PABLO DREAMS OF CATS Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder (Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages…
MARIA WEN ADCOCK,
IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE
ILLUSTRATED BY REA ZHAI
(Clarion Books; $9.99, Ages 0-4)
Maria Wen Adcock is the author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE [Clarion Books], which is a perfect book to introduce Chinese New Year traditions to little ones. In this interview conducted by Charlotte Cheng, author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], Maria discusses her process for writing the book, her experience seeing the book published, and much much more.
Thanks for taking the time to share your author journey with us today!
Charlotte Cheng: Curious George is such a household name. What was it like infusing this classic with your Chinese heritage?
Maria Wen Adcock: I grew up reading Curious George, so it was an incredible honor to work on IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE. Children around the world are familiar with Curious George, so it makes learning about Chinese culture more accessible when children see him celebrating this holiday. I’m so proud to share my Chinese heritage with young readers through an iconic character like Curious George!
CC: For those who are curious, what’s the difference between the terms Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year?
MWA: Lunar New Year is an overarching term for many Asian countries, beyond China, that celebrates the new year based on the moon cycle. Under the term Lunar New Year are subsets: Chinese New Year, Vietnamese New Year called Tet, Korean New Year called Seollal, Indonesian New Year called Imlek, and more. Each country has its own unique New Year traditions. For example, in China, when it is the Year of the Rabbit, in Vietnam it’s the Year of the Cat. Chinese New Year is celebrated with red envelopes, but Korean New Year does not.
Chinese New Year refers to the holiday that Chinese people celebrate using customs specific to their culture. Though some countries may celebrate their new year in similar ways, such as getting together with families and eating certain foods, not all the traditions are the same. For example, one Chinese New Year tradition involves hanging a sign upside down on the front door. The word on the sign is Fú (福), a Chinese character meaning good luck and fortune. In Chinese, the word for “upside-down” is Dào (倒). This sounds similar to another word, also called Dào (到), which means “to arrive.” So hanging the Fu sign upside-down means good luck and fortune will arrive. This custom is very specific to Chinese New Year.
CC: Why did you choose to focus on Chinese New Year for the book?
MWA: The publisher wanted the book to delve deeper into the traditions and symbolism of Chinese New Year. They chose me to author the book so I could tap into my lived experience as a Chinese American to authentically speak to how the holiday was celebrated. Given the book only has seven tabbed pages to work with, space was a premium. I did the best I could to provide readers with as much information as possible about the Chinese New Year.
If this book had focused on the Lunar New Year, to be inclusive and accurate, we would have needed to mention all the different countries under that umbrella term and highlight their unique traditions. But given the limitations of space, we wouldn’t have been able to provide more depth – likely just a mention – and we thought this wouldn’t do it justice.
CC: Chinese New Year is celebrated in so many different ways since China is so diverse. How did you select which traditions to highlight in the story?
MWA: I was able to pull from my childhood growing up in a Chinese American household when deciding which traditions to include in the book. There were so many traditions to choose from. I narrowed them down to highlight the most commonly celebrated ones.
CC: What was it like working on the book with the publishing team and what was your favorite part of the process?
MWA: My editor, Bethany Vinhateiro, led the process and provided guidelines on format requirements for the Curious George series of tabbed board books. All of the books in this series featured 7 tabs with themes, and each tab included 4 stanzas in rhyme with 4 lines in each stanza. She encouraged me to ensure that Curious George’s personality came out in my story, which I was familiar with given that I had grown up with his stories.
Bethany worked with the illustrator, Rea Zhai, to bring my story to life. I did not directly communicate with the illustrator, which is typical in traditional publishing. Instead, Bethany sent me drafts of the illustrations so that I could ensure they accurately reflected the customs of Chinese New Year. I really enjoyed the process of seeing the illustrations, providing feedback, and then viewing the revisions.
CC: When you finally got to see the illustrations for the book, did you see any fun surprises in the images?
MWA: The cover took my breath away as it captured the heart and spirit of Chinese New Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see the title of the book printed in gold foil, which is one of the traditional colors of Chinese New Year in addition to red, which represents good luck. I loved how the Man in the Yellow Hat changed his usual yellow tie to a red one to celebrate Chinese New Year. The illustrations did an amazing job of bringing the holiday to life.
CC: What was it like launching your book during Chinese New Year? Any favorite memories from your launch party or school visits?
MWA: Launching my book during Chinese New Year was the perfect timing given its storyline. The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year traditionally include a lot of preparation and teaching the children about the holiday taught them how they could celebrate Chinese New Year with their own families at home.
I was so thrilled with my launch party at Huntington Public Library where I work in the Youth and Parent Department for my day job. They provided incredible support, and there were over 150 people in attendance – the maximum the auditorium could hold. My sister flew in from Michigan to help me which I appreciated so much.
The school visits were so fun. The kids were incredibly curious and engaged with my presentation which not only included a book reading but also provided interesting details behind the reasons for each of the traditions mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed interacting with the students!
CC: For those who are interested in writing children’s books, what advice would you like to give them? Where should they start?
MWA: I would recommend joining your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org). They offer workshops to hone your craft and access to many agents and editors. The organization can also help you find a critique group which is an invaluable tool for elevating the quality of your manuscripts.
CC: It’s been a pleasure learning about your experience Maria. Happy writing and congratulations on your book!
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Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George  published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
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Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books including Night Market Rescue and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curriculum for a variety of companies including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop. You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her on Instagram @charlottemakesbooks or Twitter @charlottedraws