Posts Tagged historical fiction

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

 

 

Interview with Lauren Tarshis, author of the super popular I SURVIVED series, now with a new 9/11 graphic novel

I SURVIVED: THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Photo Credit: David Dreyfuss

Lauren Tarshis is the author of the New York Times bestselling I Survived series of which there are 20 and counting! Each of these historical fiction books focuses on an iconic event from history, and tells the story through the eyes of a child who was there. The theme of the series is resilience: how human beings can struggle through even the most difficult experiences and somehow not simply survive but heal — and ultimately thrive. Now in time for the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, the bestselling I Survived the Attacks of September 11 has been adapted to graphic novel format to become I SURVIVED: THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, written by Lauren and illustrated with a gorgeous, realistic and contemporary art style by Corey Egbert. The Mixed-Up Files is excited to welcome Lauren Tarshis to our blog.

 

Meira: Hi Lauren, thanks so much for joining us over on The Mixed-Up Files!
The original I Survived the Attacks of September 11 was first published in 2012. What was the impetus to adapting it into a graphic novel in 2021?

Lauren: Scholastic proposed the idea of transforming my series into graphic novels, and at first I didn’t understand their reasoning. The stories were already written, right? But I trust the Scholastic team so much — my editor Katie Woehr cares as much about my series as I do, and understands how much work, care, and LOVE I put into creating each book, taking complicated topics and trying to make them accessible to kids, and bringing my characters to life for my readers. And so I green-lighted the Titanic graphic novel, which was an incredible experience. Fortunately Scholastic was able to hire Georgia Ball to write the scripts, and she captures my stories so perfectly for this format. And the artists they have chosen create such glorious worlds for my books. What a joy it’s been — first Titanic, then Shark Attacks, and most recently I Survived the Nazi Invasion. September 11 was a natural choice because of the anniversary. And what I’ve realized is that these books make my stories accessible to an entirely different audience of readers, including kids who either don’t like to read or struggle to read. And this is so exciting to me.

Meira: In I SURVIVED: THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 one really feels like they are there. At the end in an Author’s Note you talk about how you lived in New York at the time but was en route from a trip abroad without your children, and your own personal terror at not being with them as you were rerouted back to London. Having been in New York on that fateful day myself, with my husband who worked in the World Financial Center, I really felt how well you capture the city, the mood, and what happened. I love the choice to tell the story through the eyes of a boy whose father is a firefighter. It’s a brilliant choice as the firefighters are such heroes in the fabric of New York City—even before this act of terrorism, —and so many of their lives were tragically lost. Did you consider other eyes from which to tell the story before settling on Lucas’s?

Lauren: Thank you so much for these kind words. I actually struggled through several drafts of this book before I realized that ultimately this book wasn’t just about September 11, but about an NYFD family. I started from scratch, delved into the culture and history of the NYFD, and also created a pretty “big” front story of Lucas dealing with concussions and the loss of football as a focus and a way of coping with his father’s injury from a warehouse fire years before. The size and depth of the character’s front story varies depending on the nature of the historical event I’m writing about. 9/11 is so intense and aspects are so complicated and potentially overwhelming for young readers. Focusing on other aspects of Lucas’s life enabled me to tell the story in a way that was appropriate for my younger readers.

Meira: How do you conduct research for the books in which there is less of a personal connection and you are not immediately familiar with the setting, time period and community? How do you put yourself into the shoes of a child through which you tell the story?

Lauren: I travel to all of the places I write about (with the exception of the bottom of the North Atlantic to see the Titanic wreckage and to the shores of Japan to research the 2011 tsunami). I want to walk in my characters’ footsteps, see and feel what they are feeling. For 9/11, of course, this was easier because I grew up in CT, went to college in NYC and work in NYC. Those two towers were part of my own landscape. But for other settings, those visited are so important. Another important step in researching the books is talking to people who actually experienced the event, or who have had stories passed down, or reading diaries of letters.

Meira: Can you talk a little bit about the themes of the I Survived series—on one hand kids have a lurid fascination with disaster, on the other hand your books offer a strong sense of resilience, which in this current time seems more important than ever. How do you achieve this balance?

Lauren: This is a great question. The theme of the series is resilience and healing — I try not portray a realistic sense of how we cope with loss, how we can slowly heal, how we can help each other and ask for help. But I’m also trying to write engaging adventure stories that kids — including struggling readers — will read. Finally, I want to build their knowledge in history, science, or important cultural touchstones and references points. I would say that I give equal weight to these three strands of the series.

Meira: What was it like to see your words come to life in this way? Authors whose books are turned into movies are often asked how it feels to see their characters with specific features, and their story acted out. What is it like to see your story told in this graphic format?

Lauren: I do feel that the experience of the graphic novels has been akin to seeing my books turned into an animated series. It’s been wonderful — because the team has done such a superb job. I’ve been dazzled by all of the artists who have worked on the series, and Corey Egbert was such a fantastic choice for this book.

Meira: I read an interview with you in which you mention how you started the series for your son and as an answer to reluctant readers. Can you talk a little bit about that here in light of this now being a graphic novel. (And I ask as the mother of two sons who find even short text tedious, especially if the font is small, but will devour anything in graphic format regardless of font size.)

Lauren: I so related to your boys, because not only were my boys reluctant readers but I struggled to read. And so these are the readers I’m picturing as I’m writing the books, and these are the readers I’m hoping will especially love the graphic novels.

Meira: Are there plans for more of the series to become graphic novels? Or for new I Survived books?

Lauren: We just finished I Survived the Grizzly Attacks, 1967, and the team is working on I Survived Hurricane Katrina. There are more planned after that, but we haven’t yet decided which topics.

Meira: What advice would you have for writers looking to break into series writing, in particular for reluctant readers?

Lauren: I would say that reluctant readers “deserve” access to important stories, fascinating chapters in history, characters who will inspire them and fortify them as they face challenges. Just because a child doesn’t love to read doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply curious about the world. Writers for reluctant readers have to work a little harder to make stories that much more engaging, to pull the reader through the book using suspense, rich descriptive details, and humor. These readers need to feel deeply connected to the characters, and invested in what happens. I will also say that there is no more rewarding audience to write for. NOTHING is more inspiring and motivating to me then en email from a kid saying “I hate to read but love your series!”

Meira: Is there anything I haven’t thought to ask that you’d like our readers to know?

Lauren: I just want to thank you for the chance to be a part of your wonderful blog, and for your thoughtful questions.

Meira: The pleasure is ours, thank YOU!

I SURVIVED: THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 can be purchased here or or wherever fine books are sold.

Using Picture Books to Teach Middle Grade and Beyond

Teaching with Picture Books

by Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

When most people think of picture books, they think of cute pictures and feel-good stories that thrill children from ages 0-7. But, teachers know better. There is much more to picture books than meets the eye.

Students have grown up with visuals since the day they were born. From elementary to high school, picture books can spark the imagination and open the eyes as an introduction to a subject. Picture books boil down to the main topic and draw the reader in with interesting tidbits. Our public libraries are full of wonderful picture books ready to do the job. Picture books inspire conversations and provide topics for research. They allow insightful tie-ins to curriculum and present opportunities for projects. Their pictures bring the topic to life. They create understanding unlike anything else. They are quick reads that can fit into almost any schedule.

Take the book, The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Ree.

One of the greatest historical war heroes in the S. Korean culture was Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is known for saving Korea from Japan, a conquering country with a formidable naval fleet. Because of his design, the undefeatable Turtle ship had the ability to defeat the Japanese. His larger than life statue looms high over the skyline in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul.

In the picture book, a young Sun-Sin comes to life as a boy who is afraid to enter a shipbuilding contest sponsored by the King. The King needs an indestructible ship able to withstand ongoing invasions from the sea. Sun-Sin decides to accept the challenge. The author imagines what experiences might have influenced a young Sun-Sin’s turtle ship design, and from there the story is told.

Teaching Middle Grade with Picture Books

(Artwork from “Fighting Ships of the Far East (2)” by Stephen Turnbull © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc)

The Turtle Ship picture book goes step by step through the design engineering process. Young Sun-Sin tries and fails at several design attempts before creating the design known today. This was something I was able to use in my 6th-grade science class. As we talked about the boy Sun-Sin and identified how the process was evolving, it created a bridge to understanding the design process. We had also learned that historically, a lot of designs were inspired by nature. The Wright brothers studied birds before designing the first airplane. In our story, Sun-Sin looks to his turtle for solutions.

When I used The Turtle Ship book in our lesson, my students were fascinated by the Turtle ship design from the 1500s. They learned the ship could rotate in one spot and fire cannons from each of its sides. They discovered soldiers were encased inside the ship so the enemy could not attack. They loved that the top was curved and covered in spikes to keep from being boarded by the enemy. They also learned that the hull was designed to ram into other vessels.

The Korean Turtle Ship

The turtle ship became one of the top engineering designs in warship history. You can read about this incredible ship and its design ingenuity on the U.S. Naval Institute News website. USNI News asked its readers, “What is the greatest warship of all time and why?” The answer can be found on the USNI News website https://news.usni.org/2016/04/06/survey-results-what-is-the-greatest-warship-of-all-time

Teachers in grade levels from primary to high school have used this story to inspire students with a wide range of activities and topics.

Engineering Design Process (EDP)

Research on Korean Inventions

Historical Fiction Comparative Study

Creating a Historical Timeline between Asia and American History

Writing Sijo, a Korean Poetic Form

Analyzing Civic Characteristics of Main Characters

Origin Story with Read-Alouds and Comparisons with Multiple Sources

Teaching Korea through Writing

Teaching Modern Asian Culture through History

Creative Writing

Using the Glossary for Vocabulary Understanding

Study of Honor

Compare and Contrast Other Korean Historical Picture Books

STEAM: Create a Vessel that Holds the Most Weight

STEAM: Design a Boat That is the Fastest

Downloadable Teaching resources:

Lee and Lowe Teaching Guide: TURTLE-SHIP.TG

Historical Information on Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Admiral Yi Sunsin_KSCPP(1)