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.
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