Monday, January 9, 2012

Author and Illustrator Interview with Grace Lin

I bring to you my latest interview with award-winning author Grace Lin. She wrote WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (Little, Brown), a Newbery Award winner, as well as a bunch of picture books, such as THE UGLY VEGETABLES (Charlesbridge Publishing). A graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, Grace also illustrates her children’s books. 

When I read my first Grace Lin book, THE YEAR OF THE DOG (Little, Brown), a MG book, I remember thinking how it would’ve been nice if a book like this, a book about a young Chinese American girl exploring what she wanted to do when she grew up, was around when I was a kid. Pacy Lin reminds me of Ramona Quimby in some ways. So I was thrilled when Grace Lin sent me an ARC of DUMPLING DAYS (Little, Brown), a continuation of Pacy Lin’s adventures. In DUMPLING DAYS, Pacy and her family go on vacation in Taiwan and immerse themselves in the local culture and food. DUMPLING DAYS will be out on January 21. You can view the book trailer by clicking here.

Where were you born, raised?  Can you give me a favorite childhood memory?
I was born in New Jersey! My parents are both from Taiwan, which makes me Asian-American. One of my favorite childhood memories was my father buying my watercolor paints for Christmas. They were the fancy kind, in tubes, and the sales person at the store had told him that these were not the type for beginners. And my father said, “My daughter is not a beginner.” I remember feeling so proud that my dad thought that way…and, inside, rather immodestly, I agreed.  It’s one of those happy memories of feeling extreme confidence that only youth can exude!

I enjoyed reading DUMPLING DAYS! I think the book would be especially enlightening to those who are about to visit Taiwan or China for the first time.  The local details were so colorful and vivid. And I got hungry from reading the food descriptions. How did you remember all these details from your travels? And speaking of dumplings, which kind are your favorite?
Remembering the details was not too hard. I looked at a lot of old photos and it all came flooding back to me. Of course, I have traveled to Taiwan many times since my first time, so the trips have all kind of blended together. The hardest part was trying to get photo reference for things I remember but didn’t have images of. Luckily, I have relatives in Taiwan that I could send on reconnaissance! My favorite dumpling is xiao long bao, the soup dumplings. They are hard to find, but a restaurant called Jo Shanghai’s in New York City has them—and they are delicious!

In DUMPLING DAYS, Pacy takes an art class where she encounters a competitive classmate. How do you depict a rivalry between two characters and show the main protagonist’s resentment of this person while retaining her likability?
Honestly, I didn’t really think about the likability of the protagonist.  I just thought about how I felt in many similar situations and tried to make it as true to my experience as possible.

 I read your essay on your web site about how you came to terms with being a multicultural author. So I cautiously ask, what makes a multicultural story credible, in your opinion?
That’s a hard question to answer, because every reader comes to a story with his or her own experiences. I try to make my stories as authentic as possible to me and hope that the reader feels the same. If they do not, I try to remember and gently remind people that one story, my story, is not supposed to be representative of the entire Asian-American population.

So how much is the Pacy Lin series is based on your childhood? I ask because in The Year of the Dog, Pacy Lin writes a story called THE UGLY VEGETABLES, and you happen to have a book out called THE UGLY VEGETABLES. Did you have arguments with your sisters too, and go through a soul-searching phase, as Pacy did in THE YEAR OF THE DOG, to reflect on what you wanted to do when you grew up?
The Pacy books are heavily based on my childhood and are very true to life.  That said, they are books of fiction and that is because I did switch some things around and alter episodes. In YEAR OF THE DOG, Pacy enters a book contest, wins 4th place and decides after that she will become an author/illustrator when she grows up. That is really what happened to me, as well. I won 4th place in a contest writing and illustrating my own book and decided that I would become an author/illustrator when I grew up, too! However, in YEAR OF THE DOG the book that Pacy wrote and illustrated for the contest was THE UGLY VEGETABLES. The book I entered into the contest was not THE UGLY VEGETABLES, though that was my first published book—published many, many years later.

Besides DUMPLING DAYS, which is being released in January 2012, do you have any other current or upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
I’ve been hard at work on the companion book to WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.  It’s called STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY and it comes out in October.  For those readers that know WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, this book is not a sequel—it doesn’t follow Minli’s story—but it takes place in the same world and there might be some other characters you recognize!

What, in your opinion, makes a strong illustration?
To me, a strong illustration starts with a strong foundation. And the foundation of  illustration--beyond the artistry, the colors or composition--is the illustration's purpose. This purpose changes with the format. For a picture book, the illustration should give the viewer added details about the story, give "more" story than the text. For an early reader, the illustration should match the story exactly, supporting the text to help readers. For a novel, the illustration should be summary of the description/emotions created by a moment/section of the story.  But as long as the meaning, the message of picture is clear--it is a strong illustration. Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder!

What are your favorite kidlit books and authors?
My favorite books and authors tend to be the ones I read and loved (and still love) as a child. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by LM Montgomery, BALLET SHOES by Noel Streatfeild, B IS FOR BETSY by Carolyn Haywood, MISS HAPPINESS AND MISS FLOWER by Rumer Godden, SEARCH FOR DELICIOUS by Natalie Babbitt and hundreds more. Some more contemporary kidlit authors that I enjoy are Barbara O’Connor, Lenore Look (I adore the RUBY LU & ALVIN HO books) and Nancy Springer.


sc said...

So cool that you interviewed this author. Jordan's read two of her books - Ling and Ting , and Kite flying. She really likes them!

Cynthia said...

SC, I'm glad Jordan enjoys her books!

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