September is a great time for me to be “Author of the Month” because I have a new book out and I’m planning lots of classroom visits – both in-person and online via skype. I love talking to kids about my books.
My new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, is about a boy who arrives in the United States and has to learn to speak English and make friends with American kids. At first he doesn’t understand very much and everything feels strange to him. Most immigrant kids can relate to that! Many American-born kids have at least one classmate who was born in another country and struggles to learn English. A book like this can help them to empathize with what these classmates might be going through.
The boy in this book is Woo Ka-Leong. He didn’t pick an English name, but people started calling him Leon, and that was okay with him.
Leon keeps getting into trouble. When he is told to stay put, he runs off because he is curious to see a train engine. When a kid teases him, he swings his fists. Once he gets mad and pushes a boy so he falls through the ice. How is Leon supposed to know about ice? Where he grew up, in southern China, it never snows.
Baseball saves him. He never played it before, but once he starts fooling around with a baseball and bat, he really likes the game. Some boys in town practice in a field, and one invites him to join in. At first, baseball is really hard, too, but Leon learns quickly. He wishes he could play it all the time, but he has to study for hours every day.
Maybe you guessed from the pictures, but Leon lived a long time ago—in the 1870s. In those days, all Chinese boys and men had to wear their hair in one long braid. Some Americans teased him about that and pulled his braid. But he didn’t have a choice. If he cut it off, he would be considered a traitor to China and would be sent home in shame. Not a good option.
Maybe you noticed from my author picture, but I am not a Chinese boy. I’m not even Chinese! And I wasn’t even alive in the 1870s. So why did I decide to write about a Chinese boy in the 1870s?
Actually, I’ve written a lot of books about people from China. My husband was born there, and our daughter grew up Chinese-American in Washington State. I spend many years learning to speak Mandarin and speak it with friends and relatives. But I also spent many years living abroad—two years in Singapore and eight years in Hong Kong.
Above is a picture of me with my daughter when she was little. Below is one of me in my twenties, speaking Mandarin at a contest shortly after I started studying it in Singapore.
I know what it feels like to struggle to express myself in a foreign language. When I first studied Chinese, in my early twenties, I often had a complicated thought in my head, but the only sentences that came out of my mouth were simple. One day it hit me: back home in America, I used to think that if people spoke poor English, they weren’t smart. Now I knew better. They were just as smart as I was, but it was hard for them to find the right English words to express the complicated thoughts in their heads.
At that moment, I made a decision. Once I returned home to the United States, I would do everything I could to help people who were trying to adapt to my country and language. Now, years later, I do that a lot. Recently, I helped an 11-year-old boy and his mom sign up for sixth grade at an American middle school, a month after they arrived from China.
But more important, I write books about kids trying to adapt to America. My first children’s book, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, tells of a girl from China who starts fifth grade in Seattle and discovers she can’t speak in class. The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball tells of Leon, the boy who arrives in the U.S. in 1875 and makes friends playing baseball. Both are middle grade novels for readers age ten and up.
I’m planning a book tour of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York October 14-31 and am arranging many school visits there. I’m also scheduling school visits in the Seattle area before and afterwards. I welcome teachers and librarians to contact me about skype visits.
If you live in the Seattle area, please come to my book launch at Island Books in Mercer Island on Sunday, September 10th, at 4 p.m. I plan to show some pictures of the real Chinese boy scholars who came in the 1870s.
In the meantime, enjoy this one-minute book trailer video. It was created and produced by a talented college student I know, David Graham. To see the video, click on this link.
Happy viewing – and happy reading!