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Final book tour report - by the numbers

Somerset 1

My book tour and school visits have been exhilarating. I tell kids the best part of being a writer is talking about my books to enthusiastic listeners.

During my 18-day book tour of New England and New York, I spoke at 10 schools and 5 other venues, giving my book talk a total of 25 times. I spoke at elementary, middle, and high schools, public, private, and charter, in English and Mandarin. I also spoke at two museums, two colleges, and a library. I spoke to nearly 1200 people and sold 85 books. I slept in 10 beds at 4 hotels and 6 friends’ homes. I reconnected with 16 Princeton classmates and dined with 15 other friends, some old, some new. I reconnected with an editor from my Business Week days and a family friend from childhood, as well as six friends from The Daily Princetonian.

Back in the Seattle area, I have spoken at 6 schools and led a teacher workshop at University of Washington, as well as a national webinar. 

I definitely "poured my heart into it" as far as book promotion! Hope lots of kids and adults will find out about The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball and enjoy reading it. 

Book Tour: New York and New Jersey

City Streets, Bright Smiles

Fast pace, honking horns, dodging strollers, screeching subways—and kids thrilled to have an author visit. Snapshots of my one-week visit to New York and surrounding areas, with schools as varied as New Yorkers are. At two big public schools, I addressed kids filling auditorium seats; at a prestigious private academy, I talked in quiet classrooms; in a leafy suburban town, kids sat on the floor of a well-stocked library; in an inner-city charter school with no library, seventh graders asked great questions. Fourth graders through high school seniors, the students welcomed me with bright smiles and smart questions. Altogether, I spoke to about 900 kids at five schools—students from many diverse backgrounds. Many were the same age as the Chinese boys in my book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball.

Yung Wing school sign

The week started with a school whose name I couldn’t resist: Yung Wing Elementary (P.S. 124). In Manhattan’s Chinatown, it is named for a man I admire enormously: the man who dreamed up and led the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States. Born in China in 1828, Mr. Yung Wing became the first Chinese to graduate from an American university—Yale. Against long odds, he returned to China, taught himself to read his native language, and managed to convince the most powerful men ruling China to send a large group of boys to study in the United States in 1872. One man’s dream and willpower made a huge difference—and inspired me to write The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball.

 

Yung Wing principal Alice HomYung Wing Elementary is nestled below a high-rise housing project near the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, and its principal, Alice Hom, grew up in New York. She makes sure the kids know who Yung Wing was—and she invited me to speak because the famous man looms large in my book. (My main character hits him with a snowball by mistake!) In the school’s auditorium, I spoke to the entire fourth grade one period and the entire fifth grade the next, about 240 students in all. These kids, many of them low-income, ordered and bought more copies of my book than any other school: 28 copies. I personally signed all of them, with their names. About 92 percent of the students are Chinese or Chinese American.

 

Packer 1Not far away, on a leafy street in Brooklyn Heights, stands the distinctive, castle-like tower of Packer Collegiate Institute, an independent college-preparatory school.  Founded in 1845—before the birth of the boys of the Chinese Educational Mission—its halls ring with voices of students ranging from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. I addressed high school Chinese classes, speaking as much Mandarin as they could understand. Which was a lot! It was fun to do my talk in Chinese.

 

Scarsdale 3The next morning, I took a train to Scarsdale, about half an hour north of the city. There, at Greenacres School, I spoke to 66 fifth graders, first in the library and then in three separate classrooms. They live in an affluent area with beautiful houses, and their school has a terrific library and librarian, Carole Phillips. Many are children of Europeans or Latin Americans who work in New York, so they understood about balancing different cultures in their lives. Each classroom had a different personality.

 

WagnerWagner Middle School (P.S. 167) is a large school located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It has 15 sixth grade classes, totaling about 450 students—a diverse group of students with varied interests who read on a range of reading levels.  There I did my presentation three times in a large auditorium with squeaky wooden seats. Afterwards, many kids rushed forward, eager to get my autograph on their notebooks or other scraps of paper. Friendly and enthusiastic, they were wowed by having a real author visit their school. Made me feel like a star!

BelovED Community SchoolAcross the river in Jersey City, I was invited to speak at BelovED Community Carter School. Founded in 2012, the school is inspired by Martin Luther King’s vision of a “beloved community.”  Many scholars arrived at the school below grade level and now perform above. Every classroom door features a different college, to encourage kids to aim high. I spoke to all 135 seventh graders in three classroom talks. The hallways ring with high energy, yet the students were thoughtful and respectful. Many of them are children of immigrants, so they could relate to my story.  Math teacher Carolyn Yuhas, my son-in-law's aunt, introduced me to the school. 

MOCA signOn Saturday, I did my only talk open to the public, at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It’s an excellent museum founded in 1980 and now housed in a beautiful new space on Centre Street. Once the site of a sewing machine shop, the first floor was designed by renowned architect Maya Lin, and many of the exhibits were written or performed by well-known Chinese Americans, including playwright David Henry Hwang and writer Maxine Hong Kingston. This includes a short video about Yung Wing, with a voice reading lively passages from his autobiography. I spoke in their sunlit speaker’s space, attended by many of my New York friends, including four classmates from Princeton.

 

The final talk of my tour was at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, where faculty members and students were eager to hear my tales about the Chinese boys of the 1870s. They have a beautiful new student center and a program to encourage short-term visits overseas. My friend Bill Armbruster is on the board of regents and enjoys chaperoning international student trips.

 

The whole book tour was a fantastic experience for me. It’s great to see the enthusiastic faces of student readers and get a sense of how my book mirrors aspects of their lives. 

Many thanks to Nancy Kennan and Gary Duberstein for their enthusiasm and help in organizing these New York visits! Wouldn't have happened without them. 

Book Tour: Connecticut and Massachusetts

Crisp Leaves, Eager Kids 

I’ve had some marvelous school visits on the first week of my book tour. I feel fortunate (and honored) to talk to more than 250 students at five schools in New England. These students are fortunate to attend some excellent schools: public, private, and public/charter.

Hastings 2 croppedThe brilliant yellow, orange, and crimson leaves of New England’s fall foliage display greeted me in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Paul and I drove around and enjoyed the sites in remarkably warm, sunny weather. We visited Suffield, the town where my fictional story takes place, and located the grave of Yung Wing, the brilliant man who dreamed up the bold idea of petitioning the Chinese imperial government to send a large group of students to the United States in the 1870s.

A lively group of K-12 teachers, all fascinated by East Asia, greeted me at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, for a Saturday workshop, where I started my tour. As the featured speaker, I gave them more details about my research and what I have learned from the Chinese Educational Mission. We talked about the clash of cultures faced by many students in America who are foreign-born or else children of immigrants, and the ties that bind local communities in New England to the Chinese boys who once lived here with American families. The workshop was organized by Anne Prescott, director of Five College Center for East Asian Studies in collaboration with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA).

During the week of October 16 through 20, I spoke at five schools in five days and really enjoyed interacting with the students.

Charter Oak Intl Academy

At Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, Connecticut, I spoke to all 66 students in fifth grade in their beautiful new auditorium. At this magnet elementary school, all students study both Spanish and Chinese every day.  Wish I had had this opportunity as a child! They asked some great questions.

Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion SchoolAt Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, Massachusetts, I spoke to all 46 of the eighth grade students. This amazing charter school, now K-12, offers full immersion in Chinese for all elementary school students and then continuing instruction in both Chinese and English through middle and high school. Few of the students have Chinese heritage, so most learn from scratch the natural way, starting in kindergarten. What vision the founders had, setting up this school in 2007 with only kindergarten and first grades.

At Maria Hastings Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts, all 99 fifth graders gathered in the gym, sitting on the floor. I was energized by their curiosity and enthusiasm, and I was impressed by the diversity of faces and backgrounds—and by their many lively suggestions for new stories I could write. I encouraged them to use their great imaginations to write their own stories.

Nobles 2 croppedAt Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, I gave my talk five times to Chinese classes of different levels, from beginners to advanced. The three students in Chinese 6 speak so fluently that I was able to talk to them entirely in Mandarin for their full class period. They understood everything!  Impressive. The two Chinese teachers took me to lunch in the “Castle,” a beautiful structure unique to their school, a prestigious private school for grades 7 through 12. Most of those who study Chinese get a chance to visit China and stay in homes and attend schools for a few days in Beijing.

Estabrook School Lexington MAAt Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts, I talked to all fifth graders, over 100 of them, in their beautiful new building. Several of the students were from China, and they were especially excited to hear my story of Chinese students in history. Many of their parents bought my book for their kids. They asked great questions, too!

In addition, to these school visits, I did two author talks open to the public:

In Hartford, I gave a talk at the Connecticut Historical Society. This building is in the heart of the Asylum Hill neighborhood of Hartford, just a few blocks from where the Chinese Educational Mission building once stood. Many original documents are in the archives here, attracting researchers from all over the world. Once a Chinese TV crew showed up, unannounced, and asked them to see their old letters and diaries and silk Chinese clothing from early students. The current special exhibit features the history of the American School for the Deaf, founded in 1817. That school was once the “asylum” that proudly gave its name to Asylum Hill.

Cary Library signIn Lexington, I spoke at Cary Memorial Library, a beautiful old building that has been tastefully renovated for modern use. The librarians there had publicized my talk widely, including a two-page article in Lexington’s Colonial Times. Lexington has a large Chinese and Chinese-American population, and many of them came to my talk. One of them knew more about the Chinese Education Mission than I did! And several Asian parents spoke up about their experiences with the generation gap between immigrant parents and U.S.-born children—how hard it is to truly understand.

Cary-booksigning-edited-for-webSo many teachers and parents and students have been warm and welcoming to me during my book tour. It’s been a thrill for me.

Special thanks to Bob Ruxin and Anne Prescott. Without their enthusiasm and connections, this tour would never have happened!

Cary Memorial Library Lexington

Fall book tour begins

An exciting lineup of school visits, library and museum talks, and teacher workshops will introduce The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball to readers across America! How's this for an impressive schedule?A1 Island Books 1

Oct. 8     Chinese Historical Society of America national conference, San Francisco, panelist

Oct. 14   National Consortium on Teaching about Asia teacher workshop, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT

Oct. 16   School visit, Charter Oak International Academy, West Hartford, CT

Oct. 16   Connecticut Historical Society book talk, Hartford, CT

Oct. 17   School visit, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion School, Hadley, MA

Oct. 18   School visit, Maria Hastings Elementary, Lexington, MA

Oct. 19   Visit to Chinese classes, Noble & Greenough School, Dedham, MA

Oct. 20   School visit, Estabrook Elementary, Lexington,  MA

Oct. 21   Book talk at Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, MA (open to the public, 2:00 p.m.)

Oct. 23   School visit, Yung Wing Elementary, New York, NY (in Chinatown)

Oct. 24   School visit, Packer Collegiate School, Brooklyn, NY, Chinese classes

Oct. 25   School visit, Greenacres Elementary, Scarsdale, NY

Oct. 26   School visit, Wagner Middle School, New York, NY

Oct. 28   Book talk at Museum of Chinese in America, New York, NY (open to the public, 2:30 p.m.)

Oct. 30   BelovED Charter School, Jersey City, NJ

Oct. 31   Book talk at Saint Peter's University, Jersey City, NJ

Nov. 2    Library, Islander Middle School book club, Mercer Island, WA

Nov. 3    School visit, Somerset Elementary School, Bellevue, WA

Nov. 4    Book club, Eastlake High School, Sammamish, WA

Nov. 6    School visit, Tillicum Middle School, Bellevue, WA

Nov. 6    Seminar for K-12 educators, University of Washington East Asia Resource Center, Seattle

Nov. 7   School Visit, Jing Mei Chinese Immersion School, Bellevue

Nov. 8   Collapse!

 

Why write from other cultural perspectives?

This article was published on September 14, 2017, on Kids' Book Buzz. To see original, click here

Confession: I am not a Chinese boy living in 1870s Connecticut. I was not alive in the 1870s. I have never lived in Connecticut. I am not a boy. And I am not Chinese. Whew! Got that off my chest.

We writers of historical fiction are called to help readers imagine life in a different era than our own. To face this challenge, we do all the research we can—reading books written about the era and examining letters and books written at the time. We take note of the kind of clothing people wore, their food and drink, the style and decor of their homes, and even their modes of transport. We ask the questions: what were the big events of the time? What were common attitudes among different classes of people?

Emily Dori in Chinese outfits lo resThen, we let our imaginations take over. What might it have felt like to live at that time? How might such a person have responded to common—or uncommon—events? Fiction gives us license to use our imaginations in ways that non-fiction writers don’t have.

The toughest question, though, comes when a writer chooses to recreate the experience and feelings of someone of a different race or culture. What right does a Caucasian American woman like me have to pen a novel from the perspective of a young Chinese boy? Born in Ohio, how could I dare to write a book about how it feels to be a foreigner in America? Shouldn’t I stick to writing solely from the viewpoint of a person just like me?

I get it. White authors have been writing about people of other ethnicities in America for hundreds of years, often misrepresenting them. The subservient characters of Mammy and Uncle Tom. The tragic Asian heroine who conveniently dies at the end, as in Madame Butterfly and Shogun. The tale of self-sacrificing Pocahontas. Even though we are sensitive of stereotypes to avoid, white authors run a risk of misrepresenting viewpoints each time we write about someone of a different background.

Yet, I continue writing novels in which the main character is Chinese. My newest book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, is about two Chinese brothers who were sent to Connecticut by the Chinese Emperor in 1875. It’s the fourth book I’ve written from a Chinese point of view.

Why do I keep on? Because these perspectives are part of the patchwork of the American experience. If American kids read stories from many different cultural backgrounds, they will have a better understanding of the diversity of experience and lives in our country and around the world. Reading novels about children from other cultures will help our children be more open and accepting of people who come from backgrounds different from their own.

I learned this first hand. While studying Mandarin in Singapore, I felt the frustration of living as a minority in a foreign land and struggling to express my thoughts in the language of those around me. Later, I lived and worked in Hong Kong, traveling widely throughout China, befriending many Chinese people from different backgrounds, hearing many incredible stories that ached to be told. On a personal note, my husband is Chinese, and we have raised our daughter immersed in Chinese culture, here in the United States. Listening to my daughter’s response to growing up Asian in America and meeting her friends of many different races and backgrounds, I widened my own understanding.

For me, writing from the perspective of Asian characters is an act of conscience. I want to do what I can to counter stereotypical points of view. For instance, many of the earliest Chinese immigrants to America came to do hard labor in the gold mines, railroads, and factories on the West Coast. That’s true. But that led to a backlash of anti-Chinese sentiment among Americans and a long-held assumption that all Chinese immigrants were low-wage “coolies.”  When I found out that more than a hundred Chinese boys came to the United States to study in that same era, their story offered a different narrative. Many of these students got into excellent colleges. Their experience, an under-told story, more closely fits that of many recent Chinese immigrants.

I believe very strongly that in this day and age especially, it’s important for Americans to try to understand the mindset of how it feels to be a foreigner in our society. Especially kids. In American schools, kids are very likely to be studying with classmates born in a different country. Unfortunately, some react by bullying and teasing. How much better to read a book and try to understand how alienated the classmates might feel, surrounded by unfamiliar words, values, and assumptions! Books I recommend include Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira, and Bette Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

I think it’s healthy for American children to connect with the perspective of people from other countries, cultures, and races. If they learn empathy as children, perhaps they will grow up to be more sensitive and understanding to the plight of others. The more diverse books American children read, the more hope there is that America, in the future, will be a strong neighbor and a more welcoming country.

I agree that there is a need for authors of all ethnic and racial backgrounds to come forward and share their stories.  I fervently hope the children’s book publishing industry will proactively seek out writers from diverse backgrounds. In the meantime, writers like me have the unique opportunity to help immerse readers in culture, ways of living and thinking, and experiences that are new or foreign to them.

If I could learn empathy and understanding from my experiences, I hope my writing can have that effect on my readers.

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