July 2009 Archives

Elizabeth Dulemba Interviews Kristi Valiant

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I love it when things all come together.

Elizabeth Dulemba, illustrator of The Prince's Diary (which also happens to be the book that I authored), has posted a wonderful interview with Kristi Valiant about Cora Cooks Pancit on her blog. I love hearing one artist I know talk about another artist I know!

Now, having no artistic talent whatsoever, I am always fascinated to learn what goes on behind the illustrations of books, and am always surprised to find out things that had never occurred to me (though upon further reflection, are obviously essential to the illustrator's vision). To wit:

Q. I especially love the light pouring through the kitchen windows - did that present particular challenges?

A. The light pouring in with the shadows across the floor was one of my favorite things to paint! I wanted some warm sunshine lighting, but the whole book takes place indoors. The warm light pouring in the windows was the solution. I modeled the patio doors/windows after my own house, so I had an instant reference to make it easier to paint.
I hadn't noticed the light before-- I scrambled to the book to take a look. Wow, sure enough, I now notice the warm light coming through the kitchen windows. Neat!

Anyway, here's the whole interview. Thanks, Elizabeth!
shiningstar.jpgBefore I read Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Lin Wang, I had never even heard of actress Anna May Wong. I've never been much of a movie buff, if that's any excuse. So I opened this wide picture book with no preconceived ideas of what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Without fanfare or didacticism, Shining Star goes way beyond the confines of a mere biography of a movie star and addresses a whole world of issues related to Chinese-American history and racism in the early 20th century.

Beginning with a nine-year-old Anna May daydreaming in her family's laundry in Los Angeles, the story brings us quickly to understand the financial hardship of the Wong family, as well as Anna May's longing to escape from her own drab life into the exciting world of movies. Despite the usual obstacles of her parents' disapproval and her Chinese ethnicity, she persevered at her dream to become a famous actress. The reality was, she found out, that she was always cast as negatively drawn, stereotypical characters and often was not given a role at all because of her race.

Author Paula Yoo deals with this reality admirably by telling Anna May's story in a clear, straightforward, non-sensationalist manner. When Anna May Wong finally won her first big role in Bits of Life in 1921, Yoo writes that Anna May was shocked to find out that movie studios at the time forbade actors and actresses of color to kiss their white costars. She then watched costar Lon Chaney covered in "yellowface" makeup, a gross distortion of Asian features involving yellow face powder and taped-up squinty eyes. Anna May "wondered if movie viewers would assume all Chinese people looked that horrible." But the money she was earning was badly needed by her family, and she set her concerns aside.

Yoo describes Anna May Wong's relationship with Hollywood in a way that does not demonize the system or the people involved in moviemaking that the time. However, readers still feel Anna May's disappointment and frustration, and are able to understand the unfairness of such a system from her point of view.

The turning point in Anna May's life occurs during her first trip to China. Yoo writes, "Anna May decided that she would honor her father and her Chinese heritage by fighting for more authentic images of Asians on-screen." And she did, returning to Hollywood and only accepting positive portrayals of Asian characters for the rest of her career.

Without saying so overtly, Yoo has told a story of a pioneer in racial equality who confronts the reality of racism and battles the system from the inside. It's wonderful to learn about strong minority women who have paved the way for greater understanding and equality for all of us in every field, including the happily-ever-after world of the movies.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang

kristi.jpgIf you're in Evansville, Indiana, come out and meet Kristi Valiant, illustrator of Cora Cooks Pancit! She'll be autographing books at Barnes & Noble on July 25th, 2009 at 2:00pm.

Illustrator Kristi Valiant book signing
Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Barnes & Noble
624 South Green River Rd
Evansville, IN 47715

July Drawing Winner

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Congratulations to Lynn Kostel, librarian at the Anna May Daulton Elementary School in Grand Prairie, TX! She chose the following three books as her prizes:

Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella
Anklet for a Princess: A Cinderella Tale from India
Grandfather's Story Cloth

To choose your three books and enter the monthly drawing, click here.





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Blog Contributors

Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day.

Emily Jiang is a writer of children's and YA literature. She also blogs at TLeaf Readings.

Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.

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