Congratulations to Emily Jiang and her debut children’s book, Summoning the Phoenix, now available for purchase! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy!
Emily’s poetry about traditional Chinese instruments paired with April Chu’s lively illustrations will enchant readers young and not so young. For every poem about an instrument is a sidebar describing the instrument and the history, and sometimes a delightful folktale. The poems follow present-day students practicing on their instruments through preparing for and finally performing in a concert. So many fascinating instruments – I think my favorite, though, is the bamboo xiao which is said to be able to summon a phoenix if played beautifully.
Spotlight on Emily:
Tell me about the journey of your book – what was the inspiration, how many drafts did you write, and what was it like to get “The Call” (or email) that led to the publication of your book.
“The Call” for Summoning the Phoenix was unexpected and unusual. Ironically, I came up with the idea for this picture book while researching the music-based magic system for my YA fantasy novel that is All-Asian-All-the-Time. I wanted to share the love of traditional Chinese music with future generations, so I pitched the idea to my first editor, Renee Ting, who, coincidentally, had always wanted to publish a picture book about Chinese music. The original concept was a purely nonfiction book featuring photos of Chinese musical instruments. Then I discovered a book called Chinese Music and Musical Instruments by Xi Qiang, photographed by Niu Jiandang, and translated by Qiu Maoru. Written in English and published in Shanghai, China, this book was exactly what my editor and I had originally envisioned. So we had to rethink our concept. We considered, perhaps, that our book should be illustrated instead, yet we were unsure how to restructure the nonfiction content in a fresh manner.
Then inspiration struck me, as I scanned the picture books on my personal bookshelf. One of my all-time favorite picture books is Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. It is a gorgeously written book with a special format. Each illustrated double-page spread contains a beautiful poem and a lyrical informational sidebar about a creature or an aspect of a woodland night. I had read this hybrid poetry and nonfiction collection for the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery discussion led by brilliant librarians Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt. Dark Emperor was voted as the top book for our Mock Newbery before it went on to win an actual Newbery Honor. I re-read my copy before my next meeting with my editor, and we had a conversation that went something like this:
“What’s your opinion about poetry?” I asked.
“I’m not a fan,” she said, “but I’m not well-read in poetry.”
“Have you read Dark Emperor by Joyce Sidman?”
“No, I’ve never heart of it.”
“It’s one of the few picture books to have won a Newbery Honor,” I said quickly, “and it’s a collection of poetry and nonfiction. I absolutely adore this book and would love to write a similar format for our picture book. Can you do me a favor and read it?” There was a very long, very painful moment of silence from my editor. So I said, “If you hate it, we can come up with a new idea, but it was extremely popular at the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery. I think you might like it.”
“Okay,” she finally agreed. “I’ll check it out.”
A week or so later, my editor called me to tell me that she did not like Dark Emperor, she loved it! She gave me the green light to write poems along with prose about Chinese musical instruments. I wrote about six or seven revisions before she judged my manuscript as ready and gave me a contract. She was always available and open-minded to my ideas and even seriously considered my artist referrals, with my top pick being the amazingly talented April Chu, who eventually signed on as illustrator. When I could not decide on a title for my book, my editor was the one who came up with Summoning the Phoenix.
While Summoning the Phoenix has a fantastic new publisher Lee & Low and wonderful new editor Louise May, I will always remember the huge contributions of my first editor Renee Ting. The words are all my own, yet she greatly influenced the shape the book from the beginning, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
Do you play any instruments? Are you musical? What about music do you love?
Thanks to my parents’ unwavering support of music education when I was a child, I can play the piano (10 years of classical training) and the guitar (6 months of classical training) and I’ve been singing in choirs and a cappella groups for over 20 years. I’m currently teaching myself how to play the xiao and the dizi, both Chinese bamboo flutes, which is a challenge because I’ve never played a wind instrument before, and the technique is completely different from piano or guitar.
Music has always been easier for me than words. When learning a song, I always remember the melody before I can recall the lyrics. If I know the words to a song, that means I’ve listened to it at least ten times, while a melody can stick with me after hearing it only once. What I love most about music is that it IS a universal language that can transcend age and gender and culture. Even if you are deaf, you can still feel rhythm, an essential component of music.
What are you working on now?
I’m revising a couple YA novels that are All-Asian-All-the-Time. But I also recently was ambushed by a picture book idea that won’t let go. As long as I’m writing, I’m happy.
Win a Copy!
Would you like to win your own copy of this wonderful picture book? Follow the instructions below and enter for a chance to win!
1. Comment on this post and for fun, tell me what musical instrument you play or wish you could play. I took piano lessons (Suzuki method) for 13 years and sadly, have not kept it up. I also took lessons in guitar and accordion, and played the clarinet briefly in junior high. I would not say I’m musically talented!
2. You must have a U.S. mailing address.
3. Comment by midnight EST Friday, April 18th. The winner will be drawn at random and will be announced here on Tuesday, April 22nd.
Good luck and thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!