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A Cat, Replaced

TheStoryI'llTellFirewoodIt’s fascinating to learn how my illustrator, Jessica Lanan, paid attention to the finest details when creating The Story I’ll Tell. At one point, dressed up and carrying firewood, Jessica had her husband take her picture so she could more accurately depict a scene in the story. Read more here so you can see how the story’s father ultimately replaces a cat in that very illustration. 

The Flow of It All

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A novice children’s author rarely has a say in the choice of illustrator for her book. That said, I’ve been delighted every time by my publishers’ match-making abilities. When I first saw Jessica Lanan’s illustrations, I fell in love. In great part this was because her art carried me into the story. It flowed beautifully. If you click here, you can learn about the Golden Spiral and how it helped Jessica illustrate The Story I’ll Tell. 

An Afternoon in Providence

NEIBA

Until I was asked to do a signing at the New England Independent Booksellers Association, I’d never heard of NEIBA. This past Thursday I discovered what the are all about while attending their annual conference. I thoroughly enjoyed my time meeting the owners of local bookstores that I’ve frequented or that I need to frequent. Let’s just say, surrounded by books and publishers, librarians and teachers, I felt quite at home there accomplishing mighty things with the power of the pen. 

Double Happiness Activity Kit

Well, how about them apples? Actually, in this case I should say, “How about them boxes?” Thanks to the ingenious Kirsten Cappy and her Curious City, I now have a beautiful activity kit to go along with my book, Double Happiness (Chronicle Books). You may link to it here, or find it under the Educational Programs. I hope teachers and librarians use this activity to create poetry with their young readers. Best!

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Off and Running

Ahh, the lazy days of summer are fading. Sigh. Still, that means Double Happiness is definitely on the scene. With its book birthday on August 8th, I decided to wait until folks returned from the beach for some book signings. If you care to mark your calendars, here are some upcoming events:

September 11th, 7 pm, at The Writer’s Loft, for a Book Bash. Lots of wonderful authors, including the New York Times Bestseller, Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Click Here for Details:

September 26th, 11 am, at The Blue Bunny, Double Happiness has a launch party, including a reading, a craft and, yes, snacks and dragons. Don’t they always go hand in hand. Click Here for Details:

October 24th, 11 am, at Wellesley Books. Join me and some fabulous picture book authors (Josh Funk, Anna Staniszewski, Jane Sutcliffe and Ammi-Joan Paquette) for readings and crafts. Click Here for Details:

November 5th, 10:30, at An Unlikely Story. Come listen to the story of Double Happiness and then make your own happiness box. 

Why Double Happiness?

SanFranDHAt some point in your life you may have come across the Chinese characters that mean “double happiness.” To make this symbol, the character for “happy” is basically repeated, so you have “happy happy” next to one another, creating an extra joyful effect. It might look traditional like this. TraditionalDHCharacterOr more modern or simplified like this. ModernDoubleHappyCharacter

And while this explanation appears quite simple, there’s a heap of tradition behind the concept of “double happiness.”

Traditionally, “double happiness” is found at Chinese weddings on the invitations, hanging on the walls, imprinted on the napkins. After all weddings are happy occasions. In the past, calligraphers would paint the characters, each one made artistically in red or black ink. Now, to save time, they are printed or stamped.

But how, you might ask, does all of this relate to a children’s book with the same name? Believe it or not, my idea for Double Happiness began as a “rainy day” story. I imagined the two main characters, a brother and sister, being typical kids who are bored out of their minds on a rainy day. Their father is trying to fix a leak in their ceiling, so he instructs Gracie and Jake to find two boxes and fill them with treasures they discover around their home. This is his desperate attempt to keep them busy. Being Asian-American father, he calls them “double happiness” boxes.

Turns out, that idea wasn’t too appealing to editors. The story “needed more movement.” So I thought, why not a real move? Gracie and Jake could be moving from the west coast to the east coast. Why not? To deal with this hugely traumatic event, Gracie and Jake’s wise grandmother (Nai Nai) hand them each a box with the instructions to collect four treasures each along the way. Jake imagines he is like a dragon, searching for the best treasure. And in many ways, Gracie is like the phoenix, who handles this change in her life with grace. Ahh. See, it was all coming together now.

Wait, you say! Where did this phoenix and dragon come from? Wasn’t it hard enough to learn about “double happiness?”  Well, like the yin and yang of life, (when opposites complement one another), the phoenix and the dragon blend together nicely in Chinese tradition. The dragon represents power and strength. He was the symbol used by the emperors of old. The phoenix represents grace and wisdom. She was used by the empresses of old. Together they create a whole, and so they often appear next to the “double happiness” character at weddings.

Perhaps Kirkus Review said it best:  “Double happiness, traditionally a wish for newlyweds in Chinese culture, expands to key moments here: for sister and brother, for two memory boxes, and step by step, for a former home to a new one.” Well now, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Sometimes we have to put a bit of effort into finding happiness, just as Gracie and Jake do, but it’s worth the journey. Sometimes we end up being doubly happy along the way.

First Line Favorites

TrainofSmallMercies

“Every morning Ellie West listened to her son get out of bed.” This is how The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell begins. And this is how my new segment about First Line Favorites begins as well. After all, what’s not to love about first lines?

While sounding casual, Rowell deftly pulls the reader into a time in American history when everyday lives were affected by an extraordinary event–Senator Robert Kennedy’s funeral train journeying from New York to Washington, DC. His first line hooks the reader by raising a question. Why? Why is Ellie listening to her son getting out of bed every morning?

The sentence that follows intensifies that question:  “With her husband, Joe, not yet awake, she tuned in so intently to the sounds two rooms down that she could feel some part of her leaving their bed and drifting down the hall.” Now the reader wants to know how old Ellie’s son is, and why she is so attuned to her son’s morning risings? 

As it turns out, Ellie’s son, Jamie, is a Vietnam veteran who’s returned home after losing his leg in battle. And Jamie is just one of the myriad of characters whose day will be forever changed by the passing of Kennedy’s train through their lives. One thing’s for sure, Rowell had this reader hooked from the start.

A Not-to-Miss Workshop

Even if you visit schools as an author/ illustrator already, even if you have a few tricks up your sleeve, I would highly recommend the “Author School Visits” workshop with Michelle Cusolito and Marty Kelley. They discussed contracts and pricing, marketing and presentations (not to mention a burp and a boogie tossed in by Marty here and there). It was fabulous! Don’t miss it, if and when they offer this workshop again.