(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)
Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Gene Luen Yang, writer and artist of several graphic novels, including American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints.
Boxers and Saints, his most recent book, is an ambitious work of historical fiction set in late 19th century China and told in a graphic novel format. It tackles one of the most complicated periods of recent Chinese history with grace and elegance.
It was published by First Second Books in two companion volumes, and it has basically won (or been nominated for) every literary award. Likewise for American Born Chinese, which was the first graphic novel to be nominated for the National Book Award in 2006 (Boxers and Saints was shortlisted for the same award in 2013).
Zoey was drawn to American Born Chinese because it incorporates the popular Chinese legend of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. Much of Yang’s work is significantly above a 5-year-old’s level, but this was something familiar for her.
Growing up half-Chinese in a dual-language household has influenced much of the way Zoey sees the world. Chinese books sit alongside English books in her bookcase, she sings songs and watches TV in both languages with ease, and she is very aware of many aspects of Chinese and Chinese-American culture.
When she was 3, we took Zoey and her brother to visit their grandparents in China for five weeks. Zoey even attended preschool while there. Obviously, there are certain cultural influences that are inescapable when you spend an extended amount of time in a place. Imagine spending five weeks in a preschool in any U.S. city and not hearing about Dr. Seuss or Sesame Street. For kids, they’re cultural mainstays.
The Monkey King is one such mainstay in Chinese culture. All children know the story and the characters. It’s ubiquitous. Clearly, a fascination with the Monkey King and his companions returned home with her.
Zoey is the product of two cultures…two very different cultures. I’m sure she’ll eventually face some sort of self-identity dilemma, but thankfully there are authors like Gene Yang to help smooth over any obstacles she might face.
So, a huge thank you to Gene Yang specifically but also, more generally, to all authors who address these dilemmas openly and honestly, help kids and teens navigate the challenges they face, and help young adults prepare themselves for the big “Who am I?” questions.
As always, all questions are Zoey’s. I simply prompt her with “clue words” so she can remember. (Make sure you turn on subtitles if you can’t make out Zoey’s questions.)
Thank you very much to Gene Yang for taking the time to chat with Zoey and to Gina Gagliano at First Second Books for helping to arrange the interview.