‘Tis the Season

What a busy spring with school visits galore! And yet there’s nothing like a spontaneous hug from a student, the creation of classroom poems, and the signing of a book to a new reader. After all, isn’t that what writing for kids is all about?

Here’s a few photos of my most recent visits to local schools (Wrentham & Norfolk),  a Boston school (Joseph P. Tynan), the Coolidge Elementary School (Shrewsbury) and the Tuscarawas County Public Library (OH). Did I mention I had a blast!?

I love all of the poems that the students created, each and every one, but there are always a few that are unforgettable, like the boy who wrote about his bed being his favorite place in the world (yes, I agree wholeheartedly).

Happy Summer, my school friends! See you again in the Fall (should I have said that four-lettered word?)

Together at Last!

I am always amazed to hear stories of authors and illustrators who never connect during the picture book process. How can this be? I know publishers can be a bit leery of any author-illustrator relationship pre-publication. After all the author might attempt to influence the illustrator, or squash her creativity. But I LOVE to find my illustrator on social media right away. If the chance arises to meet her in person, all the better. And the ultimate meet up? You got it! A book signing together. 

Chronicle Books was the perfect matchmaker when they paired illustrator, Alina Chau, with my story Double Happiness. Besides being uber-talented, she’s delightful and humble and fun. While I’ve known this for some time, this summer was the first time I was able to see her in action at our signings in California.

First, we visited Luan Stauss’ Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. Alina’s dog, Coco, joined us. When you’re reading Double Happiness, see if you can find Coco in the book.AlinaandNancyatLaurel

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Photo by Selina Liu

 

 

 

 

We had a few celebrities join us at our signings, too. Here’s Mike Jung and his famous donuts: 

MikeJungatLaurel

The next weekend we were privileged to be part of an inaugural event thanks to the Book Shop West Portal and West Portal branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Alina and I read Double Happiness in two voices (Gracie’s and Jake’s) at the library. Alina showed the audience how to draw a few of the characters.

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We had a celebrity there, too–the lovely Deborah Underwood.DeborahUnderwoodWestPortal

 Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter. 

AlinaNancyAnitaSee what happens when you hang with your illustrator! A whole new world opens before you. 

Now if I can only entice Alina to visit the east coast for a few double signings here. That will be extra happy occasion, for sure. 

(As an aside, I had the best fig pizza ever from Summer Kitchen in Berkeley, but I didn’t get to try Mike’s donuts)

THE Book Syndrome

Confession time, my fellow authors. You, too, must have experienced what I call “THE Book” Syndrome. Yes? Please tell me so! It happens when someone else’s story is published at the same time as your book, but THE Book is far more flashy, in a golden orbish kind of way. It gets all the attention and you’re curious why, so you check it out. In your heightened state of jealousy, you give it a whirl. And after you read it cover to cover, you’re still puzzled. Say what? Yet THE Book follows you everywhere. You pick up a magazine at the gym or at your hairdresser’s, and there it is. You go to your library, and it’s on prominent display. Kids are reading THE Book in the middle of the park (Okay, slight exaggeration). But the final straw is when you do a signing yourself. It’s your big day. Readers are excited about your book. And when you’re finished, the event planner hands you just one book as a “Thank you!” for your participation. And guess which book it is? Yup, It’s THE Book! And you take it home and reread it and think, “Okay, maybe it’s worthy of a bit of that glory and glitter. Maybe just a little.”

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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.