Here’s to Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017! I chose The Nian Monster, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau, and published by Albert Whitman, an award-winning children’s book publisher since 1919.
Confession! I am completely biased. I have loved The Nian Monster ever since I heard Andrea Wang read her manuscript at one of our writing retreats. Wang and I both belong to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency (aka The Agency with the Best Client Retreats). And, yes, Alina Chau illustrated my book, Double Happiness, so I fell in love with her water colors quite some time ago.
That said, who wouldn’t want to take a journey with The Nian Monster? Wang has created a thoroughly beguiling story of the Chinese New Year with her feisty character, Xingling. Xingling is as loveable as Kungfu Panda and smart and wily as Word Girl.
For years the Nian Monster has been afraid to return to Shanghai during the new year because of the three things— “loud sounds, fire, and the color red.” However, Nian has grown accustomed to these tricks and has returned this year to devour Shanghai. Of course Nian begins to realize what a wise, brave girl is challenging him. Xingling knows that the way to tackle this pesky monster is through his mind and his stomach, as well as a few firecrackers in the end.
With Wang’s lyrical text and Chau’s heart-warming illustrations, children will want to jump into Chinese New Year in this new way. They might even discover a unique way to frighten the Nian Monster, perhaps with a few Shanghai dumplings of their own.
For any writers in the area, I’d highly recommend the Kinship Writers. Here’s my article on that experience.
Some things don’t go as planned. When I showed up at the Armory in Somerville one Sunday morning last June, I was surprised to see the Kinship Writers coordinators, Jessica and Erin, standing outside of a locked door. I was already nervous about this session with agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency). At the last Kinship workshop, I’d felt a bit like a fish out of water. After all I’d been the sole picture book author in a room full of Middle Grade and YA writers. Not to mention navigating my way into the city from the sticks had been a bit of a challenge. But this looked like a great group of fellow writers gathered outside the Armory’s door, along with an agent who actually represented picture book authors (a dying breed). The only real problem was the locked door.
About this time a few of us noticed the Little Sisters of the Poor conveniently located across the street. Erin bounded over to the Sisters and came back with good news. Not only did they have room, but the facility was an even better fit. As it turned out, so was my experience that day. Immediately, I felt drawn to Ms. Paquette. She had a graceful and generous spirit, and her critique of each person’s work was truly insightful. Since we were a small group, Ms. Paquette spent plenty of time with each person and her work.
Still, the process of “hooking” an agent felt like dating at this point in my writing career. One has to experience a whole lot of toads and polliwogs before discovering “the prince.” I’d almost given up hope before taking Erin and Jessica’s workshop. After my first book (My Sister, Alicia May), I’d assumed it would be easy to find a publisher for my other manuscripts. Instead I’d spent years researching publishers and waiting for their reply. I was in need of an expert, and that’s exactly what I found in Ms. Paquette. Thankfully the Kinship Writers helped me to reach the castle’s drawbridge.
As I sat at the round table that day, I could tell I’d found “the one.” But as with all relationships, the question was whether it was mutual admiration. At the end of the day, I found an invitation on my stories to submit my revisions to Ms. Paquette’s attention. The tiniest spark of interest is, of course, a cause for celebration for any writer. But I had been down this road before, having spent a year revising for an agent in NYC-only to be let down in the end. So I revised and wrote and revised again. Basically I held my breath until February 3rd, 2011. That is the day I received a call from Ms. Paquette asking if I’d be interested in working with her. By then I’d witnessed her wonderful critique skills up close and there was no way I’d turn away from such invaluable advice. Just like the famous insurance company says, it’s really nice to have someone “on your side.” And it all began with a small step, and one very special workshop.
If you are searching for an intimate setting in which to hone your craft, or a chance to meet face to face with an editor or agent, I wouldn’t look any further than the Kinship Writers.