Wednesday, June 28, 2006

news from the front

So, it looks like the best thing that may have happened to me at the recent ALA conference took place when I wasn't even there! The Year of the Dog was one of the titles considered during the ALA Notable discussions (where they debate which books they want to be on the notable list) and the grapevine gossip has been pretty positive. I don't want to get my hopes up too high, but I'll admit to a couple of citation daydreams.

And those daydreams are what keep me from throwing myself overboard. ALA was an overwhelming experience...the sheer number of books being produced makes it a minor miracle to be able to even to find my own. However, the joy is in the journey--while looking for my own books I ran into a couple that I just loved. I look forward to buying when they hit the stores:

Steal Back the Mona Lisa, by Meghan McCarthy: This is hilarious, a fun story with factual info. I am jealous that my mind cannot work in this inventive way.

Yoon and the Christmas Mitten, by Helen Recorvits, Gabi Swiatkowska : A lovely story, if a tad bit wordy, but the art is absolutely gorgeous. I think Gabi will win a Caldecott in the next couple of years.

Chowder, by Peter Brown: have to love that dog! Makes me want to be a bulldog owner.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

so much food, so few meals

Unfortunately, I'm at my worst when it comes to professional socializing. Somehow, all the awkwardness and insecuritites that I thought I left in my younger years comes back and I am all akimbo. This makes attendence at conferences like the American Library Association's pretty stressful for me. So,rather than transforming in the teenage version of myself, Robert and I eschewed most of the function and ran around New Orleans eating.

Well, ran around is used figuratively. It was much too hot to do any quick movement. We slowly oozed places, as we melted in the heat--only to solidify in an air conditioned restaurants that increased our mass.

And we definitely increased our mass. We finally discovered the difference between gumbo and jumbalaya (gumbo is more like a soup), that beignats are fried dough and New Orleans bread pudding is like no other. Everywhere we went, a restaurant called us....and it said, "Why talk when you can eat?"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

my bad

One of the unforeseen joys of writing novels is the fan mail. During my career as a picturebook author/illustrator, I have gotten an occasional flattering e-mail or letter, usually from parents. But, with Year of the Dog I've been hearing directly from the reader.

But I'm a horrible author! I have yet to respond to any of them. I keep meaning to, but somehow the pile remains on the desk. It was only when my editor asked me if I had any fan mail that she could use to pitch Year of the Rat (cross your fingers!) to pub committee, that I rifled though them. Oh the guilt! I'm sorry! I will reply, I will!

In the meantime here are some priceless excerpts (these are probably funnier if you've read the book):

"We really liked your book. There were so many magical moments. We like how you and Melody were best friends. You were always working together and were BFFs(Best Friends Forever)."

"...It was exciting to hear about Albert's red egg party. I bet Albert was very wealthy. I can't believe Albert got so many red eggs. Dinner sounded delicious. How much money was in the envelopes?"

"We really loved your book, The Year of the Dog. Please read our letter to find out why....Next, we liked the way you described the food. We don't usually like the food you talked about, but the flavors sounded so interesting. We could almost taste the details. Ha, ha, ha! Are you every going to write a book called The Year of the Pig?"

"...Pacy and I are the same and different. We were both born in America and our parent are from China. We each have smaller sibling. We both do not have many close friends. We are different because Pacy speaks English at home and I speak Chinese at home. I have a smaller brother and Pacy has a smaller sister. Albert was named after food. Are Ki-Ki, Pacy and Beatrice named after food? I am not named after food."

Monday, June 19, 2006


Your friends should always be people that you admire. I'm lucky enough that my friends are not only people that I admire, but are inspiring as well. Most recently,my good friend Linda Wingerter awed us with her new passion of fire spinning.

Linda has always been a great source inspiration for me. Everything she does, everything she creates is done with the care, devotion and passion. Just from observing her, I've been shamed over and over again, realizing the difference between painting a picture and creating art. Art demands dedication, emotion and concentration. Art aspires to greatness, not for ego or money, but because it yearns to fulfill its potential and not waste the gifts bestowed on it. Linda's firespinning, as incredible and as amazing as it is, is just another example of how Linda creates art.

In the past, when I used to do educational/editorial work, I had a tendancy to to "phone it in." The only desire felt while I made those pieces was the desire to paint them as soon as possible and get paid. I would be embarassed to put my name on the paintings I created. Slowly, I realized my folly and began to concentrate solely on work that I loved. Linda is my constant reminder that I didn't get into illustration to make money, I got into it to make art.

And, Linda has abs of steel. She also inspires me to go to the gym.

Friday, June 09, 2006

book list

Whenever I do a school visit, kids ask me what my favorite books are. I usually rattle off a couple of titles in which I get returned blank and disappointed stares. With every unknown book I say, their disapproval grows until I finally give them what they want and say, "Harry Potter!" Then all is well again in the world and the visit is saved!

So,just for kicks, I'll give you my quick list:

The Lion and the Red Bird: my all-time favorite picture book. One of those books I wish I had created. Elisa Kleven is wonderful! Her art, how she creates worlds with so many little details really influenced a lot of my art, perhaps most notably the images in Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Tales of a Gambling Grandmother: also an amazing book. This book really showed me how you could create something fiercely meaningful and personal, yet still be universal to an audience. My inspiration for The Ugly Vegetables. Hey, I just found out this book is still in print, after all--in paperback!

Luka's Quilt: A multi-cultural book whose "multi-culturalism" disappears with the touching and warm story. Something I strive for in all my work.

Estelle and Lucy: This book is so beautifully written. The words are so spare, that you almost don't notice the artistry of it. This book showed me how powerful just a few words can be, it was actually the inspiration of the style of which I wrote Dim Sum For Everyone!

The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson: This book I did NOT read before writing Year of the Dog; and I am very glad I didn't. I would have just acquiesced to its sheer brilliance and superiority and not made the attempt. It's a great book--touching, hilarious, heart-warming and honest. All that I want my books to be!

Okay, and I DO like Harry Potter! Okay? Am I cool again?