Interview with author/illustrator Grace Lin
Grace Lin grew up in Upstate New York with her parents and two sisters. Surprisingly enough, being an artist was not Grace's first choice. She first dreamed of being a champion ice skater, and drew many pictures of herself twirling and dancing on the ice. Unfortunately, Grace had neither the talent nor coordination to make it to skating stardom. However, the pictures she drew of herself held much promise and quickly became her career focus.
Grace's most recent book, the award-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, was selected for inclusion in the 2010 Spirit of PaperTigers Project.
She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Your book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, an Asian-inspired fantasy, has been garnering many accolades, including a recently announced Newbery Honor. How did the book come about and what type of research did you do for it?
I grew up in Upstate NY, the only Asian (except for my own sisters) in my school. Because of this, my childhood was always tinged with a strange sense of identity. Was I Chinese? Taiwanese? American?
Books and stories were always a source of comfort. I loved folk tales and fairy tales as a child. I loved the classics, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “The Light Princess,” and "The Wizard of Oz" — all with gorgeous illustrations, which I devoured and gazed at in awe.
It was because of my love for these stories that my mother knew she could pique my interest with Chinese fairy tale books. At the time, she regretted that I had so little interest in our cultural heritage — this was a way of “sneaking” it in. And it worked!
When I first began reading the Chinese folk tales I was disappointed. Used to the lush illustrations of American books, the Asian books, with occasional simple b&w line drawings, seemed to me plain and inadequate in comparison. However, slowly, as I discovered the magic in those stories, I began to imagine details of my own, tinged with Asian-American sensibilities. When I grew older and was able to travel to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, the stories started to come alive.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a mixture of Asian fairy tales and North American classics, came into existence as an homage to the folk tales and fairy tales I read in my youth. Not a traditional retelling of stories from either culture, but a mix –– like me, Asian-American. I think the story has enough magic from both sides to satisfy readers everywhere.
What message do you hope Where the Mountain Meets the Moon sends to children?
What are some of the responses you have had from children so far, regarding the book?
Nowadays, full-color books are very uncommon. But I really wished my book to have that feeling of the books that I adored when I was younger, so I begged my editor (who is also my good friend) Alvina Ling to see if color illustrations could be possible. It was not easy, but Alvina was able to convince the publisher to print the book with full color illustrations by using Castle Corona by Sharon Creech as an example, as well as other convincing arguments. With so much doom and gloom about the future of publishing, to create books that are not cheap throw-aways, but are beautiful objects to enjoy, is something to consider. I’d like to see more such books being published –– and hope to do more of them myself!
Your heritage seems to play a big role in your work as a book creator. What does it mean to you to be of Chinese ancestry?
Only after becoming an adult did I realize I had lost something by ignoring my heritage. There were traditions that my family followed, such as eating ginger soup at a baby shower, which I never bothered to learn more about. So now, I research these kinds of things about my heritage. I’m making the books I missed reading when I was younger — I’m writing about the things that I want to know more about.
As someone who both writes and illustrates, what comes to you first, words or images?
I am ashamed to say I am not as well-read on recently published books (I’m the kind of person that can read the same book over and over again, and I tend to read my favorites!). But some of the more recent books that I love are Masterpiece by Elise Broach, the Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look, and Blow Out the Moon by Libby Koponen.
What are you working on now?
After that I have a picture book about the Moon Festival and a picture book set in Beijing. In the meantime, I have started preliminary drafts for a novel that may become The Dumpling Summer, to take place in between my past novels Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat.
While I have no plans of writing a sequel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I do plan on writing another Asian folktale-fantasy. I had many more stories swimming in my head that I didn’t get to use for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Now they are all bursting to come out!
If you were to pick a place anywhere in the world to send Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, where would it be, and why?
I’d like to send the book to myself when I was 10 years old. Partly because it is the kind of book that I wanted and needed and didn't have when I was a child, and partly to tell my younger self, “Have faith, you will someday accomplish your dream.”
*Aline Pereira is PaperTigers' Managing Editor .
Posted February 2010
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