This past October, I heard Grace Lin speak at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival. Her struggles as a multicultural author inspired me so much that I bought all her published juvenile books, which she signed for me. So, it’s with great delight I had the opportunity to interview her recently by email for Allison’s Book Bag.
Allison: Growing up you struggled to find balance between your cultural/ethnic identities. Many of my students’ families are from other countries and face the same struggle. What advice would you give to these students on finding balance?
Grace: Gosh, that’s hard because I do think it’s different for every person—each person has his or her own set of conflicts to experience. I guess the best thing would be to try to remember that for every problem your cultural heritage gives you, there is also a gift. It may not always be easy to see, but it’s there.
Allison: You write in your books that sometimes you were the only Asian girl in your school, and that this affected how you were treated and how you felt. What advice would you give to teachers who have students in similar situations? What can they do to help students of different races/cultures/needs feel more comfortable and more accepted?
Grace: Hmm, this is also a hard question to answer. I can only speak from my own experience; I am by no means an expert on child behavior. I do remember one specific teacher experience that was extremely helpful to me as a child; I wrote about it in The Year of the Dog. I never learned Chinese as a child and my classmates expected me to be able to read and speak it, one of them asking rather accusingly why I did not. My teacher spoke up and pointed out that all of the students in our class had ancestors from other countries and very few of them spoke any other language other than English. Some were German-American, some were Italian-American—yet they did not speak German or Italian. So, there should be no reason why I, as a Chinese-American, must be able to speak Chinese. I remember feeling very grateful, and in many ways, enlightened by my teacher’s words. It made me feel that, really, I was just like everyone else—even if it wasn’t as obvious.
Allison:Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a mix of fantasy and Chinese folklore. What are your favorite Chinese folktales?
Grace: I have many favorite Chinese folktales, which is why I include them in my books! My favorite that I’ve never used in any of my books (yet) is the “Magic Paintbrush,” where a young boy is given a paintbrush and whatever he paints with it comes to life. Maybe I’ll use it in a book, someday!
Allison: If my readers wanted to broaden their reading of multicultural fiction for young people, what books would you recommend?
Grace: I would definitely encourage people to read these books. I think because these books are labeled “multicultural” many readers think the books are not for them, that it will be a story they won’t be able to relate to—and that’s not true at all! And not only will readers find the stories relatable, they are also truly enjoyable. There is a great list of multicultural books to start of with here: http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/detailListBooks.asp?idBookLists=42
Of course, I hope readers try my books, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as well as the Pacy series. Off the above list, I highly recommend the Ruby Lu books and the picture books illustrated by Yumi Heo.
Allison: Although your family is from China, you grew up in the United States. A few years ago, you were able to visit China yourself. What was that experience like for you?
Grace: My parents are from Taiwan, which, depending on whom you talk to, is its own country or part of China. Regardless, there is definitely a very heavily Chinese-influenced culture. I’ve been to Taiwan many times, and it directly influenced my new novel, Dumpling Days, that comes out in January. That book is part of the Pacy series, and it is all about Pacy’s first trip to Taiwan.
I visited mainland China for the first time a few years ago and it was extremely interesting. Taiwan feels very modern, especially Taipei where my relatives live, but China was definitely more of a blend of very old and new. When we visited the ancient parts, the Asian folk and fairytales that I read in my youth came back to me—suddenly I could see the setting of where those stories could take place. And this directly effected me—inspiring Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the book I am working on now, Starry River of the Sky.
Allison: In each of your chapter books, you write a lot about holidays. What is your favorite Chinese holiday? What is your favorite American holiday?
Grace: My favorite Chinese holiday is the Moon Festival. It’s kind of like the Asian equivalent of Thanksgiving. I even made a picture book about it—Thanking the Moon. I like it because it focuses on gratitude and quiet contemplation. My favorite American holiday is Christmas. I like all the crafts and decorations and the food!
Allison: What’s next?
Grace: As I mentioned, my novel Dumpling Days comes out in January. It continues Pacy’s story from The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat. This book follows Pacy on her summer vacation to Taiwan with her family. Like the prior books, it very much is based on my real life. Dumpling Days is my parents’ favorite book of mine!
As that has been printing, 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 they recognize!
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.