This is such a fun story. What inspired you to write Luna’s Yum-Yum Dim Sum?
This book was a little bit of a departure from how my books usually get written. Generally, I create a story that I want to write then try to shop it around to publishers to see if anyone is interested in acquiring it. However, on Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, it was actually my editor at Charlesbridge Publishing, Alyssa Mito-Pusey, who contacted me and asked if I was interested in submitting a story. I was intrigued by their goal of focusing on diversity and building math concepts into fun stories in non-didactic ways. Of course I said, ‘yes’.
I was a little nervous going in because math was never my strong suit growing up, but how I wished I had fun math stories to read. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so intimidated by math as a child. I was all on board for writing a book that children would love to read and that can engage them in the math concept without it being just another math book!
How long did it take you to write this book?
Alyssa first asked me to submit a story in Feb. 2018. I think I wrote and sent Alyssa my first draft in July 2018. However, although she liked the setting and the writing, she said they weren’t looking for a straight counting and shape book. She wanted the characters to actually solve a math problem in the story.
So, it was back to the drawing board for me. I consulted with Marlene Kliman, the math expert at TERC about various math concepts and this very informative discussion led me to explore the idea of Luna and her brothers having to split 5 pork buns among the 3 of them, which would introduce early fractions to the picture book audience, and the question of what does sharing fairly mean (obviously, it meant different things to Luna and her brothers), and is sharing fairly the same as sharing equitably? I re-wrote the entire story in a month (while on vacation on the East Coast for part of that time) and re-submitted it to Alyssa in August 2018.
She and Marlene loved the story, and she sent it up to acquisitions in September. I was offered a publishing contract for Luna in November 2018.
The siblings really brainstorm to figure out how the dim sum would be split. Is math your favorite subject?
No! I hated math in school. I felt very intimidated by it because I never felt I was good at math. But math is all around us! I remember taking my children on walks when they were little and counting the petals on a flower, or clouds in the sky. Whenever we ordered pizza, we counted the pizza slices (there are 8 slices of pizza, but 5 of us so how many do each one of us get?), and invariably, it always came down to who gets the last piece? Math can be incorporated in so much of our daily lives. When you bake cookies with your kids, they can help measure ingredients and here is an opportunity to discuss simple math concepts (how many half cups make one cup? How many quarter cups in a cup? etc.)
Math for me growing up in Southeast Asia was by rote learning - math problems, worksheets, formulas, memorization. It was very boring! And math books were dry and uninteresting to me too. The Storytelling Math books turn that around - the story comes first, and the math learning is a byproduct. But if kids enjoy the story, they’ll get the math concept as well. At the back of each book in the series, there is backmatter on how readers can further explore the math in the book through simple activities.
You incorporated the Chinese horoscope and Chinese food in your story. How important is it for you to share your culture with children?
In all my books, except my first one, sharing the culture my story is based upon is extremely important. Most of the time, that’s my own Chinese culture. I believe kids do need to see themselves in books, and learn and engage in stories that connect them to their culture. Not every child may be familiar with everything about their own culture. A Chinese child born and raised in the US may not necessarily experience the same cultural traditions and rituals as a child born in China or Taiwan does, so they may actually learn something new about their own culture. It’s also important for them to learn about other cultures. This creates great opportunities for meaningful discussions in the classroom and at home - what’s similar about these traditions and rituals? What’s different? It’s a great way to celebrate diversity.
In my first book, Otto’s Rainy Day, I told a story about a boy who wanted to go outside and play in the rain, but I didn’t have any specific ethnicity in mind. The illustrator drew him as a boy with blonde curls. They’re really cute illustrations, but after that book, I wanted to personally connect more with my own heritage, and subsequently, I wanted to connect kids with my culture and show them the many wonderful rituals, traditions, and celebrations I enjoyed as a child.
What do you hope children learn or take away from Luna’s Yum-Yum Dim Sum?
That math doesn’t have to be boring. And math can be found in so many daily tasks and rituals that they may not even know about. They’re doing math every day (and hopefully having fun with it!) Who doesn’t like baking (and eating)chocolate chip cookies?
Natasha Yim is a children’s author, and freelance writer. She has published seven picture books including Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014); The Rock Maiden (Wisdom Tales Press, 2017), and Mulan’s Lunar New Year (Disney Press, 2018). Her most recent picture book, Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum (Charlesbridge Publishing) was just released on Dec. 22, 2020. She has written for the children’s magazines, “Highlights for Children”, “Faces”, “Appleseeds”, and “Muse”, and is a regular contributor to Mendocino Arts Magazine. Natasha is currently working on two picture books and two middle grade novels. She has just signed on with Disney Press to create a picture book based on the as-yet-unreleased Pixar film, “Turning Red.” Publication date is Spring 2022.
If you’d like to learn more about Natasha Yim please visit her social media links below:
Mark your calendars for World Read Aloud Day 2021, also know at WRAD! It will take place on Wednesday, February 3, 2021.
LitWorld started the event in 2010 to celebrate the power of reading aloud and to advance literacy efforts around the world. In support of this work, many authors and illustrators offer free 20-minute virtual read alouds to teachers and classrooms. This year, several members of KidLit in Color are available to read with you!
Most WRAD virtual visits will go something like this:
1-2 minutes: Author gives a quick introduction & talks a little about their books.
3-5 minutes: Author reads aloud a short picture book, or a short excerpt
5-10 minutes: Author answers a few questions from students about reading/writing
1-2 minutes: Author book-talks a couple books they love (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for the kids
Before you sign up, you'll need to be able to provide:
Please check your scheduled time carefully. All times are listed in Eastern Standard Time.
To sign up, go to our form on SignUp Genius and choose an available slot.
#OwnVoices, #OwnVisions: Writing and Illustrating an Arab American Character
When I began writing FARAH ROCKS FIFTH GRADE, my debut chapter book series, I was excited that Capstone books had taken a chance on the idea. It was thrilling to know that I was writing the first chapter book series to feature a Palestinian American character -- Farah Hajjar, who is modeled on my own childhood and some of the experiences I had growing up.
Growing Arab American was difficult because there are so many negative stereotypes in the media about our community - and very few books and films with authentic representations to counter them. So while writing FARAH ROCKS was fun, it was also worrisome: I felt the pressure to present a character who felt real and who would be embraced by Arab and non-Arab kids alike.
Part of my worry was about how Farah would be illustrated. I still have memories of seeing stereotypical representations of Arabs in movies like Aladdin. Nothing was more vital than making sure Farah was portrayed in a realistic, positive way.
Enter Ruaida Mannaa, a talented artist and my wonderful illustrator! When I first saw the initial sketches of Farah-- a character who had, until then, existed only in my mind -- I knew Ruaida understood what mattered to me about capturing Farah’s essence.
Ruaida is of Lebanese origin, which makes FARAH ROCKS a book series written by AND illustrated by Arab women. Recently, I interviewed Ruaida about how she developed the look of Farah!
Susan: You have an interesting background. Where did you grow up? Tell me about your cultural background.
Ruaida: I was born in Colombia, and my background is Lebanese. Both my parents are first generation born in Latin America (mom in Brazil and dad in Colombia). So I definitely grew up in a multicultural environment! Listening to Arab and Brazilian music, eating delicious foods, attending the loudest parties and hearing different languages.
Susan: How long have you been an artist? When did you first know you wanted to make this a career?
Ruaida: I’ve always been creative and passionate about art. This passion became my career very organically. I studied graphic design, worked as a designer and teacher for a few years and then got my masters in illustration from SCAD. I love that my job allows me to always learn something new, each project takes me on a new path and pushes me to think outside of the box.
Susan: What did you think about when you were hired to illustrate a book about an Arab American girl?
Ruaida: This was my first project with my current agent, and I was so excited when I learned about it and even happier once I got the gig. I instantly connected to Farah and her family and really loved the Arab words thrown here and there in the dialogues! Growing up I didn’t have any characters I could relate to in terms of cultural background, so being part of this project is a tremendous honor.
Susan: How did you go about sketching the character and the designs (such as the tatreez, etc)? Do you work in a specific program or by hand? Did you do any research?
Ruaida: Farah went through a few different stages to get her to look the right age, get the right expression and bring her personality to life. I used my niece as reference for the shape of her face, eyes and eyebrows, so she would look more like a real Arab girl. I always try to include some elements of Palestinian art in her clothing and in the decorative elements of the pages. I did a lot of research on Palestinian embroidery and ceramics, each book has a pattern that I create using traditional symbols from images that I collect. Everything is created digitally using Photoshop.
Susan: Who are some of your influences? What types of things inspire you?
Ruaida: There are so many! I love the work of Henri Matisse and Gustav Klimt, especially their approach to design and the use of color and patterns. But I also follow a lot of contemporary illustrators like Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Leo Espinosa and the list goes on. I love seeing different styles and ways in which artists interpret reality. But most of my inspiration comes from researching different cultures, traveling and reading. Creativity is fed by curiosity, so I'm always trying to learn new things and visit new places, paying lots of attention to folk art and traditions.
Ruaida Mannaa is a Colombian/Lebanese Illustrator and Designer. Her background includes several design projects as well as experience as a Digital Design professor. Ruaida believes that creativity comes from curiosity so she is constantly exploring and visually interpreting the world around her. Ruaida grew up in a multicultural family, surrounded by different languages, loud parties and delicious food! So culture and cultural exchange are definitely her greatest inspiration.
Ruaida graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a Master of Fine Arts in Illustration. She is currently based in Barranquilla, Colombia, where she works with clients all over the world.
You can learn more about Ruaida at her website.