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.
[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!
Title: A Morning with Grandpa
Author: Sylvia Liu
Illustrator: Christina Forshay
Publisher: Lee and Low, April 2016
Themes: Grandparents, Asian Americans, Tai Chi, yoga, qi gong, family relationships
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.”
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