Magic Number 3: SFF YA Trilogies by POC and Indigenous Authors

Even though POC and Indigenous authors are finding success in SFF YA more so than in the past, it’s still hard to find longer series by POC and Indigenous authors, especially ones that are #ownvoices or feature POC and Indigenous characters. I can only think of one prominent SFF YA series by an author of color featuring protagonists of color that’s longer than three books, and that’s An Ember in the Ashes, which is planned for four books total (Book 4 is coming in 2019). Anyway, in order to put the spotlight on some SFF YA series by POC and Indigenous authors, I decided to put together this post of trilogies because I seemed to come across a lot of them in my reading journey. Three is the magic number, I guess. (Note: I’ve included some series that only have 3 books announced so far that may end up being longer.)
Completed Series

The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. Legend
  2. Prodigy
  3. Champion

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star

Blood of Eden by Julie Kagawa (Japanese American)

  1. The Immortal Rules
  2. The Eternity Cure
  3. The Forever Song

The Feral Trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation)

  1. Feral Nights
  2. Feral Curse
  3. Feral Pride

The Prophecy Series/Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh (Korean American)

  1. Prophecy
  2. Warrior
  3. King

The Vicious Deep Trilogy by Zoraida Córdova (Ecuadorian American)

  1. The Vicious Deep
  2. The Savage Blue
  3. The Vast and Brutal Sea

The Dove Chronicles by Karen Bao (Chinese American)

  1. Dove Arising
  2. Dove Exile
  3. Dove Alight

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki Nation)

  1. Killer of Enemies
  2. Trail of the Dead
  3. Arrow of Lightning

Penryn and the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee (Korean American)

  1. Angelfall
  2. World After
  3. End of Days

The Tribe Series by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Palyku Nation)

  1. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
  2. The Disappearance of Ember Crow
  3. The Foretelling of Georgie Spider

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Puerto Rican)

  1. The Girl at Midnight
  2. The Shadow Hour
  3. The Savage Dawn

Forget Tomorrow Trilogy by Pintip Dunn (Thai American)

  1. Forget Tomorrow
  2. Remember Yesterday
  3. Seize Today

Ruined by Amy Tintera (Mexican American)

  1. Ruined
  2. Avenged
  3. Allied

The Beyond the Red Trilogy by Gabe Jae (Latinx)

  1. Beyond the Red
  2. Into the Black
  3. The Rising Gold

The Sea of Ink and Gold Trilogy by Traci Chee (Japanese and Chinese American)

  1. The Reader
  2. The Speaker
  3. The Storyteller

The Effigies Trilogy by Sarah Raughley (Black)

  1. Fate of Flames
  2. Siege of Shadows
  3. Legacy of Light

The Timekeeper Trilogy by Tara Sim (Indian American)

  1. Timekeeper
  2. Chainbreaker
  3. Firestarter

The Bone Witch Trilogy by Rin Chupeco (Filipino)

  1. The Bone Witch
  2. The Heart Forger
  3. The Shadowglass

The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel Jose Older (Cuban American)

  1. Shadowshaper
  2. Shadowhouse Fall
  3. Shadowshaper Legacy

Ongoing Series

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigerian American)

  1. Akata Witch
  2. Akata Warrior
  3. Untitled, TBA

Legacy of Orïsha by Tomi Adeyemi (Nigerian American)

  1. Children of Blood and Bone
  2. Children of Virtue and Vengeance
  3. Untitled, TBA

Mirage by Somaiya Daud (Moroccan American)

  1. Mirage
  2. Court of Lions (coming out 2019)
  3. Untitled, TBA

The Celestial Trilogy by Sangu Mandanna (British Indian)

  1. A Spark of White Fire
  2. A House of Rage and Sorrow
  3. A War of Swallowed Stars (out October 6th, 2020)

Shadow Players by Heidi Heilig (Chinese American)

  1. For a Muse of Fire
  2. A Kingdom for a Stage
  3. On This Unworthy Scaffold (out November 17th, 2020)

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (Indian American)

  1. The Tiger at Midnight (out April 23, 2019)
  2. The Archer at Dawn
  3. Untitled, TBA

Starswept Trilogy by Mary Fan (Chinese American)

  1. Starswept
  2. Wayward Stars
  3. Seize the Stars (out August 26th, 2020)

Upcoming Series

Koreadathon TBR

I’m perhaps a little too ambitious about my reading this month because I escaped my reading slump, so I’m participating in multiple reading challenges, LOL. This one is for Korean books and authors and is hosted by booktubers Monica (YouTube/Twitter) and Chloe (YouTube/Twitter). You can find more about the readathon on the official Twitter account @koreadathon.

Here’s what I’ve picked for each prompt!

  1. Group Book (ok this wasn’t chosen by me): The Silence of Bones by June Hur – YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery
  2. Book with a person on the cover: Rogue Heart by Axie Oh (companion to Rebel Seoul) – YA, Science Fiction
  3. Book translated from Korean: Human Acts by Han Kang – Adult, Historical Fiction
  4. Book featuring a diaspora Korean character: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim – MG, Contemporary
  5. Book featuring Korean mythology: The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh – MG, Fantasy (Note: this is a secondary world fantasy with worldbuilding that’s inspired by Korean mythology and folklore)

Transathon TBR

I’m a bit late to the party, but this month I’m participating in a reading challenge called Transathon, which spotlights trans authors and books. Here are the prompts and my choices for each.

Transathon 2020

  • A book written by a trans woman: Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
  • A book written by a nonbinary person: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender – MG, Contemporary, Gay Black Boy MC
  • A book written by a trans man: Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith – YA, Contemporary, Trans Boy MC
  • A book with a trans MC: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas – YA, Fantasy, Gay Latinx Trans Boy MC
  • A nonfiction trans book: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
  • A book with a nonbinary MC: No More Heroes by Michelle Kan – YA/NA, Urban Fantasy, Asexual/Gray-Aromantic Genderfluid Cantonese Chinese MC (plus other queer, disabled, POC characters)
  • A book with multiple trans characters: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – Adult, Science Fiction, Black Nonbinary MC
  • A book with the word trans in the title: Queer & Trans Artists of Color Volume Three, interviews by Nia King, edited by Maliha Ahmed
  • A graphic novel with a trans main character: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu – YA, Fantasy, Queer Chinese American MCs (one cis, one trans & nonbinary)

(Note: All of the authors above are trans except Wendy Xu.)

Review for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

I’ve been looking forward to reading Felix Ever After for a long time, and I’m super excited to be reviewing it!

Felix Ever After

Synopsis:

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

My Review:

I’m so emotional right now that it’s hard to articulate my feelings about this book, which is my official favorite of 2020. If it weren’t my duty to write a review with words, I’d just be dumping memes of Kermit emitting hearts everywhere.

I have to say that it’s the first book I’ve read where I’ve felt so seen and represented as a queer, trans, and nonbinary POC. I’ve talked about this before on Twitter, but there’s a huge disconnect for me when I read about white queer characters because race and racism are inextricably intertwined with my experiences of queerness.

In this book, Felix grapples with the feeling that he is “too many” marginalizations because he is Black and trans and queer. He doesn’t feel like he is deserving of love because of the way society has taught us to value cis-ness and whiteness. This struggle is so profoundly relatable to me as a queer Asian person. Even before I realized I was trans, I already had an intuitive understanding that I was less desirable because I was Asian and gender-nonconforming, and after figuring out my nonbinary gender and coming out, I still have insecurities surrounding this.

As a whole, Felix Ever After is full of so many important and salient conversations about race and queerness. I don’t highlight/underline/write in my physical books, but I definitely felt the urge to do so multiple times when I landed upon passages that resonated or spoke truth to power regarding an issue. One such passage lays bare the ways cis gay white men weaponize their privilege against other queer people with less power. Another passage takes on the question of whether labels are necessary or restrictive and whether gender abolition is the end goal of trans liberation. Another issue addressed in the book is how cis women harm trans people, especially trans men and trans masculine people, by accusing us of betraying women and being misogynists in “choosing” a gender that’s not our birth-assigned gender. These are real things that happen, and seeing them explored and interrogated on the page was so validating.

Felix as a character is so lovable, and it was impossible not to see myself in him. His fear of displaying vulnerability and taking risks for love spoke to me on the deepest level. He’s flawed and real. He makes unfair judgments and assumptions, lashes out in anger, and says things that hurt others to protect himself. He also yearns to connect with others, expresses himself through art, and takes responsibility for his actions and growth. His desire to prove himself as an artist and to colleges kind of felt like a personal attack because it held up a mirror to my inner psyche.

This book does an incredible job of balancing the real pain and difficulties of being a queer and trans Black person with hope and empowerment. Watching Felix grow into himself as a demiboy, discover love and intimacy, and receive validation from the people he cares about was immensely cathartic. As the title promises, he gets his happy ever after.

Content Warnings: racism, queer antagonism (deadnaming, misgendering, outing), drugs/alcohol


Links:

#RainbowReadathon TBR and Other QTPOC Books to Read During Pride Month

So…the pandemic has really killed my ability to read novels recently, but I’m trying to turn that momentum around by participating in a reading challenge, #RainbowReadathon (@RainbowReadThon on Twitter).

The goal is to read 9 books, one with a cover corresponding to the color of each of the 8 stripes in the original Pride flag, plus one multicolored one. Here’s my TBR!

Rainbow Readathon 2020 TBR

  • Pink: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar – Young Adult, Contemporary, Bengali Irish MC, f/f romance
  • Red: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender – Young Adult, Contemporary, Nonbinary (Demiboy) Black MC, enby/m romance
  • Orange: We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Indian MC, m/m romance
  • Yellow: I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee – Young Adult, Contemporary, Fat Bisexual Korean MC, m/f romance
  • Green: If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann – Young Adult, Contemporary, Polyamorous Asexual Black MC, f/f queerplatonic relationship
  • Turquoise: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson – Young Adult, Memoir, Gay Black MC
  • Indigo: No More Heroes by Michelle Kan – Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Genderfluid Aromantic and Asexual MC
  • Violet: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – Young Adult, Contemporary, Bisexual Black Girl MC, f/f romance
  • Multicolor: We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire) – Young Adult, Dystopian, Queer Latina MC, f/f romance

Assuming I finish the books above, I’m hoping to get around to some other books by QTPOC:

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (Sequel to Darius the Great is Not Okay, which I reviewed here; out August 25th, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Biracial Iranian American MC, m/m romance

The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters (out September 8th, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Black MC, m/m romance

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (out September 15th, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Sapphic Latina MC, f/f romance

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi (out September 22nd, 2020) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Muslim Iranian American MC

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – Young Adult, Fantasy, Queer Japanese-coded MC, f/genderfluid romance

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta – Young Adult, Novel-in-Verse, Gay Black MC

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus – Young Adult, Contemporary, Black MC and Trinidadian Immigrant MC, f/f romance

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera – Young Adult, Contemporary, Lesbian Puerto Rican MC

How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters – Young Adult, Contemporary, Gay Black Adoptee MC

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron (out July 7th, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Lesbian Black MC, f/f romance

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (out September 1st, 2020) – Young Adult, Fantasy, Gay Trans Latinx MC, m/m romance

The Black Veins by Ashia Monet – Young Adult, Fantasy, Bisexual Black Girl MC

For a comprehensive list of 2020 queer YA books, see this post by Michelle @ Magical Reads. And while you’re here, if you haven’t seen it already, please also check out my Twitter thread featuring 2020 YA books by Black authors.

Review for The Boba Book by The Boba Guys with Richard Parks III

Welcome to Day 7 (and post #6) of Taiwanese American Heritage Week! As promised, I am posting the first of my two reviews of books by Taiwanese authors.

If you know me, you know I love bubble tea like no other. When I found out there was a book about bubble tea from a mainstream publisher, I was pretty excited because it’s about time this icon of Taiwanese culture got the spotlight.

However, my excitement was immediately tempered by the fact that the book is by The Boba Guys. If you live in San Francisco, LA, or New York, where they have locations, you may have had bubble tea from The Boba Guys before. Personally, I’ve only heard of them through the Internet, and my impression of them was not the greatest, considering that the founders expressed support for former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. If you are fortunate enough to not know who Andrew Yang is, let’s just say he’s a clown, the type of assimilationist Asian who makes cheap, tired, awful Asian jokes to curry favor with white people and Asian people who have internalized racism to unpack. Not the kind of “””#representation””” I want or need, to say the least (Yang is, unfortunately, Taiwanese American like me).

Knowing this, I went into the book (which I managed to get for free by redeeming a coupon) with reservations, and after reading it, I have a lot of thoughts. Even though this is a cookbook, I’m not going to be reviewing the recipes themselves. (I don’t know if I have the patience to make my own tea, lol.) Instead, I’ll be offering some critical commentary and personal reflection on the way race and culture are presented in the book with the hope of contributing to the dialogue on the politics of food.

As a disclaimer: I’m not a culinary expert or a tea connoisseur; I’m approaching this review from the perspective of a layperson who loves bubble tea, a Taiwanese American diaspora kid, and someone with a degree in Asian American studies.

The Boba Book

Synopsis:

A beautifully photographed and designed cookbook and guide to the cultural phenomenon that is boba, or bubble tea–featuring recipes and reflections from The Boba Guys tea shops.

Andrew Chau and Bin Chen realized in 2011 that boba–the milk teas and fruit juices laced with chewy tapioca balls from Taiwan that were exploding in popularity in the States–was still made from powders and mixes. No one in the U.S. was making boba with the careful attention it deserved, or using responsible, high-quality ingredients and global, artisanal inspiration. So they founded The Boba Guys: a chic, modern boba tea shop that has now grown to include fourteen locations across the country, bringing bubble tea to the forefront of modern drinks and bridging cultures along the way.

Now, with The Boba Book, the Boba Guys will show fans and novices alike how they can make their (new) favorite drink at home through clear step-by-step guides. Here are the recipes that people line up for–from the classics like Hong Kong Milk Tea, to signatures like the Strawberry Matcha Latte and the coffee-laced Dirty Horchata. For the Boba Guys, boba is Taiwanese, it’s Japanese, it’s Mexican, it’s all that and more–which means it’s all-American.

Review:

(Warning: This is long and vaguely rant-y at turns.)

Before I get into dragging the authors the more critical part, I’m going to be gracious and talk about the parts that I enjoyed and found relatable or informative.

First of all, I’ll concede that true to its description, the book is very beautifully designed and aesthetically pleasing to look at. The photos, illustrations, and diagrams were a feast for the eyes. Perhaps driven by pandemic-induced restlessness, I’ve frequently found myself picking the book up to thumb through the pages just for the visual (and tactile, if you’re considering the texture of the cover/pages) stimulation. The cover is embossed and laminated with transparent circles the size of tapioca pearls, which I found charming.

Additionally, I think the book lays out the basic facts of tea, its history, and taxonomy in an accessible manner. I definitely learned a few things from reading the book. For example, although I can name different categories of tea (black, oolong, green, etc.), I did not know that the classifications are based on how oxidized the tea leaves are. (The more you know~)

I also appreciate that the authors did their research and traveled to Taiwan to dig into the origins of bubble tea and interview one of the shops that claim to have invented it, the famous Chun Shui Tang in Taichung (I’ve been there myself…their tea was okay, but to my layperson’s tongue it didn’t seem all that special, to be honest). They also made an effort to use and explain various relevant terms and concepts from Chinese and Taiwanese language/culture, such as QQ (arguably the king of food textures in Taiwan), guanxi (關系), and chiku (吃苦).

The book also offers a number of personal anecdotes and cultural details that resonated with my experiences. On the inside cover, there is a nostalgic depiction of bubble tea shops from Bin Chen’s perspective that reads: “It’s tucked away in a strip mall on Bellaire, in Houston, where we take Sunday afternoon Mandarin classes, next to that arcade where kids smoke cigarettes and make out.” Bin is older than me by maybe 10 years, so the description is a bit dated compared to my own memories, but I’ve lived in the Houston area since I was 10 and frequented the Bellaire area on the weekends for the same reasons. That imagery tapped into a very specific wellspring of emotions for me.

Similarly, there’s a comment illustrating a cultural tendency toward delayed gratification that notes how Taiwanese people often back into parking spaces so they can drive out facing forward. Having just come back from living in Taiwan for the last year, I thought, “ha, too real.”

That’s pretty much where the good stuff ends. Now, on to the critique.

My first critique of the book is the way it overwhelmingly caters to the white gaze. This is quite apparent based on the person The Boba Guys chose to collaborate with for this project. There’s a section of the book called “Bridging Cultural Operating Systems” that talks about the co-writer in detail.

In this section, Andrew and Bin say they “searched far and wide for the white right voice to pair with [their] Asian-ness.” (In case it isn’t clear, the crossed out part is their wording and emphasis, not mine.) They “needed someone who could help [them] broaden [their] perspective.” Notably, they didn’t want to pick another Asian writer because they didn’t want people assuming the book was “For Asians, By Asians;” they clarify that the book is “for everyone.”

So who did they pick? Richard Parks III, a white man they describe as “old-school American,” whose family has been in the U.S. since before the Revolutionary War. (You know who else has been here longer than that? Black and Indigenous people.)

The implications are pretty clear: By liberty of his whiteness, Richard is positioned as the quintessential American, the universal every-man who represents the idealized assumed audience for the book.

The Boba Guys further justify their selection with the following factoids:

“[Richard] was already a self-proclaimed ‘xiao long bao snob.'” I don’t know about other people, but I personally do not care for more white people policing the “authenticity” of Asian food.

“We saw him use the only three Mandarin words he knew to get a hat down to half price in Taipei.” Did they ever consider that his whiteness was what gave him an advantage in the transaction, not his actual bargaining skills? (I also question the use of one’s haggling ability as a metric for determining a co-writer for a book about bubble tea, but you know what…never mind.)

I don’t know for sure how much of the book is written by Richard. Some parts have a byline while others do not. Some of the content is clearly presented from one of the two main writers’ perspectives, given the way it references their particular background and life experiences, while other places use an ambiguous “we.”

However, there are color-coded text bubbles in the margins containing meta-commentary from Andrew, Bin, and Richard (blue for Andrew and Bin, green for Richard, based on the fact that the former use iPhones while the latter uses an Android, as explained in-text). A fraction of the remarks from Richard are random and harmless (albeit somewhat pointless), but many are simply Richard being oblivious about the topic being discussed, thus giving Andrew and Bin the opportunity to explain things for the benefit of the audience. It’s probably supposed to come off as cute and quirky, but I was not amused. There is an exchange where Richard ends with “Namaste.” I mean, seriously?

There’s definitely a level of irony to this situation considering how much time they spend in the introduction waxing poetic about diversity, referencing nonwhite cultures as they relate to bubble tea, and appealing to the notion of the multicultural melting pot as the “American Future” (their words). In the end, they still center whiteness. The apparent contradiction is easily resolved by examining the ways in which the above are used to reinforce whiteness-as-default and white supremacy. But that’s beyond the scope of this review, so I suggest Googling for critiques of the concepts and discourses of “diversity” and the “melting pot” if you’re not familiar with them already.

My second critique is leveled specifically at the section titled “How Every Boba Tea Contains Thousands of Years of History,” which consists of a brief timeline of bubble tea history. I stated earlier that the facts of the book were presented in an accessible fashion, but I’d like to qualify that statement: I took issue with the relative attention to detail, commentary, and framing of this section.

As far as the details are concerned, the primary problem lies in the naming of geographies. In introducing and discussing the cassava root (the plant tapioca is made from), the book says it “has been a staple food in South America for 10,000 years.” South America is an entire continent and not a monolith. This vagueness stands in stark contrast to the mentions of specific countries such as China, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Portugal in the rest of the section. Later, it does note that cassava is “an ancient staple of native peoples in what is now Brazil,” which is a slight improvement, but it neglects to mention any specific tribe. This may reflect broader societal biases and erasure in the way Indigenous people are written about, but a relatively brief Google search on my part turned up the name Tupinamba[1][2], so there is a level of laziness or oversight at play.

Next is the commentary and framing. Although the authors make use of headings like “The West ‘Discovers’ (Eye Roll) Tea,” they also play into and reinforce Eurocentric narratives and the whitewashing of history. For example, while explaining the introduction of cassava to Taiwan, they state that “the Spanish and Portuguese made their presence felt on the Ilha Formosa (‘beautiful island’).” First of all, that is a very roundabout way to say “colonized.” (Interestingly, there is no mention of tea being central to Taiwanese culture due to Chinese settler colonialism in Taiwan.)

Secondly, Ilha Formosa is the Portuguese nickname for Taiwan. I’ll admit that when I first learned of it when I was younger, I thought it was cool, but I’ve since grown weary of this “fun fact” because it ultimately privileges white people’s view of the island. Even as the authors roll their eyes at Westerners “discovering” tea, they also choose to emphasize the name given to Taiwan by Westerners upon “discovering” it. The hypocrisy is awkward, to put it lightly.

As we proceed further down the timeline, it gets worse: “Our eye rolling aside, the truth is: Without British imperialism in Asia, there’d be no boba, because the U.K. is where tea was first mixed with milk and sugar. Lactose intolerance is rare in Northern Europe, but in parts of Asia, we’re genetically wired for it. We’d never have thought to put milk in tea. So…thanks? For your conquest? U.K.?”

They might be joking, but I really did not find this part funny at all. The violence of British imperialism continues to have detrimental effects all over the world, but you’re “thanking” the U.K. because you now have a bubble tea business to run and money to earn? History cannot be changed, the facts are what they are, but I think it’s an incredible failure of the imagination to frame this cultural diffusion as the inevitable result of imperialism. It is possible for people to exchange cultural artifacts and traditions through peaceful methods, on equal grounds, without the violence imposed by colonization. The British chose to take over the world for the profit; it was not a natural event, as much as many people want to argue that this is “human nature” in order to justify the current world order.

In a similar vein, they explain that “It’s important to mention that without tea, there probably would be no United States of America. [Rundown of Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution] …because of the British fixation with tea, Americans turned away from it from the start. This part of history is actually important to us, because it sets up the way boba is perceived as a novelty in America. You couldn’t bridge cultures with boba if we’d always drunk tea here.” Again, I dislike the romanticizing of violent histories for the sake of a small favorable outcome. Moreover, here it becomes even more obvious that their primary concern is selling boba, literally and figuratively, to those who find it to be a novelty.

My third critique focuses on a conversation between Andrew, Bin, and Richard about being a “third culture” kid and the Boba Guys’ “obsession with remixing,” as Richard puts it. I’ll be quoting a long passage below, so bear with me.

“ANDREW: Right, in food, fashion, music–basically anything cultural–we tend to see everything as binaries. People like to ask us, ‘Can a non-Asian wear a Chinese qipao?’ or ‘Can white people run a boba shop?’ But we don’t think of everything in terms of is it ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘cultural appreciation’? There’s another way we think about it. It’s how we run our company and train our team…

BIN: People shouldn’t just show up, cherry pick their favorite things about a culture and start thinking they can rep it, leaving the people who actually grew up with it behind. Culture is inherently contextual. You take parts of it out of context, it doesn’t carry the same meaning and significance.

RICHARD: So it’s always better to appreciate?

ANDREW: Yes, but what or who defines ‘appreciation’? The world is always changing the more cultures come into contact with each other, the closer they can become. It’s exhausting to sit there and be constantly judging: ‘Hey you, ramen burger guy, you’re doing it right. You honor the ramen code. But foie gras pho guy, you’re doing it wrong!’ Who’s the culture police?

RICHARD: The first time somebody put boba pearls into sweetened milk tea….that was a cultural remix. Was it appreciation? Was it appropriation?

ANDREW: Or before that, the first time somebody put milk into tea.

RICHARD: Tea came from the East, but then it went to the West, where milk and sugar were added, and then it came back to the East, where tapioca pearls got dropped in.

BIN: It’s like music producers passing around their samples, adding layers to it each time.

ANDREW: That’s why we think it isn’t about appropriation versus appreciation. It’s about attribution.”

I concede that two good points were made here. One is the importance of attribution. The other is Bin’s commentary on not cherry picking and so forth. However, the rest of the conversation contradicts Bin’s initial points. You can’t harp on the importance of context when it comes to culture and then completely fail to contextualize conversations about cultural appropriation. Andrew’s characterization of people who call out appropriation as “the culture police” is reductive and adopting the rhetoric of people who deny the harm of appropriation and use such a framing to paint themselves as supposed victims of aggression from militant POC/Indigenous folks.

While it’s true that there are flaws in the way cultural appropriation is discussed, it’s important to understand that these conversations and critiques are fundamentally about unequal power dynamics in cultural production, consumption, and representation. It’s about avoiding and critiquing material exploitation of marginalized people. Richard’s East-to-West, West-to-East summary of how bubble tea came to be flattens the geopolitical landscape and strips the history of its context. Go figure that Andrew and Bin spent several pages talking about imperialism in bubble tea history in the most lukewarm way, only for the white guy to come along and subtract it from the equation completely.

There’s an added layer to the irony and hypocrisy when you realize that Andrew and Bin appropriate AAVE (African American Vernacular English) throughout their book. At the end of the introduction, they describe themselves as “culturally wildin’.” When they react to Chun Shui Tang admitting they don’t care about proving they were the first to make bubble tea, they quip, “As the kids say, we were shook.” They attribute “shook” to “the kids” without realizing that it actually comes from AAVE and was subsequently appropriated into mainstream slang. In fact, a lot of popular slang comes from not just Black culture but specifically Black queer culture, so there are layers to the appropriation.

My fourth and final critique (I could probably say more, but this review is too long as it is) concerns the final section, “Reflections from Asia.” Bin shares a story about his Agong (his paternal grandfather) in Taiwan while Andrew talks about his Uncle Michael in Shanghai, reflecting on their family histories and the connection between their relatives’ darker pasts and their own brighter present as successful entrepreneurs. The basic gist of their stories is “look at how much our elders suffered, but now we the younger generation are living the American Dream.” It’s both implicit in the way the stories are narrated and explicit in the heading of the section that immediately follows the stories: “Our (New) American (Boba) Dream.”

Aside from being incredibly trite, this narrative reinforces the myth of American meritocracy and exceptionalism. It’s the model minority myth all over again, packaged in platitudes about “making progress as a society” through cultural remixes. It ignores history and context and big picture thinking about race and class in favor of personal anecdotes of success. I’m tired of it.

In conclusion, this book was disappointing. I had an idea of what to expect based on my first impressions of The Boba Guys, but they somehow managed to fail even the low bar I had set up. Some of my critiques may seem a bit nitpicky, but I honestly don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people who are positioning themselves as experts on “boba culture” to be more self-aware about how they’re presenting that culture. Food is political, as is culture. By refusing to engage with that reality, they’re doing themselves and their readers a disservice.

If you want to buy the book for the bubble tea recipes, I suggest looking for reviews that address that aspect. If you want thoughtful and nuanced information and commentary on bubble tea culture and history, look elsewhere.

ETA: I just found out from Twitter that the Boba Guys are very blatantly antiblack and have participated in gentrifying the neighborhoods they open up locations in, so do not give your money to them.


If you made it to the end, congratulations and thanks for reading.

I normally don’t do this, but since this review actually took a considerable amount of labor, I’m linking my PayPal for anyone who wants to tip me: paypal.me/theshenners.

Author Interview: Gloria Chao

For Day 5 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Gloria Chao, whose third YA novel, Rent a Boyfriend, releases November 10th, 2020! This is her second time being interviewed on my blog. If you’d like to read the old interview about her debut novel, American Panda, click here.

Rent a Boyfriend

Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Interview:

Q: How does it feel to have your second novel published? What lessons have you learned since your debut?

It’s such an honor to have two books out in the world. When I started this journey, I barely allowed myself to dream of having one book published, let alone two, and I’m thankful every day that I get to do this job. Thank you to all my readers for helping to make this happen!

Since my debut, I’ve learned to (and am still learning to) focus on the writing. A lot of the publishing journey is out of the author’s control, but the one thing I can control is the work I produce and how I feel about it.

Q: Now that you’re on your way to publishing your third novel, has your writing process changed at all since you were writing your first? If so, how?

My writing process has changed a lot over the years. While my debut required years of rewriting and restructuring, I drafted my third book in two months and the final stayed fairly close to the original. Part of it was because I had to—deadlines—but experience and working with my editor on multiple books also helped me be able to see my story better before I begin writing. Plus, I’ve learned (and again, am still learning) to trust my process more. Before, I used to feel like I had to put words on the page every day, but I actually work best when I spend a lot of time planning, then writing in big spurts. One thing that hasn’t changed is that when I start a new project, I still have that moment of, What’s a book? How have I done this before? And sometimes that can last weeks!

Q: Our Wayward Fate balances the humorous with the serious very well. How did you achieve that balance? Did you have to cut any scenes that felt wrong for the mood you needed?

Thank you so much! With American Panda, I had to do a lot more editing to balance the humorous and serious, and much of my rewriting was figuring out what to cut and what to rework. After putting a lot of time in during the first book, it came easier for Our Wayward Fate. I didn’t end up cutting scenes because of mood, but line edits did consist of amping up certain emotions and tamping down others.

Q: Our Wayward Fate contains quite a bit of funny dialogue and banter. Do you have tips for writing dialogue?

Thank you! I absolutely loved writing the banter between Ali and Chase in Our Wayward Fate. My tip for writing dialogue is to try to imagine the conversation being spoken aloud. I tend to draft dialogue without any tags so that the flow feels a little more natural, and then I go back later and add in who’s talking and what they’re doing. Another tip: even if an idea seems too wacky, write it down anyway and try to find a way to make it work. Sometimes it won’t work and you’ll end up cutting it, but other times it’ll lead to an unexpected and funny joke!

Q: Rent a Boyfriend features fake dating, which is one of many beloved romance tropes. What’s your favorite romance trope?

I love fake dating as well! That’s my favorite trope, and why I was so excited to write Rent a Boyfriend! I am also a fan of forbidden love, which has been an aspect in all three of my books (and, spoiler alert: I like for it to work out in the end!). And I am a huge fan of slow-burn romances. With lots of banter!

Also, I’m thrilled to be a part of an upcoming anthology, FOOLS IN LOVE, which will offer fresh takes on classic romance tropes. It’s edited by the fabulous Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos, and I’ll be writing the oblivious-to-lovers trope. I can’t wait to share that story with you all in 2021!

Q: If Chloe from Rent a Boyfriend had an Instagram account, what would her handle be and what kinds of photos/videos would she post?

Chloe’s Instagram handle would be @SnowyChloe. Even though she’s from Palo Alto (and a large chunk of the book takes place there), she’s a sophomore at the University of Chicago, and Chicago is where she feels most like herself.

She would post photos of herself around the gorgeous UChicago campus: studying at the stunning Mansueto Library (which was the Erudite headquarters in the Divergent movie!); getting boba tea and Kimchi nachos; walking through the Quad full of Gothic architecture resembling Hogwarts; and of course, taking classes at the economics building (Saieh Hall) that resembles a church, which, according to Chloe’s, is “fitting” because of how everyone in the department worships Becker and Friedman.

Q: According to your previous interview with me, like Chloe, you’ve had some experience with being set up with boys by your parents. Do you have any funny/memorable/awkward stories from those experiences to share?

In Rent a Boyfriend, Chloe’s parents want to set her up with their Asian community’s flagship bachelor, and, well, let’s just say I didn’t have to reach far for that storyline. The reasons weren’t exactly the same as in the book, but there is (unfortunately) a lot of truth to what’s written! In real life, my mother hadn’t met the guy she was trying to set me up with, but she knew his parents, and “since they were good, he must be good, too.” I had no interest because I was already dating my now-husband, but even if I wasn’t dating him, I have to say that her endorsement was not the most convincing. 😉

About the Author:

G.Chao--Author PhotoGloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American PandaOur Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend.

Her wayward journey to fiction included studying business at MIT, then becoming a dentist. Gloria was once a black belt in kung-fu and an avid dancer, but nowadays you can find her teaming up with her husband on the curling ice.

AMERICAN PANDA received four starred trade reviews, is a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie’s Next Pick, and is a Seventeen MagazineBustlePopSugar, Chicago Public Library, and Paste Magazine Best YA Book of 2018.

Author Links:

Website – https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/gloriacchao

Author Interview: Cindy Lin

For Day 4 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Cindy Lin about her middle grade fantasy series The Twelve. The second book and conclusion, Treasures of the Twelve, releases July 28th, 2020.

Synopsis:

Usagi can hear a squirrel’s heartbeat from a mile away, and soar over treetops in one giant leap. She was born in the year of the wood rabbit, and it’s given her extraordinary zodiac gifts.

But she can never use them, not while the mysterious, vicious Dragonlord hunts down all those in her land with zodiac powers. Instead, she must keep her abilities—and those of her rambunctious sister Uma—a secret.

After Uma is captured by the Dragonguard, Usagi can no longer ignore her powers. She must journey to Mount Jade with the fabled Heirs of the Twelve, a mystical group of warriors who once protected the land.

As new mysteries unfold, Usagi must decide who she stands with, and who she trusts, as she takes on deadly foes on her path to the elusive, dangerous Dragonlord himself.

Interview:

Q: What sparked the idea for The Twelve?

It happened to be Lunar New Year right around the time I was taking my first creative writing course, and so there was a lot of mention of how we were entering the year of the Ox. And my sister is born in the year of the Ox, as well as other friends and family, and I was struck by how we usually identify ourselves as the zodiac animal itself, like “I’m an Ox!” or “I’m a Tiger!” That got me to thinking — what if people actually had the power of the animal that ruled their year? Like, what if someone born in the year of the Ox had incredible strength? Or if a Tiger-born person had super keen night vision? It seemed like it would be a fun concept to explore and write about, and it was! But it took me a long time to figure out how to make it work in a way that made sense to me. I initially tried setting the story in our contemporary world, but in the end, setting it in an imaginary mythical time and place unlocked it for me.

Q: What is your zodiac animal and what powers would that give you in the universe of The Twelve?

My ruling animal is the Dog, and I made sure to include a character with dog powers in my books — more than one, actually! I gave them different talents associated with dogs, like a hyper-powerful sense of smell, and the ability to communicate with and command dogs. Other talents might be strong jaws and a fearsome bite, or the ability to hunt anything down. There are so many types of dogs that the possible talents are endless, but I definitely had to start with a super sensitive nose that could identify all sorts of things near and far.

Q: In the book, there are twelve legendary treasures, each with a special power. If they were real, which of these treasures would you want to possess, and what would you use it for?

I’ve asked myself that question a lot! One thing about power is that it usually comes with a price, so I wanted to make sure that the powers of the Treasures were tempered somewhat. As a writer you don’t want an object that gives you unlimited power without consequence, because what’s the fun in that? It’s always more interesting when there’s a catch and a downside to having power, I think. I feel like I already have one of the Treasures — my smart phone is a lot like the Mirror of Elsewhere, and I struggle with its pull all the time. I wouldn’t mind having the Conjurer — the hammer that grants you whatever you wish for (albeit for just a day). But at this moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, what I really want is the Apothecary — the pillbox that holds cures for ailments — as well as the Bowl of Plenty, which fills up with whatever you put in it. We could really use those two now.

Q: What was your favorite part about writing The Twelve?

All the fun I had doing research! I visited museums, read countless books on all sorts of topics, tried different sports (including kendo, or Japanese fencing, which ended up being so fun that I joined a dojo), and generally got to geek out. It was also really gratifying to put in little mentions of things that are meaningful to me. For example, though the island kingdom of Midaga is inspired by many different places, I did write in a little shout-out to where I lived in Japan (Stone River Province is in honor of Ishikawa Prefecture) and gave some locations the names of actual landmarks in Taiwan, where my family is from. I loved the feeling of discovery as I wrote, and I also met so many great fellow writers as I worked on The Twelve. When I started all this, I didn’t realize I would find such an amazing community and kindred spirits.

Q: What was the hardest part about writing The Twelve?

Not knowing what I was doing, as it was my first attempt at writing a novel! It was hard to eke out a sentence, a paragraph, a page for the first time, and wonder if I could string together enough to make a coherent long-form story. It took many tries and many versions, and a lot of lost sleep and sacrifice. I wrote when I was on vacation with family, I got up early before my day job to write, I wrote in the middle of the night and wouldn’t get to bed until dawn — it was like I was possessed. I couldn’t not do it, but I gave up a lot for it, and at the same time, I was riddled with doubt. That was hard to wrestle with. And writing itself is so solitary. That can be lonely at times. Rejection is also no picnic, though all of the difficult stuff really does make you better and stronger.

Q: Who is your favorite character in the duology and why?

Of course, I love my main character Usagi, as I’ve been carrying her with me for years. But I did find a couple of supporting characters surprisingly fun to write, and so I feel a lot of affection for them. One is the hermit, Yunja — I have a blast with him every time I bring him into the story. I also love the Tigress, because she’s like my personal Yoda. Honestly I love all my characters for different reasons, but I’ll stop with those three!

Q: Sequels and sophomore novels have a reputation for being difficult to write. Did you find Treasures of the Twelve, which is not only a sequel but the conclusion to a series, to be a challenge compared to the first book?

It was a challenge for sure, but in a different way from Book 1. I had to figure out how to develop things that I’d set up in the first book, and how to start the book in a way that wouldn’t be horribly confusing for anyone who hadn’t read The Twelve, but not too repetitive for those who had. I tried to balance introducing new ideas, places and characters with including familiar bits from Book 1. I also had to wrap things up in a satisfying way. And I had to do it all in a compressed time frame. It took me many years to write Book 1, and just a fraction of that for Book 2. That said, it helped that I had already spent so much time building the world of my story — it did make some things easier as I drafted Treasures of the Twelve. I kept reminding myself that other authors have written sequels for publication in consecutive years, so it was in the realm of possibility — but I definitely worried about pulling it off. Given the constraints of time, I did the absolute best I could, and take heart in the fact that my publisher gave it the green light. I think it goes to show that there’s nothing like a deadline to help kick you in the pants!


About the Author:

Cindy Lin author photoA former journalist with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Cindy Lin has worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has written and produced many multimedia news features for children, one of which received a Peabody Award. The Twelve is her debut novel.

Author Links:

Website: https://www.cindylinbooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindylin_tweets

Author Interview: Ruby Lang

For Day 3 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, we have an interview with romance author Ruby Lang on her recent novella House Rules!

House Rules

Synopsis:

ROOMMATE WANTED to share a gorgeous sun-filled apartment in Central Harlem. Must love cats. No ex-husbands or wives need apply.

Seventeen years ago, different dreams pulled Simon Mizrahi and Lana Kuo apart. But when Lana takes a position as a chef back in Manhattan, her apartment search puts her right in her ex-husband’s path. Music teacher Simon is also hunting for a new place to live, and when Lana proposes they be platonic roomies, well…it’s not the worst idea he’s ever heard.

A sunny uptown two-bedroom sounds far more appealing than the cramped, noisy space where he’s currently struggling to work. Still, Simon has seen firsthand that Lana’s a flight risk, so he agrees on a trial basis.

Three months. With strict boundaries.

Living together again feels wonderfully nostalgic, but when the ex-couple’s lingering feelings rise to the surface, the rules go out the window.

Of course, chemistry was never their problem. But while Simon’s career feels back on solid footing, Lana is still sorting out what she wants. With their trial period soon coming to an end, they’ll have to decide if their living arrangement was merely a sexy trip down memory lane or a reunion meant to last.

Interview:

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for House Rules and the Uptown series?

House Rules, a second-chance contemporary romance about exes who end up living together once again because New York City rent is too damn high, was inspired by stories about the desperate things we do to find apartments in expensive metro areas.

The book is part of the Uptown series, my contemporary romance trilogy about love, real estate, and adulting, which I was prompted to write while walking around in Harlem. Harlem is a sprawling neighborhood in Manhattan with such an amazing history—it’s especially rich in Black history. It’s a great place to eavesdrop on conversations and the architecture is gorgeous. But the neighborhood has been gentrifying. So I wanted to write some small, intimate stories about ordinary people in that context.

Now, of course, I miss those long, aimless walks. I miss the chatter.

Q: If Lana and Simon from House Rules used Twitter, what would their Twitter handles be, what would they put in their bios, and what kind of content would they Tweet, respectively?

Lana would be @lananoodle. On her Twitter, she would only post links to Instagram. Her IG is pictures of food, plants, her cat, and sometimes scenes from the classroom where she teaches noodle making.

Simon will be @Mizrahi0905214. His profile photo is a blank and he’s only ever retweeted announcements from the college where he teaches, and that was 2 years ago. He follows 5 people and is followed by 2—both of whom are his interns.

Q: What’s your favorite romance trope to write?

I love writing enemies-to-lovers, probably because what I enjoy most working on banter. Even if characters are on opposing sides, the tension of having them match their wits against each other is always so fun to write, and read.

I love that contradiction of characters being at their worst but also being at their best, cleverest, funniest, sharpest, quickest with each other. I love the sense of play that often comes out when characters spar. I love showing readers what makes these people tick though the way they talk.

Q: If you could go on a date (platonic or romantic) with one of your characters, who would you pick (name and which book they’re from), what would you do/where would you go, and why?

Oh, wow! The idea of going out anywhere at all these days is pretty nice. But I’d definitely want a friend date with Lana and Simon. I’d try her hand-pulled noodles and maybe we’d all listen to music together.

Q: Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between?

I’m a little bit in between! I often will write most of an outline, come to a section in the plot that seems too complicated to figure out, give up on mapping out the story, and then start writing the actual manuscript. And then I’ll often end up going off the path, get lost in the weeds, and get to an ending in a completely different way than anticipated. I’ll also write snippets of dialogue, absolutely sure they’ll fit in at some point, and totally forget about them.

Q: What advice would you give to inexperienced writers for crafting a compelling romance?

Characters first! Always think of the characters, what they think they want, what they actually want, and how that all comes into conflict. I think that some people think that romance is a genre of pure wish fulfillment. (And that’s probably one of the many reasons why it often comes under fire.) But it’s more a genre about subjectivity and how people’s desires clash with expectations; writing romance means you have to have a firm grasp on what makes people tick.


About the Author:

Ruby Lang author photo

Ruby Lang is the author of the acclaimed Practice Perfect series. Her alter ego, Mindy Hung, wrote about romance novels (among other things) for The Toast. Her work has also appeared in The New York TimesThe WalrusBitch, and other fine venues. She enjoys running (slowly), reading (quickly), and ice cream (at any speed). She lives in New York with a small child and a medium-sized husband.

Author Links:

Website – http://www.rubylangwrites.com/

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/RubeLang/

Author Interview: Victoria Ying

For Day 2 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Victoria Ying, whose debut middle grade graphic novel City of Secrets releases July 28th, 2020!

City of Secrets

Synopsis:

Author Interview: Grace Lin

Hi, everyone! If you weren’t aware, it’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so in honor of the occasion, I’ll be posting a series of five author interviews and two book reviews focusing on Taiwanese authors and their books. This is the first, featuring middle grade and picture book superstar Grace Lin! Her two most recent releases are A Big Bed for Little Snow and Mulan: Before the Sword.

A Big Bed for Little Snow

Synopsis:

Little Snow loves the new big, soft bed Mommy made him for the long, cold winter nights. But Mommy says this bed is for sleeping, not jumping! What happens when he can’t resist jump, jump, jumping on his new fluffy, bouncy bed?

Mulan Before the Sword

Synopsis:

Family is important to Hua Mulan—even if her parents don’t understand why she would rather ride her horse, Black Wind, than weave, or how her notorious clumsiness can be so different from the graceful demeanor of her younger sister, Xiu. But despite their differences, Mulan has a deep love for her family, especially Xiu. So when her sister is bitten by a poisonous spider, Mulan does everything she can to help, including seeking out a renowned healer. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to both the mysterious spider bite and the healer than meets the eye. On a quest with the Jade Rabbit of legend, Mulan visits extraordinary places, meets Immortals, and faces incredible obstacles while searching for an antidote for her sister. And the danger only rises when Mulan learns of a prophecy foretelling that a member of the Hua family will one day save the Emperor . . . and of the powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent it from coming to pass.

Interview:

Q: Where did you get the idea for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

“A Big Bed for Little Snow” is a companion book to my book “A Big Mooncake for Little Star.” Both books are kind of my homages to classic picture books that I loved as a child, yet yearned to see someone that look like me—someone Asian—in. “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” is inspired by “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey and “A Big Bed for Little Snow” is inspired by “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. They are my attempts at making American classic picture books featuring Asian faces, hopefully helping to show that we are also a part of the Americana.

Q: What art tools did you use for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

I’m still very old-fashioned in my art—I don’t use a computer.  I used pencil and paper to draw the sketches; paint and paintbrush to do the paintings. I use a kind of paint called gouache which is an opaque watercolor. For “A Big Bed for Little Snow” as well as “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” I did take photos of models in costumes. Because I was using the patterns on the clothes to articulate the character’s bodies, it was really important to get the folds correct.

Q: As an adult, how do you get yourself into the head of a young child to write a book from their point of view?

Well, I think I kind of have the mind of a child to begin with! Though, I have to admit having my own child has made it easier as well. When I see all the thing that fascinate her, hear all the questions she asks—it is fodder for books!

Q: Your most recent release, Mulan: Before the Sword, was an official collaboration with Disney. How much creative freedom did you get in writing the story? Were you the one who came up with the story’s premise?

I actually was given quite a bit of creative freedom, which was wonderful. They gave me the script and pretty much said I could write whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t contradict anything that happened in the movie. So, yes, I did come up with the book’s premise. It was such a delight to think up the backstory of some of the characters!

Q: I love the full cover spread for Mulan: Before the Sword. How long did it take for you to complete it?

A painting like that takes me about a week and a half, maybe two. It usually takes me about a week to do one spread in a book.

Q: So far all of your books have been for middle grade or younger audiences. Do you think you’ll ever write books for teens?

Well, you never say never, but I don’t see it in the near future. Maybe when my daughter hits the teenage years!

Q: Can you give us any hints for what’s coming next from you?

I’m working on another picture book! Right now it’s called “Once Upon a Book” and co-written with Kate Messner. It’s inspired by the Children’s Book Week poster I did for the CBC—I loved the image so much I wanted to do a book about it. At the time, I was so deep into writing Mulan that I couldn’t think of anything and asked my friends if they had any ideas. Kate did and, now, if I can get the illustrations done, it will be a book!


Grace Lin author photoBefore Grace Lin was an award-winning and NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of picturebooks, early readers and middle grade novels, she was the only Asian girl (except for her sisters) going to her elementary school in Upstate NY. That experience, good and bad, has influenced her books—including her Newbery Honor WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, her Geisel Honor LING & TING, her National Book Finalist WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER and her Caldecott Honor A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR. But, it also causes Grace to persevere for diversity as an occasional New England Public Radio commentator and when she gave her TEDx talk “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” as well as her PBSNewHour video essay “What to do when you realize classic books from your childhood are racist?.” She continued this mission with a hundred episodes of the podcast kidlitwomen* and now currently hosts two other podcasts: Book Friends Forever and Kids Ask Authors. In 2016, Grace’s art was displayed at the White House and Grace, herself, was recognized by President Obama’s office as a Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.