Author Interview with Sylvia Liu about her debut PB, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA

Sylvia Liu pic © K Woodard Photography

© K. Woodard Photography

I am so very happy to welcome back Sylvia Liu onto Miss Marple’s Musings as part of the blog tour for her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. This manuscript won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award and so I wanted the focus of my short interview to be around diversity. You can read my first illustrator interview with Sylvia here back in September 2013.

A MORNING WITH GRANDPA downward dog spread, Illustration by Christina Forshay used by permission by Lee & Low Books"

A MORNING WITH GRANDPA downward dog spread, illustration by Christina Forshay used with permission from publishers, Lee and Low.

[JM] Did you consciously choose imagery that embraced Chinese and Western cultures to embrace a wider audience?

[SL] What a good question. I chose nature imagery to describe both tai chi and yoga, but I didn’t consciously choose from different cultures. It turned out that way probably because the tai chi poses embody imagery from Chinese culture (like white cranes), while living in the U.S. and being immersed in Western culture led me to nature images like maple and palm trees.

[JM] How autobiographical is this?

The story is inspired by my dad, who practices tai chi and qi gong, a practice involving breathing techniques to move qi, or life energy, around your body. My dad never taught my daughters tai chi, but he did teach them qi gong breathing techniques. The fun and loving relationship in the story is very similar to the one he has with my daughters.

[JM] What would you hope a young Chinese-American or indeed any child might take away from this story?

[SL] I hope any child would take home the same message, that sharing time and activities with one’s grandparent(s) is something to cherish. People tend to appreciate their grandparents when they are older, and I hope my book can help kids bond with their grandparents to form those memories that they can later remember with joy.

For a young Western child and even a young Chinese-American child, I hope to expose them to the practice of tai chi. Children naturally live in the moment, so they don’t need to be taught it, but showing them different ways to meditate and be can give them another tool in their mental toolbox.

[JM] Do you have any general thoughts you would like to share about diversity in kid lit?

[SL] We’ve still got a long way to go. Lee & Low Books recently completed a comprehensive baseline survey showing how racially/culturally skewed children’s publishing is, and the numbers are similarly disheartening for the diversity of children’s authors. For example, in 2015, out of 3400 books received by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (representing most of the trade books published in the U.S.), only 3% (106) were written by African or African-American authors; .6% (19) by Native Americans, 5% by Asian or Asian-Americans (176), and 1.7% (58) by Latinos.

It goes beyond the industry itself, though, because the industry and the authors make up the supply side of books. The other big factor is demand—the parents, librarians, and booksellers are not buying diverse children’s books. This is a chicken and egg problem: are they not buying them because they are not available, or are voting with their dollars and not rewarding diverse books? And if so, why is that the case (what is pervasive in the culture and education)?

And it goes beyond children’s literature, reaching entertainment as a whole. My publisher, Lee & Low, provides an annual breakdown of the Oscars diversity gap, and this year’s was hardly different from previous years’ analyses. The most recent example of whitewashing a film was when Scarlett Johansson was hired to play the Japanese main character in the remake of the classic Japanese anime GHOST IN A SHELL.

But there are glimmers of hope. Publishers are getting the memo and actively looking for previously untold stories. I am the recipient of the Lee & Low New Voices Award, which was created to promote new authors of color.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog and being a part of the blog tour for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA!

MorningWithGrandpa_cover

Title: A Morning with Grandpa

Author: Sylvia Liu

Illustrator: Christina Forshay

Publisher: Lee and Low, April 2016

Ages: 4-7

Themes: Grandparents, Asian Americans, Tai Chi, yoga, qi gong, family relationships

Opening Lines:

Mei Mei watched Grandpa dance slowly among the flowers in the garden. He moved like a  giant bird stalking through a marsh. His arms swayed like reeds in the wind. 

“What are you doing Gong Gong?” asked Mei Mei.                                                               “I’m practicing Tai Chi,” said Gong Gong. “This form is called White Crane Spreading Its Wings.”

Synopsis:

A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is about a young girl and her grandpa. Mei Mei learns tai chi from Gong Gong and teaches him yoga. While their styles are different, they enjoy their time together.

Why I Like This Book: 

As you will have noticed from my interview questions, I loved how the author wove images through her words from both Chinese and American cultures broadening the appeal of the story but also marrying the world just as so many of us experience in the wonderful pot pourri of cultures in which we live. It is a quiet story with a strong message of grandfather/granddaughter bonds and reciprocity. Both generations are challenged to try an activity, which is new to them and the sharing brings closeness and fun. I also appreciate the energy balance between the little girl’s exuberance and Gong Gong’s endurance.

Christina Forshay’s illustrations capture the generational differences beautiful and are full of joy.

BRIEF AUTHIR BIO

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at enjoyingplanetearth.com.

Please note the official blog tour schedule here: http://www.kidlit411.com/2016/04/Kidlit411-Author-Sylvia-Liu-Blog-Tour.html 

The National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. Centennial Edition -PPBF/Earth Day

earth-day-5Rs-300x300

natTitle: National Geographic Kids National Park Guides U.S.A

Written by: Sarah Wassener Flynn and Julie Beer

Published by: National Geographic Kids, 2016

Themes: national parks in the USA, sights, activities, trips, conservation

Ages: 7- adult

Opening:

In the last hundred years, life in the Unites States has changed a lot, but there are some places that have remained unchanged, looking much as they did when the first European settles arrived: the United States’ national parks. These vast parcels of protected land, originally established as a way to protect the land and wildlife, contain more than 84 million acres of stunning scenery and natural wonders-a true national treasure.

Synopsis:

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to introduce you to this National Geographic gem, which celebrates the centennial anniversary of the National Parks Service. Take kids on a journey, with this packed edition of the vastly diverse parks across this country. It is neatly divided into regions: East, West, Southwest and Midwest. This companion guide details each park with maps, special attractions, activities, fun facts and more.

Did you know you can visit 25 glaciers in Mount Rainer National park?

Want to see bats? Head to Calrsbad Caverns National Park.

Why I like this book:

Rangers’ tips, best views, animals you may see, stunning color photography and more all make this a fascinating read and guidebook, even if you only plan to visit one park this year! In addition any class doing projects about the natural beauty and variety in the USA would do well to purchase this rich resource. Even kids who normally shy away from outdoor activities are sure to find facts of interest here that I hope will spur some natural adventures. Whether you want to see stalactites in the caverns of the southwest or you want to plunge into the natural smelly hot springs of Yellowstone, this book will show you where and how.

Science, exploration and storytelling can change the world and our parks are critical for the sustainability of our planet. They can connect us with the natural world and inspire kids and adults to be better stewards.

As many of you know, one of my lifetime goals as long as I am living in this country is to visit as many national parks as possible, so while I normally donate my review copies to school libraries, I may just have to hang onto this one as I make my way from Acadia to Zion.

Don’t forget this is National Parks Week, April 16th to 24th April, 2016. Here’s a list of the parks participating by state where entry is free.

Activities/resources:

  • If you want to do a series of lessons on the national parks, I highly recommend the PBS DVDs. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA is a six-episode series filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature’s most spectacular locales – from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska. It is a story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy. The first episode includes a lesson plan for 4th graders.
  • This book is just one of MANY Nat Geo initiatives this year to mark the US National Park Service’s upcoming centenary (on Aug 25). For example, Subaru is partnering with National Geographic on a digital initiative aimed at helping children learn to love and want to preserve their national parks.“Find Your Park, Love Your Park” consists of an interactive digital map featuring every national park within United States borders alongside a set of downloadable educational modules aimed at children aged nine years and above as well as at educators and families in general. Modules can be used for simple things such building nature walks and identifying animal tracks and insect species or as the basis for understanding more complex subjects related to conservation, protection and biodiversity.
  • The May edition of Nat Geo Kids will be devoted to national parks and and an online content hub, natgeokids.com/parks will feature My Shot Kid photos, park profiles and a quiz.
  • K-12 education: The National Geographic Bee will take place May 22-25, in Washington DC and will feature geography questions about US National Parks.
  • Many schools live within reasonable distance of a park and a day trip may be a great way to celebrate this centenary. Don’t forget, 4th graders get in free!
  • Over the next five years, as Earth Day moves closer to its 50th anniversary, we’re calling on you to help us achieve one of our most ambitious goals yet —we’re planting 7.8 billion trees and we’re starting now. Maybe your class or homeschooling group can reach out and become involved in a local tree planting initiative.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

I Am J – Book Recommendation

i am jTitle: I Am J

Written by: Cris Beam

Published by: Little Brown, 2011

Themes/Topics: Diversity, LGBTQIA, transgender teens, coming of age, New York, cutting, friendship, emotional problems

Suitable for ages: 14+

Opening:

J could smell the hostility, the pretense, the utter fake-ness of it all before they even climbed the last set of stairs. He was going to this party for Melissa, though she knew he’d hate it, though she’d have friends to talk to and J would stand in the corner like a plastic tree, sucking at a beer, steaming in his too-many shirts and humiliation. The stairs were already sticky with spilled drinks, and reggaeton thumped through the door.

Synopsis:

J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was; a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible – from his family, from his friends…from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he’s done hiding – it’s time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self. (Goodreads)

Why I like This Book:

J starts off in a bad place and in his funk, he comes across a little misogynistic and introspective, but this felt authentic to me. He speaks dismissively of gay kids and he puts his own pain over his best friend’s. But these flaws are very human. The fact that J and other characters are real jerks at times felt one of the strengths of the novel for me. The diversity of the cast of characters is also immediately striking. They come from working class families, many are people of color, and many come from immigrant families. There are not many novels that are written for teens of color about issues of gender. This added depth to this queer novel, which predates not exactly a plethora but the increase in trans YA novels of the last 2 or 3 years.

Cris Beam does a great job of illustrating J’s process as he unpacks and challenges his own misogyny and homophobia and faces his parents’ prejudices. The secondary characters add a tremendous punch to this novel too, each offering something different to J on his journey, particularly J’s new trans female friend Chanelle, whom he meets when he transfers to the school for LGBTQ teens. Chanelle, while not perfect is smart, strong, confident and a badass feminist.

J’s childhood friend, Melissa is struggling with her own identity issues and uses cutting as a coping mechanism. While she often doesn’t get J and is caught up in her own teen angst, her character arc is strong and she proves a supportive and influential part of his coming out.

The traumatic emotional roller coaster of how it feels to be F2M trans as a teenager, and the dissociation of mind and body feel genuine, with the at times violent dislike for body parts that shouldn’t be there. There are heart wrenching moments when J almost forgets he isn’t “really” a guy, only to be crushed by a casual word or comment or his birth name, the way a tiny word, like “she” or “m’hija” from his mom. The use of the pronoun ‘he’ for J throughout is an important authorial choice, which sets a tone from the outset.

J describes how something which feels as natural and permanent and obvious as being a guy on the inside seems to be so universally and vigorously rejected by everyone else. He’s told he’s sick, he’s wrong, he’s just a butch dyke, and so on. The gender dysphoria is real as is the knowledge that no matter how far he takes his transition, he will never have quite the body he believes he should live in. Very practical issues such as obtaining testosterone when under eighteen or chest binding are woven with skill into the narrative.

Beyond the wells developed characters, J’s transition portrays a painfully realistic and honestly complex struggle in his relationship with his parents, one that many queer and trans teens (and adults) will relate to all too well. He has to learn to survive on his own (and also to accept help), he builds a loving and supportive chosen family and navigates the legalities of his transition. He also has a brief but life-changing interaction with an amazing, mature trans sex worker midway through the book who is actually the first person J comes out to.

I also, of course, enjoyed the NYC setting!

This is definitely an “issue” novel in that the ‘plot’ is J’s process of coming to terms with being trans and beginning his transition. For teens who is interested in exploring trans issues, I think I AM J offers a very strong realistic view of one young man’s story. Cris Beam offers teens, queer or straight, a chance to look at the complexities of gender identity, and the integrity and courage needed to be true to oneself.

Activities/Resources:

There is a great list of genderqueer/non-binary resources on this Tumblr Transgender Teen Survival Guide.

Here are some resources for NYC and the surrounding area for trans teens.