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WNDMG Wednesday – Author Shing Yin Khor

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Author Interview with Shing Yin Khor

Featured in today’s WNDMG Wednesday, a WNDMG author interview with Shing Yin Khor about their graphic novel, THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO. (Penguin Random House, June 2021)

Shing Yin Khor Interview

About THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO

Part historical fiction, part magical realism, and 100 percent adventure. Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.

Shing Yin Khor Interview

MUF: Thanks so much for doing this interview with me – I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO. And I have to tell you, both my 9-year-old daughter and I enjoyed it immensely – she’s already reading it again! We’re grateful to you for bringing such a vibrant, creative book into the world.

What is the origin story for THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO? What is the significance of your decision to incorporate the Blue Ox?

SYK: My interest in the Paul Bunyan mythos goes back many years – it started with a fairly straightforward interest in logging history and this American myth, but as I learned more about early American history, especially in the Wild West, I realised how much history I didn’t know, or that was left deliberately untaught to me. A lot of these histories are glossed over in the popular American narrative. The popular conception of early American history, and especially that of Old West heroism is one full of white heroes and white individualism, which is more a matter of myth-building than historical fact. Often, marginalized groups are spoken of as a monolith, as a people rather than a collection of individual people, living a diversity of lives. This is not true now, and it wasn’t then either.

Shing Yin Khor Illustration

Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox

SYK: The evolution of the Paul Bunyan myth feels like a microcosm of this history to me – it has become a story of individual strength, while the stories in the oral tradition are often far more about collective labor. Including Pei Pei(as the stand-in for Babe the Blue Ox) felt pretty compulsory to me, he’s just such a signifier of the Paul Bunyan myth, and I also just wanted a big goofy ox in the book.

I find American myth-building extremely compelling, and Paul Bunyan is probably the biggest American mythological figure, although probably a less generally destructive one than the myth we have made our “founding fathers” out to be. The American mythology dehumanizes and caricatures us. It tells us that indigenous people were “savages,” or healers, with no nuance for the individual, it tells us that enslaved people were “treated well,” it ignores the labor and death that this entire country was predicated on, and yes, some of the early Paul Bunyan stories are racist.

Shing Yin Khor Illustration

And to also know that these logging camps were filled with immigrants, and Black and Indigenous workers, that they had tons of Chinese and Japanese workers in them – at the center of this book is the simple question – what were the stories that we lost, because of the person that told them?

MUF: Why did you decide to set this story in a logging camp?

SYK: I am specifically interested in logging and forest history, and in the evolution of the Paul Bunyan mythos – a logging camp was the obvious choice.

The Power of Myth

MUF: A major theme of your book is the reclaiming of the power of myth and who gets to own it. How do you hope to empower your readers with this message?

SYK: I’m writing quite indulgently here – the reader I’m trying to write for is the 12 year old version for myself, not anyone else. I wrote this book to restore something to the young version of me, who only found books about brave imaginative kind white girls. I hope that young readers today won’t need to have that futile search because my fellow authors have already been writing them into history. I hope there are more books like this, especially those that center Black and Indigenous perspectives, but I am heartened that this book is coming out at a time where marginalized voices are centered more, even though I think the traditional publishing industry still has a very long way to go. I hope that this book assures young readers from marginalized communities that they can tell their own stories too, and I hope that the collective work of my elders and my peers and the work that I try my best to do now and in the coming years, will help to ease the path for them to center their own voices as storytellers and be their own protagonists.

The Chinese Story in Logging Camp History

MUF: One of the most painful moments in the book is drawn from the racial tension that followed the Chinese Exclusion Act—can you describe the experience of writing and researching that period?

SYK: The thing about doing research about any marginalized peoples, and especially if you are from the same group, is that you often get bogged down by the grief and trauma of the research. It is difficult, because a lot of the history is not well documented, and what is documented is often the violence of the time period against Chinese workers. 

Part of my impetus for writing Auntie Po was actually learning how Chinese people were, in some ways, valued by the world beyond their own Chinese communities. The plot point where Ah Hao finds out that he was paid more than the white cook is a historical fact, that I encountered in Sue Fawn Chung’s Chinese in the Woods, which is just about the only academic book about working-class Chinese in the lumber industry in this era. This story of logging camp cooks sprang basically fully formed into my head when I read it – I already knew a lot about the Paul Bunyan mythos, and I knew a lot about the early American logging industry, but this book so clearly placed Chinese people in this history I was already interested in and made it feel like it was something I deserved to claim.

((Enjoying this WNDMG interview? Read this guest post from author Christina Li))

Today’s Bias

MUF: How do you feel that history connects to today’s awful bias against the Asian

community?

SYK: I don’t really feel like I have the ability to form complete thoughts about this yet. But it is clear to me that the only way we move forward is in solidarity with other marginalized peoples, especially Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color. Anti-Asian racism is not just a current issue, it is an ongoing pattern of institutional racism that this country has engaged in, rooted in white supremacy, that seeks to pit marginalized people against each other, which does not ever benefit any marginalized group, and only benefits white supremacy. A large part of my book is about Chinese people forced into navigating whiteness for their survival and comfort, and realizing the limits of what white-adjacency can bring them. Our histories are much more intertwined with other marginalized groups than the stereotypical Asian-American narratives suggest, and solidarity backed by solidarity action is our only way out of the model minority myth. 

Personal Resonance

MUF: What is the most meaningful part of the book for you personally?

SYK: Mei’s relationship with her dad is really important to me, because it’s really similar to my relationship with my own dad. We immigrated to the United States when I was 16, and even though we are a much more privileged family than a logging camp cook, it is so clear to me the sacrifices he made to give me a life where I could make art for a living. He was the first person in his family to go to college, his brothers and sisters pooled their money so he could go, being an artist was never an option for him. 

I also loved being able to write a queer character while not necessarily needing to make it a major part of the book! Mei is a queer character that exists in many intersections of experiences, just like many other queer people. Not every experience foregrounds queerness, it is just part of who she is as a person. 

Publishing Team of Color

MUF: As a creator of color in the graphic novel space, what was your experience on your path to publication? In your Acknowledgements page, you note that this book was finished in collaboration with a team that was entirely made up of people of color. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you? 

SYK: I was already doing a lot of my own work, both self published and shorter works with online publishers, so the path to publication for this book was fairly straightforward. I had some early experiences in my early days as a writer, where I was often made to feel that the stories that were wanted from me in traditional publishing were about trauma, or confessional memoirs about even more trauma, and I was unenthusiastic about that. But because I was doing my own work, and had established enough of my own voice, my entire publication journey for The Legend of Auntie Po was with a team that was always on the same page about the sort of story that I was going to be telling. And of course, my book is coming out after so many other incredible marginalized authors and bloggers and editors have done the work of making publishing a more inclusive and welcoming space for a range of voices. I am extremely lucky, I am writing books about parts of the Asian American experience ten years after I first read MariNaomi Kiss and Tell, after Gene Luen Yang’s been making graphic novels for decades, after Kazu Kibushi’s Avatar series is wildly beloved. 

 Working with a team that is entirely composed of people of color(my agent, editor, art director – all of Kokila, my publisher), meant that while I had a lot of work to do on this book, the work that I did not have to do included things like “explaining racism” or “being nicer to the white characters.” Authors of color deserve to work with publishers and editors who understand their lived experiences. Working on this book has been a dream with them – the editorial team at Kokila is staffed with the most brilliant women of color, all of whom are thoughtful and incisive and philosophically devoted to centering stories like these in publishing.

MUF: What do you hope readers will take away from THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO?

I hope they will feel even more agency and urgency to tell their own stories.

Chickens and Cats

MUF: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with our readers?

Every time I was stressed when drawing the book, I added a drawing of a cat or chicken to it. I think there are seven cats and four chickens, if you’d like to take a stab at finding them all.

MUF: I love that. Headed now to look for the cats and chickens. Thanks again, Shing, and congratulations!

Shing Yin Khor Bio PIcture

Photo Credit: Shing Yin Khor

Shing Yin Khor is a cartoonist and installation artist exploring the Americana mythos and new human rituals. A Malaysian-Chinese immigrant, and an American citizen since 2011, they are also the author of The American Dream?, a graphic novel about travelling Route 66.

Connect with Shing:

Website

 

 

August Middle-Grade Releases

Joy. Adventure. Mythology. Science. Sports. August brings these topics and more to middle-grade readers. What an exciting collection, brought to you by amazing authors!

Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia Delacorte Press, August 3

Celebrate the joys of Black boyhood with stories from seventeen bestselling, critically acclaimed Black authors–including Jason Reynolds (the Track series), Jerry Craft (New Kid), and Kwame Mbalia (the Tristan Strong series)!

“Pick up Black Boy Joy for a heavy dose of happiness.” —Booklist, starred review

Black boy joy is…

Picking out a fresh first-day-of-school outfit.
Saving the universe in an epic intergalactic race.
Finding your voice—and your rhymes—during tough times.
Flying on your skateboard like nobody’s watching.

And more! From seventeen acclaimed Black male and non-binary authors comes a vibrant collection of stories, comics, and poems about the power of joy and the wonders of Black boyhood.

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Mejia Rick Riordan Presents, August 3

“Paola is a brilliant, furious girl who often trusts her brain but trips over her heart.”–Sarah Gailey, Hugo and Locus award-winning author of River of Teeth

Six months after Paola Santiago confronted the legendary La Llorona, life is nothing like she’d expected it to be. She is barely speaking to her best friends, Dante and Emma, and what’s worse, her mom has a totally annoying boyfriend. Even with her chupacabra puppy, Bruto, around, Pao can’t escape the feeling that she’s all alone in the world.

Pao has no one to tell that she’s having nightmares again, this time set in a terrifying forest. Even more troubling? At their center is her estranged father, an enigma of a man she barely remembers. And when Dante’s abuela falls mysteriously ill, it seems that the dad Pao never knew just might be the key to healing the eccentric old woman.

Pao’s search for her father will send her far from home, where she will encounter new monsters and ghosts, a devastating betrayal, and finally, the forest of her nightmares. Will the truths her father has been hiding save the people Pao loves, or destroy them?

Once again Tehlor Kay Mejia draws on her Mexican heritage to tell a wild and wondrous story that combines creatures from folklore with modern-day challenges.

Zeus the Mighty: The Trials of Hairy-Clees by Crispin Boyer Under the Stars, August 3

Zeus the hamster and his “god squad” are back to battle for the title of champion in the third title in this series that takes readers on a rollicking romp through Greek mythology.

Our story begins with a challenge: The Trials of Hairy-Clees are only for the bravest and most awesome gods of all. Who among them will become the ultimate champion?

The pets of Mount Olympus Pet Center are a true team: They conquer epic quests as easily as Ares the pug scarfs down Mutt Nuggets and they vanquish enemies who are pricklier than the spines on Poseidon the pufferfish. But when a chicken named Hermes shows up one day, things take a turn, and before the team knows it, the Oracle has spoken and the mysterious Trials of Hairy-Clees begin! Who will become top god? And can Zeus learn to share the limelight to fight alongside Hermes?

Join Zeus the overconfident hamster, Athena the wise cat, Ares the treat-loving pug, Poseidon the proud pufferfish, and Demeter the loyal cricket on another laugh-out-loud adventure through Greek mythology.

World Champions! A Max Einstein Adventure by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein Jimmy Patterson, August 9

Max finally meets her hero, Albert Einstein, as she dashes across glaciers, visits the Great Barrier Reef, and flies a solar-powered jet in a race to stop Global Warming—before it’s too late for Planet Earth.

World Champions . . . 

GET OUTDOORS  

From racing across glaciers in Greenland and flying in a super fancy solar-powered jet to Hawaii, to visiting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia and hanging out with a robot named Leo, twelve-year-old genius Max and her friends live for adventure.

TAKE ACTION  

Whenever there’s a problem to solve, the kids work better together. So does an evil group of the rich and powerful, who will do whatever it takes to split the kids up—even as the planet is changing before their eyes.

NEVER GIVE UP 

Max has one more surprise in her playbook, and if she’s going to pull it off, she needs her team around her. Who said that kids can’t save the world?

Dark Waters by Katherine Arden G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, August 10

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces and Dead Voices.

Until next time. That chilling promise was made to Ollie, Coco, and Brian after they outsmarted the smiling man at Mount Hemlock Resort. And as the trio knows, the smiling man always keeps his promises. So when the lights flicker on and off at Brian’s family’s inn and a boom sounds at the door, there’s just one visitor it could be. Only, there’s no one there, just a cryptic note left outside signed simply as –S.

The smiling man loves his games and it seems a new one is underway. But first, the three friends will have to survive a group trip to Lake Champlain where it’s said Vermont’s very own Loch Ness monster lives. Brian is thrilled. He hasn’t sailed since visiting his family in Jamaica and even the looming threat of the smiling man can’t put a damper on what is guaranteed to finally be a day of fun–even if it is awkward being stuck on a boat with both his old best friend, Phil and his new best friends, Coco and Ollie. But when a misstep from Phil causes a tragedy onboard and leaves them shipwrecked on an island haunted by a monster on both land and sea, Brian’s survival instincts kick in and it’s up to him to help everyone work together and find a way to escape.

One thing is for sure, the smiling man is back and he wants a rematch. And this time Brian is ready to play.

Good Housekeeping Amazing Science: 83 Hands-on S.T.E.A.M Experiments for Curious Kids! by Aubre Andrus Hearst Home Kids August 24

Awesome S.T.E.A.M.-based science experiments you can do right at home with easy-to-find materials designed for maximum enjoyment, learning, and discovery for kids ages 8 to 12 

Join the experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute Labs and explore the science you interact with every day. Using the scientific method, you’ll tap into your own super-powers of logic and deduction to go on a science adventure.

The engaging experiments exemplify core concepts and range from quick and simple to the more complex. Each one includes clear step-by-step instructions and color photos that demonstrate the process and end result. Plus, secondary experiments encourage young readers to build on what they’ve discovered. A “Mystery Solved!” explanation of the science at work helps your budding scientist understand the outcomes of each experiment.

These super-fun, hands-on experiments include:
  Building a solar oven and making s’mores
  Creating an active rain cloud in a jar
  Using static electricity created with a balloon to power a light bulb
  Growing your own vegetables—from scraps!
  Investigating the forces that make an object sink or float
  And so much more!

Bursting with more than 200 color photos and incredible facts, this sturdy hardcover is the perfect gift for any aspiring biologist, chemist, physicist, engineer, and mathematician!

Legacy and the Double by Annie Matthew, created by Kobe Bryant Granity Studios August 24.

Kobe Bryant’s legacy of uplifting and inspiring young athletes continues in this highly anticipated follow-up to the #1 New York Times bestseller Legacy and the Queen.

Legacy Petrin is a national tennis champion, but she doesn’t feel like one. At the orphanage where she grew up, far from the city where she learned to shine, Legacy struggles to focus on her training. Her famous magical inner light dims and darkens until she barely recognizes herself.

Then a girl who looks exactly like Legacy―same burlap dress, same signature glow―starts playing in Legacy’s name. She wins matches in the city, makes charming speeches in support of “Queen” Silla, and gains a devoted following. Soon, Silla issues a decree against impersonating champions, which means that the real Legacy could be arrested simply for looking like herself.

To reclaim her name and her identity, Legacy has no choice but to compete in disguise . . . until she can rise through the ranks, face off against her imposter, and prove that she is the one and only Legacy Petrin―a champion who was born to shine.

Agent Spotlight: Ashley Herring Blake


Today I’m thrilled to interview the amazing and energetic Ashley Herring Blake. You may remember reading about her here previously when she talked about being an author of middle-grade novels.

Recently, Ashley became an agent at the Rees Literary Agency, and I was delighted to speak to her about her new venture.

To learn more about Ashley, her books, and her new position as an agent, visit her at her website: http://www.ashleyherringblake.com

 

 

 

Dorian: You’ve been a prolific writer of middle-grade novels such as Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea (published in May of this year), Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James. You’ve also written for young adults, and I noticed you have an adult romance coming out next year. What made you want to add agenting into your busy schedule?

Ashley: That’s an excellent question! I’m also a teacher for my day job, and last year, I was really wanting to think about how I could move my whole career into publishing. I’ve always been a big reader, and I love helping bring stories to life. My own agent has been so integral in my life—a support, an advocate, a pseudo-therapist—and I wanted to be that for other authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the Rees Literary Agency?

Ashley: Rees Agency has been around since the 1980s. They represent nonfiction and fiction, everything from literary to the very commercial, kid’s books, and romance. I’ve been with them as an author since 2014, so I knew joining them professionally as an agent was a smart move—I’m comfortable with them and I know they take care of their authors.

 

Click on this link for an archived interview with Ashley.

 

Dorian: Sounds great! How did you decide to specialize in the field of literature for children and teens?

Ashley: I actually didn’t! While I do rep middle grade and YA, I have more clients right now who write adult. I’m most interested in romance and contemporary fiction for all ages (sweet crushes for the MG set), and am really looking for queer stories more than anything right now.

 

Dorian: What was your favorite middle-grade book as a child?

Ashley: Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Something about that book wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed tight! While my love for the story didn’t translate into me writing ghost stories, I’ll always adore that book.

 

Dorian: I remember enjoying that book, too! What are some of your favorite middle-grade books now?

Ashley: There’s so much great middle grade out there right now. I love anything by Kacen Callender, Nicole Melleby, Kathryn Ormsbee, Karen Strong, Akemi Dawn Bowman, Erin Entrada Kelly, A. J. Sass, and more.

 

 

Dorian: I know our writers who are readers will want to know: What would you like to see in your submission box?

Ashley: As I mentioned above, I’m mostly looking for queer stories right now, mostly in the realistic fiction realm. I’m looking for MG, YA, and adult, and I’m a sucker for messy characters, super voicey writing, and a smidge (or a lot) of romance.

 

Dorian: Can you tell us about a special interest, hobby, or obsession you have that isn’t listed in your bio or wish list?

Ashley: I’m very into planners. I don’t create my own like bullet journalers, but the one I do use, I make look pretty with colors and washi tape and use it as part planner, part journal. When the mood hits me right and I’m not annoyed at all the frizz and effort, I’m into curly hair care as well. I’ve had curly hair since adolescence and am just now starting to really understand how to take care of it.

 

Writing and Query Tips

Dorian: What are two of your best writing tips?

Ashley: Write a lot and read a lot. That’s really the crux of it. You have to be willing to write badly, a lot, in order to get better. And reading widely will teach you what good writing is. It’ll also teach you what good writing isn’t. 🙂

 

Dorian: How about putting your agenting hat on now, and telling us your two best tips for querying?

Ashley: Keep your query letter about the book. The agent doesn’t need to know why you wrote a book or the themes they may find therein. That won’t make them want to read further. Stick to the book’s character and plot—what do they want, why can’t they have it, and what do they plan on doing about it? Secondly, follow the agent’s sub guidelines. I know we’re all busy and it’s been a wild couple of years, but that’s a basic professional courtesy, and one which, if not followed, is a red flag in my opinion.

 

Dorian: That’s great advice. Thank you! How can writers query you?

Ashley: They can query me at this link: https://querymanager.com/query/ashleyblake

I ONLY take queries through query manager. 🙂

 

Dorian: How can people follow you on social media?

Ashley: My handle is ashleyhblake on both Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us today. Best of luck with your writing and agenting!