Mein," and "China's Amazing Art." Do you have a favorite chapter?

I enjoyed writing all the chapters, but my favorite is a toss up between "More Than Chow Mein" (I love food) and the wildlife section. My college degree is in zoology and I've always had a strong interest in animals!

What's next for you?

My agent is submitting my YA novel, so in the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what my next project will be. I have several WIPs in various stages. One is an incomplete first draft, another is on a third revision, and just recently, a new voice started speaking to me. This is unusual for me. In the past, I've always known what project was next. I'm also doing edits on my JAPAN book, a follow up to my CHINA book with Williamson Books (due out in summer of 2009).

Tell us about your general process when writing a novel. What is hardest for you? What do you feel are your strongest areas?

For my young adult novels, my process has changed over the years. I used to write a (crappy) first draft from beginning to end. Then I would spend time getting to know the characters and figuring out the story. Many revisions later, I'd have a draft I felt I could share for critique. More recently, however, a voice comes to me and I just freewrite -- either scenes or dialogue, until I figure out what this character's story is about. Then I write a (crappy) first draft. Some of those scenes/dialogue make it into the draft, but some do not. By nature, I am a plunger, making discoveries about my character and her story along the way. I don't really outline, except that I think that my first drafts are in a way, a very long general outline.

                             Trixie takes over Debbi's writing space

Right now, for me, first drafts are the hardest part of writing a novel. I'm anxious to get to know the story and character, and I get frustrated that it takes so dang long. I'm much better, now, with revising drafts, especially with the smart help from my writing group!

What drew you to writing for children and young adults?

I started out writing travel articles (for a webzine) and adult short fiction. I had a couple of my short stories published in very small journals/magazines (The Berkshire Review, AIM Magazine). When I started writing my first novel, however, I was pleased to discover it was about a teenage girl. I had the wonderful fortune of crossing virtual paths with Cynthia Leitich Smith and she generously offered advice to me. One important bit of advice that seems obvious but wasn't to me then, was to read the genre. Cyn became my mentor and because of her I have grown as a writer! I'm forever grateful! But I digress! ;) What drew me to writing for young adults? I think my emotional age is stuck at 15. The period between ages 14-18 is the most vivid for me.

What kind of child and teenager were you? Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Well, if you ask my mom, she'll tell you I was an angel. I think she has selective memory. ;) It should not surprise anyone who knows me that I have always loved to read and write.

The first story I "wrote" was in picture form. I was probably in kindergarten or first grade. I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't writing stories. The first real story I wrote that was "published" was in 4th grade for our class magazine. It was a story about Fluffy the dog and her puppies. I wonder if I have that stashed somewhere? Hmmmmm.

                     The author at work

I'm a firm believer that people are what they eat. Please describe your favorite childhood food-related memory.

Then I am an umeboshi -- a Japanese pickled plum. I just recently learned that it really isn't a plum, but a type of apricot. Umeboshi is very sour and usually eaten with rice, but I love to eat it as a snack, plain. As I type this, I'm salivating!

When I was a toddler and visiting my great-aunt in Japan, she had a bunch of umeboshi drying in the sun outside. As I hear the story, I ran outside, grabbed handfuls of umeboshi, and shoved them in my mouth.

Today, if I receive homemade umeboshi, Bob (my husband) knows he can't have any. I'll share the store-bought kind, but homemade is all mine!

Do you like to cook? If so, what is your specialty? What food inspires your best work?

Despite my Soup Sister posts on my blog, I do not really love to cook. My husband is the chef in the family, but with him traveling so much for business, he hasn't been around to feed me. That's why I got the soup cookbook (New England Soup Factory Cookbook) and started making soups. I'm actually enjoying it. Perhaps I'll branch out into other types of food! I don't have a specialty yet. Ask me in a year or so! :)

              Making dumplings, from the recipe included in CHINA

What three authors, living or deceased, would you love to have dinner with?

Madeleine L'Engle, Barbara Kingsolver, Judy Blume.


Describe yourself in 5 words.

I am incapable of that. ;)

Passions besides reading and writing

Family and friends, fine dining, my dog, blogging, shopping, vacations!

Books/authors that have had the most influence on your writing.

Too many to list!

Describe your fantasy meal.

Foie gras, Sydney rock oysters, Maine lobster, steamed artichoke, sushi, mom's potato salad, Bob's BBQ ribs, Japanese rice, and of course umeboshi! Dessert: lemon meringue pie and cupcakes.

Okay, that's not really my fantasy meal, since those things combined wouldn't taste great together. But those are some of my favorite foods!

3 fondest wishes.

I would spend all month trying to come up with an answer for this! ;)

Please share a favorite recipe with us.

You know, I was going to share a soup recipe, but I think I'll share the ONE thing I can make without looking at a recipe and kept me from starving when I was in college. (Thanks, Mom!) I'm no gourmet cook! I recently started making this again and both Bob and my daughter love it!


1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 small carton fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 T flour
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. sour cream
cooked Japanese rice (or noodles if you must)

Saute onions and garlic in oil. Brown ground beef. Drain oil. Add mushrooms and flour, stirring over medium high heat until mushrooms are cooked through. Add cream of mushroom soup and 3/4 can of water. Stir well. Cover and simmer on low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add sour cream. Mix well. Serve immediately over rice. (It's the only way I'll eat it, no pasta for me on this dish!)

                                             Debbi's alter ego

More Debbi, please:

A visit to her fabulous website is a must. Debbi's archive of interviews with award-winning children's authors dates back to 2001. Especially fun and fascinating is Trixie's interview with Debbi!

Debbi's Live Journal blog, One Writer's Journey, is a warm and welcoming spot to chat and keep up with all of her adventures.

Click on over to papertigers.org to read Debbi's wonderful essay, "Great Expectations: Breaking Down the Wall of Assumptions," and a great review of CHINA!

Finally, there is an excellent interview with Debbi at the Women on Writing ezine, where she offers advice for beginning writers and more insight into her writing process.

China (Kaleidoscope Kids)SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY!!

Debbi has generously offered to present a shiny new autographed copy of CHINA to one lucky person who leaves a comment here by Wednesday, June 4, 2008. It's the perfect way to warm up for the Beijing Olympics!

Xie xie (thank you), and Zai jian (goodbye)!


**Those of you in the Los Angeles area: Debbi will be signing CHINA at BEA (Book Expo America) on Sunday, June 1, 2008, from 11-11:30 a.m., at Table 12!


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