Monthly Archives: January 2017

Welcome to the Spotlight Andrea Wang and The Nian Monster!

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Happy Chinese New Year (on January 28, 2017)! Congratulations to Andrea Wang and her debut picture book! Stayed tuned below to win a signed copy.

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The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau (Albert Whitman & Co./2016)

Xingling is preparing to celebrate the New Year in Shanghai with her family, but the Nian Monster has other ideas. He threatens to eat Xingling and destroy her beloved city! Clever Xingling comes up with ways to thwart and trick the monster, first by offering him noodles for long life and then fish for good fortune. Bit by bit, Xingling stalls the Nian Monster until she sends him away spectacularly. This fun and adventurous story is also full of great information about customs and traditions of Chinese New Year, accompanied by bright gorgeous illustrations. THE NIAN MONSTER is a fabulous story about a brave and smart girl in modern Shanghai outwitting a monster.

Spotlight on Andrea:

How did the idea for this picture book come about? What were some of the challenges and the highlights of your journey to publication?

I stumbled upon the ancient folktale of the Nian monster when I was looking for information about Chinese New Year to tell my sons. I did more digging and found several videos on YouTube with different versions of the story. I was intrigued by the representation of the old year as a ferocious beast that ate everyone until it was scared away by three simple things – fire, noise, and the color red. I thought I’d try re-telling the old folktale in a modern setting.

One of the first highlights of this book’s journey was receiving a Letter of Commendation from the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant contest. It was a wonderful validation and encouraged me to keep querying. I also think it helped the manuscript make it to acquisition meetings at two different publishing houses, although it was ultimately passed on for different reasons. The third time was the charm, though! My editor at Albert Whitman found my manuscript in the slush pile and made an offer on it (definitely a highlight)! Since then, I would say that the biggest challenge was waiting for the book to be published, and the one of the biggest highlights was seeing the artwork. Illustrator Alina Chau did such a fantastic job making the story come alive, as well as adding layers to the story that gave it a depth and richness I could never have imagined.

Xingling is clever and brave. She not only faces the Nian monster, but she comes up with ways to trick him. Without giving away the whole story, how did you come up with ways Xingling could thwart the monster? Did you know how she would trick him from the beginning, or did you have to figure things out and/or discard ideas?

I had lots of ideas from the very beginning on how Xingling was going to trick Nian, but they were all bad! J At one point, there were laser guns involved… (See? I told you they were bad!) None of them felt right until I thought hard about what I loved about Chinese New Year and the Chinese culture. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from China and always tried to make Chinese New Year special, even though we lived in rural Ohio and didn’t have access to cultural events or ingredients. This was the in the 1970’s and you couldn’t just run out and go to the Asian grocery store, because they didn’t exist. I remember my mom making tofu in the basement! Anyway, once I connected to the foods of my childhood, the ways that Xingling tricks Nian fell into place almost immediately.

Food is a big part of this book, which is another reason I love this story. I love food! What is your favorite Chinese food item and why?

I love food, too, which makes this question impossible to answer! When I was around Xingling’s age, though, my favorite Chinese food was a steamed bun filled with sweet red bean paste. I know, it sounds kind of gross (Bean paste? What is that?) but it was a huge treat at the time because it took so long to make. My mom made the filling by cooking the beans, adding sugar and a dollop of lard, and blending it into a smooth, creamy “paste.” She made the dough for the buns, too, and showed me how to roll out circles of dough, fill them with the bean paste, and twist the top to seal them. Then the buns were placed on squares of waxed paper and steamed until done. I loved spending the time cooking with her as much as I loved the final product!

Andrea Wang grew up making dumplings and taking baths with orange peels to prepare for Chinese New Year. She loves to travel and try new foods and has tasted camel in Beijing, mantis shrimp in Hanoi, and emu in Perth. A longtime resident of Massachusetts, Andrea now lives in Colorado with her family and their dog, Mochi, named for the sticky rice dessert.

For more about Andrea and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and/or on Instagram.

To win a signed copy of The Nian Monster for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, January 28 by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, January 31 (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Kathryn E. for winning a signed copy of THE NIAN MONSTER! Your prize will be on its way to you this week!

Happy New Year!

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Welcome to the Spotlight H.M Bouwman and A Crack in the Sea!

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Happy New Year! What a thrill to be able to start off 2017 with a shiny bright spotlight on an amazing middle grade novel, already garnering high praise. It’s also a Winter 2017 Kids’ Indie Next Pick! Stay tuned below to enter to win a copy of this amazing page-turner.

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A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman (Penguin Young Readers Group/2017)

In the Second World, Pip can speak to the fish, a gift the Raft King needs in order to get his people through the mysterious “door” in the ocean back to the First World. When the Raft King kidnaps Pip from the island to Raftworld, Pip’s protective sister Kinchen is determined to rescue him. Also intertwining with this story are the stories from the First World of Thanh and his family escaping to the seas in post-war Vietnam and from the past of Venus and Swimmer who escape a slave ship to come upon the crack in the sea into the Second World. A fascinating and gripping tale of friendship, love, adventure, and truth, sprinkled with a Kraken love story.

Spotlight on H.M. Bouwman:

Congratulations on A CRACK IN THE SEA! What an amazing tale – I don’t even know where to start with the questions, so I’ll start with my usual: What was the spark behind the idea for this book? And how did it grow into a full-fledged story?

For me the beginning of a story is always something small, a footprint on the ground or a broken twig, and it’s not until I follow the trail for a long, long time that it widens and I see what the story is really about. With this book there were two initial sparks: the image of a giant Raft big enough to hold a whole nation; and the story of the Zong slave ship, which I was researching for an early American literature class I was teaching. I wrote for quite a while—free-writing and individual scenes that popped into my head and images that stuck with me—until the story started to emerge. Even then I made a lot of wrong turns before I realized this was at heart a story about immigration and finding your home.

I’m fascinated by all of the characters in the story, from adventurous Caesar of Raftworld to brave Venus who escapes the slave ship and manages to save many others. But I have to say that Pip really caught my heart. I love that his sister wants to protect him, but that Pip figures out how to manage his disability AND his gift and grows from this discovery. Do you have a favorite character (I know it’s hard to choose from your babies)? How did you develop such distinct personalities and stories for each?

Ohhhhh, that’s kind of like asking which of my kids is my favorite. Or which of my cats. I love them all infinitely. However, there are days that I certainly feel more akin to one or the other of these characters. Kinchen feels injustice strongly; Caesar is determined to put her best face forward; Thanh feels like he does everything wrong; Pip feels like he doesn’t fit in; Venus, at points, just wants to be left alone; and so on. On different days I feel closer to one or the other of these characters. What I hope is that a reader might have some of those same moments of recognition and closeness.

Okay, I have to ask about the Kraken! How did they make their way into your story? I love them!

HAHA! The Kraken came into the story when I was drafting and ran out of options. I had a rough-ish outline, and it just…trailed off to nothing. Kinchen was standing on the beach, needing to chase after Raftworld and with no way to get there. I stared at the screen for a long time, typed “Add sea monsters?” into my not-really-an-outline and quit for the day. The next day: there the kraken were, waiting for me and waving from the bay.

I was teaching a creative writing class at the time, and when I showed my students what I was working on (we were talking about ways of drafting and outlining and prewriting), one of them noticed that note and started laughing. “Just add sea monsters!” became probably the most memorable advice I gave that semester. I won’t say it was the most helpful advice, but it was probably the most memorable.

About H.M. Bouwman:

H.M. Bouwman is the author of middle grade historical fantasy novels
The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap and A Crack in
the Sea, which publishes with Putnam/PRH on January 3. She lives with
her two kids in St. Paul, MN and teaches in the English department at
the University of St. Thomas.

For more  about H.M. Bouwman and her books, check out her web site and follow her on Twitter.

To win a signed copy of A Crack in the Sea for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, January 7 by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, January 10 (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Cherilyn for winning a copy of A CRACK IN THE SEA!

Come back again for more interviews, buzz reviews, and drawings! Happy Reading!