Today, Mummum ends its 2nd season of High Chair Conversations with distinguished author Ying Chang Compestine. Named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by the Author’s Show, Ying has contributed to Cooking Light, EatingWell, Self, Men’s Health, Christian Science Monitor, and many other prestigious national publications. A leading national authority in the U.S. on Asian culture and cuisine, award-winning author and former food editor for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine, Ying is the versatile and prolific author of 20 books including five cookbooks. She is the host of the popular TV cooking show New Ideas for Delicious Meals on Phoenix TV in the U.S.

Ying Chang Compestine

Ying was in Singapore recently to give a talk organised by our Singapore Book Council. I missed it but we connected nonetheless, thanks to social media!

1. How much of your childhood has impacted your writing?

Ying: In my book Revolution is not a Dinner Party, Ling’s childhood experiences are similar to my own. I was about Ling’s age when my family got caught up in the events of the Cultural Revolution. Ling’s personality is a lot like mine. Many of her emotions and reactions to events draw on my own experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and her way of thinking reflects the way I saw the world as a child. For this reason, developing Ling’s character was the easiest part of writing this book. I was a little spoiled, but I also had a fighting spirit. And like Ling, I yearned for freedom and dreamed about going to America.

Revolution is not a Dinner Party
Other similarities: I grew up in the hospital compound, and had long hair for most of my childhood. My parents were doctors, and my father was a surgeon trained by American missionaries. I was very devoted to my father, but always had a somewhat strained relationship with my mother, so my father was the person to whom I felt closest. He understood me and accepted me for who I was. Like Ling’s father, my father was forced to work as a janitor in the hospital, and then imprisoned in the city jail. He treated all of his patients with compassion, even those who had persecuted him. Many characters and scenes in the book are inspired by people I knew and events I experienced and witnessed.
2. Was there one favourite childhood memory that went into your writing?

Ying: I used to put ponytails on my father, just as Ling does in Revolution is not a Dinner Party. It’s a cherished memory. This represents Ling’s happy life, when she was innocent and playful, and shows her loving relationship with her father. It heightens the scene when her father is taken away, making it more devastating.

Secrets of the Terracota3. Being a mum and author, I’m fascinated that you co-authored a book with your son. What sparked that idea?

Ying: Vinson has been helping me compose emails since middle school, and by high school I started asking him to read and critique my manuscripts. As I watched him evolve into a competent writer, I frequently thought it would be nice for us to work on a book together. Once Vinson became a varsity member of his long distance running team, he became very devoted to his sport and had a full social life to the point where I felt I barely saw him. With his departure for college looming, I thought that a book would be a memorable final project before his departure. Since we had talked about collaborating before, I felt that I should grab the opportunity now!

4. What was it like co-writing with your son Vinson?

Ying: It was a bittersweet experience. Vinson is a very fast thinker, has a broad vocabulary, and is full of ideas, but I had to instill within him the tenacity necessary for the laborious writing process. At one point we ended up scrapping most of our first draft. Many of the chapters have been rewritten multiple times. Sometimes we spent hours on just a single paragraph. I think I eventually convinced him that a good book requires many hours of hard work and one’s heart and soul.

What was the process like?

Ying: We exchanged ideas and discussed the plot on walks on the trail behind our house. After years of assisting me in the kitchen, Vinson had learned a great deal about cooking. We would alternate working on the novel and preparing food.

Crouching tiger5. How different is writing/working with Martha Stewart on food writing compared to working with your current writing? How do you reconcile that?

Ying: Many of my childhood memories are associated with food and books, and both continue to play a very important role in my life. I love to cook, to host dinner parties, to write about food and to read.

Both food and literature play central roles in my book Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. Food is a featured part of the celebration of good times, as when Ling lingers over homemade ice cream at a neighbor’s home. During the bad times, its absence is a symbol of misery and suffering, as when the Chinese New Year feast is reduced to two pan-fried eggs. Ling’s family is a very intellectual family. Books and foreign magazines are prominent in their apartment, and her father struggles to continue Ling’s education in English even as it becomes dangerous to do so. There’s a direct, physical connection between food and literature in the book. Ling writes poetry on paper with rice water, so that the words can’t be seen by others.


High-Chair dining at 20 months

Ying, thank you for taking up this conversation on my High Chair and sharing how your childhood life has influenced your writing so much, and also your impact on your son’s writing interest. I must get my 3-year old started on writing my emails for me pronto! Right now, he just wants to type C-A-L-E-B and A to Z in 72 font size and highlighted in rainbow colours. But I guess it starts from there!

Read more on Ying’s books here, her interview with Gathering Books whilst in Singapore here and my review of her picture books here.

Last week, Tibby & Duckie launched off at the Singapore Writer’s Festival. As I did a reading of the story, illustrator Jade Fang rendered a pencil drawing of the final page spread.

I finished reading in time to be able to watch her finish up her sketch of the ducklings, along with the audience who were awed by her amazing skill.

Sketching final spread of Tibby & Duckie

Sketching final spread of Tibby & Duckie

Tibby & Duckie Launch at Singapore Writer's Festival

Tibby & Duckie Launch at Singapore Writer’s Festival

At the start of the reading, two young kids sat upfront and called out to me, “Hello Auntie Emily!”

“Hello, do we know each other?” I asked as I ransacked my brain as to whose friends’ kids they could be.

At the autographing session, the parents came up to explain that they have all my books, including copies of the same titles in both hardback and paperback edition. They had come to support me and brought their home copies for me to autograph as well. I was elated to meet my young fans (and also happy that my memory had not failed me!).

Tibby & Duckie at SWF Launch                                                                        (Photo Credits: Epigram Books)

Tibby & Duckie is now out in the bookstores including:

Popular Bookstores  (which was the official bookstore for the Singapore Writer’s Festival 2014)

Kinokuniya Bookstores

Times Bookstores

MPH Bookstores

Tango Mango Books and Gifts

Epigram’s Online Store

If you want to order personalised autographed copies, you can also email me directly at emilylim888@yahoo.com

Related link:

Tibby & Duckie’s Hatch Day




Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.


Monday Reading2

I’m not been able to do much reading these few weeks with so many things happening, from working on my first two-ever Asian-flavoured picture book manuscripts, book talks and book launches at the Singapore Writer’s Festival to a whole host of kiddy parties and family/friend gatherings.

This week, I read 4 Asian-flavoured picture books. Co-incidentally, I just realised that two have links to Halloween and three have grandparent-grandchild bonding themes. The text for these books are longer than the current trend of 500-words for picture books but I think certain stories do need longer text to give it context.


Kung Fu, Family Bonding & Traditions

Kung Fu, Family Bonding & Traditions

Crouching Tiger

Ying Chang Compestine, Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene

Candlewick Press

3 years and up

Ying Chang Compestine was recently in Singapore to give a talk organised by our Book Council.  Thanks to my 3-year old’s new interest in superheros and Kung Fu fighting, I borrowed this title after her visit (which I missed).

Practising Tai Chi

Practising Tai Chi

Vinson’s grandfather visits from China. Being Chinese American, Vinson doesn’t connect with his grandfather’s penchant for traditional garb and calling Vinson by his Chinese name. Vinson’s interest in Kung Fu also wanes when his grandfather’s Kung Fu turns out to be the very slow Tai Chi form rather than his idea of fast kicking and punching. But over time, Vinson comes to see his grandfather in a new light and also appreciate his own Chinese roots when he gets to play a role in a lion dance festival.

Parting the Wild Horse's mane

Parting the Wild Horse’s mane

I like the grandparent-grandchild bonding because I see so much of that with my 3-year old play-fighting with his Kong Kong, my dad. And I’m into all things Kung Fu at the moment, so I was fascinated by the little spot illustrations on every text page that showed a different Kung Fu stance!

Also, after having watched telegenic Asian stars Tony Leung and and Zhang Ziyi in the very noir Kung Fu movie The Grandmaster. Kung Fu has never looked better  :).


Chinese Halloween story

Chinese Halloween story


Boy Dumpling

Ying Chang Compestine, Illustrated by James Yamasaki

Holiday House

3 years and up

The Boy Dumpling title caught my eye – yes, titles make all the difference! Ying’s story is inspired by the Hungry Ghosts Festival, which is celebrated on the 7th month of the Chinese Calender. It is the Chinese Halloween of sorts, where people prepare offerings of food to appease hungry ghosts that are believed to roam free that month.

Recipe for Boy Dumplings

Recipe for Boy Dumplings

In this trickster tale, a chubby boy is caught by a hungry ghost that wants to feast on him. The clever boy tricks the ghost by giving it a supposedly delicious recipe for boy dumplings. His recipe sends the ghost on a whole goose/ghost chase through town collecting tons of stinky garlic, rotten onions, wormy cabbage and mouldy dumpling wrappers. He also sneaks in a requirement of the ghost giving him a good bath, scrub and massage to tenderise him for the pot. By the time the tired ghost gathers all the ingredients, morning breaks and the ghost fades. The boy gets his last laugh when he captures the weakened ghost for good.

This is a fun tale which weaves in a clever twist to a traditional festival.

Mask Dance -traditional Korean folk dance

Mask Dance -traditional Korean folk dance


Behind the Mask

YangSook Choi

Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux

3 years and up

Kimin wonders what he should dress as for Halloween. When his mother gives him two boxes of his late grandfather’s belongings, he learns of his grandfather’s passion for the Talchum, the Korean mask dance. He decides to wear his grandfather’s traditional costume and mask to go trick and treating.

Trick or treating as a Korean Mask Dancer

Trick or treating as a Korean Mask Dancer

I did not realise this was a Halloween-themed book till I read it. I like how it weaves in Korean culture, inter-generational bonding  and the preservation of one’s roots. I like the image of Kimin going as a mask dancer amongst his friends who are dressed as dinosaurs, crocodiles and fairies.


Defying stereotypes & traditional roles

Defying stereotypes & traditional roles

Ruby’s Wish

Shirin Yim Bridges, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Chronicle Books

3 years and up

Ruby is a spirited young girl born in a traditional household in China. Her grandfather is a successful businessman who made his money from the Gold Rush in California and returns to do what rich men did in old China – he married many wives.

Ruby's grandad withhis wives in old China times

Ruby’s grandad withhis wives in old China times

Of the 100 grandchildren, Ruby shines as the only girl who persists in studying and learning to read and write when her sisters are learning cooking and housekeeping. As a young woman, she eventually pours out her heart’s desire to go to university instead of being married off in a poem which is brought to her grandfather’s attention.

I only realised that this is a real story when I reached the final page spread where the author includes a photo of her grandmother who became one of the first girls accepted into a university that her grandfather enrolled her for. That gave another layer to this story plus I like how a very traditional grandfather was able to see beyond tradition to fufill his granddaughter’s wish.

Ruby in red

Ruby in red


So, to round it all off, I guess I should use chopsticks for dinner tonight! Caleb will probably copy me with his Thomas The Train kiddy chopsticks – hey, best of east and west :)












Tibby & Duckie Pg05Unlike the other ducks, Duckie cannot swim. Tibby the Tiger-Bunny finds ways to help Duckie swim – but nothing works. Tibby wonders if Duckie is a swimming kind of duck and helps his new friend discover who she really is.

Roar, quack, squeak! Tibby & Duckie’s story will make a splash when they launch off at the Singapore Writer’s Festival this coming Saturday 8th November!

Bunny, Duckie and Picture Book Fun

Bunny, Duckie and Picture Book Fun

Epigram’s Trio Picture Book Launch will feature 1 hour of storytelling, arts and crafts with illustrator Jade Fang and myself for Tibby & Duckie, as well as the authors and illustrators for  Bo Bo and Cha Cha and for A Boy named Harry:

Pandas, The Tiger-Bunny & Harry

Saturday 8 November 2014


Festival Pavilion @ SMU, Campus Green


Tibby & Duckie Pg10-11Tibby & Duckie is also now available in:

- Popular Book Stores (Festival bookstore for this year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival)
- Kinokuniya Book Store
- Times Bookstores
- MPH Bookstores
- Tango Mango Books and Gifts (Tanglin Mall)
- other good bookstores!

A tiger-bunny and a duck make a couple of good buddies! So gift your good buddies and kids a quacky, roaring-fun picture book this Christmas!

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Linn Shekinah, author of several Asian-flavoured picture books. By that, I mean spiced up with Star Anise, Chilli and other flavourful characters. Linn was a winner of the Book Council’s First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative with The Watchtower Warrior. She is presently publishing her 5-picture book Asian Spice Kids series, which is sponsored by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.

Linn (2nd from left) with preschool educators

Linn (2nd from left) with preschool educators

1. When did you decide that you wanted to be an author of children’s books? Was there one particular moment that sparked that?

Linn: Well, no, not one particular moment. In fact, there are several defining, revelatory moments. It will take a book to capture all these milestones and epiphanies. To be a writer and an author is a calling.


2. Your books—The Watchtower Warrior, Dou Dou, The Imperial Chef and Asian Spice Kids— have Asian flavour. What inspires that aspect of your writing?

Linn: Oh it is not deliberate. I love arts, culture and history especially everything pertaining to Asia so I guess it comes out naturally in my writing. Asia offers a treasure trove of content ideas waiting to be mined.

Asian Spice Kids book 1

Asian Spice Kids book 1

3. Congratulations on your Asian Spices series! What was the inspiration behind your characters?

Linn: Thank You! What inspired me to create the Asian Spice Kids characters? Food, glorious food, the multifaceted beauty of ingredients, friendships and self-absorbed brats…oh, I mean, challenging children.

4. What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Why?

Linn: Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is magical, whacky and of course the irresistible chocolates and candies. St. Clare Series and The Malory Towers Series by Enid Blyton. The romantic idea of boarding school—midnight feasts, playing pranks and living with friends rather than parents—fascinates me.

5. What is your hope for children’s books from Asia?

Linn: I hope children’s books from Asia will be tomorrow’s classics and our books will find a place in the hearts of reviewers, educators, parents and children – globally! And not resting on some dusty bookshelf of some obscure library.


Asian-spiced kid during food tasting

Asian-spiced kid during food tasting

Mummum: Linn, you certainly captured the hope of many of us in Asia who look forward to our books travelling into the hands of children around the world. Read a review of Star Anise, Superstar! here and also check out the Linn Loves Little Lit blog.


What do children’s picture books, early chapter books and poetry have in common?

From picture book Tibby & Duckie

From picture book Tibby & Duckie

This Saturday 1st November, the Singapore Writer’s Festival’s panel on Animal Attack will discuss how our works have everything to do with animals!

I will be on the panel with Eliza Teoh, bestselling author of her Ellie Belly series and publisher of Bubbly Books, and Marc Nair, prolific poet and photographer. We’ll be attacking the subject of animals in children’s content.

Animal Attack!
1st November
The Salon, National Museum of Singapore

Festival Pass Event

Come immerse in art at the National Museum venue and stop by to join Eliza Teoh, Marc Nair and me in the conversation with us about all things wild and furry!

SWF panel 2012: David Almond, Me, John Dougherty, David Seow (credit: Catherine Carvell)

SWF panel 2012: David Almond, Me, John Dougherty, David Seow (credit: Catherine Carvell)

Today, Mummum has the pleasure of speaking to seven-times New York Times bestselling author, educator and writing coach Emma Walton Hamilton. Her full bio extends pages, so I will just point you to her website. Did I also mention that she is daughter of Hollywood actress Julie Andrews and both mother-daughter team have written several immensely popular children’s books together?

New York Times bestselling children's books author

1. You have a stellar career in the children’s books market, as bestselling author, educator and writing coach. What would you say has been two most satisfying moments in your involvement in this market?

New York Times Bestseller

New York Times Bestseller

Ans: Of all the fields I’ve worked in, I find children’s lit to be one of the most rewarding. Unlike much adult literature, no matter how dark the subjects that children’s books tackle may be, they are ultimately, inherently, hopeful… offering some sense of resilience, or championship of the human spirit. And the people who write them and illustrate them and publish them and sell them are some of the nicest people in the world – which makes it a very lovely world to be a part of. It’s hard to narrow all the satisfying moments down to just two specific incidents, so I’ll give you one general and one specific one.
First of all, there is nothing more rewarding for a children’s book author than doing a school visit, and seeing the joy or interest on children’s faces as you read a story you have written for its intended audience. The questions, comments or enthusiasm of even just one young reader can provide me with enough energy to go back to months of sometimes solitary slogging away at the computer.

New York Times bestseller too

New York Times bestseller too

I am also fortunate in that I work as a teacher, editor and coach for aspiring children’s book authors, and I get so much pleasure out of seeing a student or client achieve their dream of getting published! Just recently, a former student and editing client of mine (and also a good friend), Susan Verde, had her first picture book, “The Museum,” illustrated by one of my favorite author/illustrators, Peter H. Reynolds, and published by Abrams. Because I introduced Peter to Susan, his dedication in the book was to me. I felt like the world’s happiest midwife. Talk about a thrill!
2.When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author? Can you name a specific moment that triggered that?

Ans: I wrote prolifically as a kid – poems, stories, novels – yet whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said things like “a vet,” “an actor,” etc.

My Mom would always counter, “She says that now, but she’s going to be a writer.”

I ended up being an actor for a while, and then became a director, and a producer, and an arts educator (never a vet, though!). But all the while I kept writing, mostly children’s books.

18 years ago, my Mom and I started writing together, and I’ve never looked back. To date, we’ve written close to 30 books for kids of all ages, and all those other jobs (with the exception of arts education, which I still do) fell by the wayside.

3. I have to ask this question. What’s it like writing books together with your mother?

A discovery of self and one's gifts

A discovery of self and one’s gifts

Ans: Mom and I are both enormously grateful for the joy our collaboration brings us… we didn’t necessarily know that would be the case when we first started writing together, although we had worked together successfully in other mediums, such as film and theater. But we’re both fairly opinionated ladies (read: bossy!) and we were well aware that it could be problematic.

Happily, we have found we have different and complementary strengths, which seems to be the main factor in keeping the collaboration smooth, and our professional relationship has also done wonders for our mother/daughter relationship. We’ve been very aware of the benefits of time spent being creative and brainstorming together, as opposed to indulging in less productive mother/daughter stuff, like discussing health issues, weight management, or family dramas!

Generally speaking, when we begin a new story, we brainstorm the big idea first. We talk about theme, and dramatic arc – the beginning, middle, and end – what the central problem is, and how it gets solved. If it’s a chapter book or novel, we’ll do a chapter breakdown. Then we start writing. At that point it becomes a process of finishing each other’s sentences. We literally think out loud, and I take it all down on the computer – I’m the scribe. Ideally, we’re in the same room together, but we often work via Skype or iChat. At the end of every session, I’ll email the day’s work, which we then review and edit separately. We compare notes at the beginning of the next session, and press on from there.

Emma with mother Julie Andrews

Emma with mother Julie Andrews

Can you share one golden moment when you were completely in sync and one moment where you had divergent views on a story? 

In terms of moments of being particularly in sync, it happens all the time. As I said before, we typically finish each other’s sentences when we’re working, and often shout out the same word at the same time if we’re searching for something specific. I think that comes from being mother-daughter, and also from the longevity of our collaboration now.

We rarely have really divergent views – but if we do, we have a sort of tacit agreement that “the best idea wins.” That means if one of us is particularly passionate or articulate about a certain idea, then the other one generally defers. There’s a lot of give and take, and a lot of mutual respect – and as I said, we are very aware of our differing strengths. So far, that system has really worked for us and we’ve never (touch wood!) really come to blows.


4.What is your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Amazon.com #1 Bestseller

Amazon.com #1 Bestseller

Ans: The book I returned to most often as a kid was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. It was my rainy-day book – I loved nothing more than curling up with it in front of the fire on a rainy day. It’s about a bored little boy named Milo, who one day discovers a tollbooth in his room, drives his toy car through it and embarks on a great adventure. The book is a total celebration of language. Milo visits places like Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, where he literally “eats his words” and “jumps to Conclusions” and befriends a Watch Dog named Tock, among other strange and wonderful characters. All the abundant wordplay really captured my imagination, and thinking about it now, it may well have been one of the contributing factors to my wanting to be a writer.

5. What are your first words of advice to aspiring authors?

Ans: OK, here are the essentials, in my opinion:

1) Read. Steep yourself in the culture of the world or genre you are writing for by reading everything you can. That’s not to say you should imitate anyone else – but it is a business, and I think it’s hugely important to really know and understand what the standards, formats, and market trends are… and, as Billy Collins says, to think about what you can contribute to the ‘conversation.’ People often make the mistake of thinking “I was a kid once, and I know what I liked” or referencing books from their childhood, but children’s publishing has changed dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. You have to know what the market is like today, and stay plugged in as it evolves – no matter what genre you write for.

2) Hone your craft. Take classes and workshops, attend conferences. Keep stretching, learning, sharpening your skills – even (or maybe especially) after you’ve sold your first manuscript.

3) Find community. Writing can be a solitary business. I’m lucky – I write with a partner, work for a graduate writing program and host a membership site for children’s book authors, but it’s really important to find your tribe and connect with them regularly. Find a supportive critique group, join forums, take classes, attend conferences, whatever it takes to connect with other writers. It will keep you sane, and honest.

4) Diversify your strengths. It’s the rare writer that makes a living solely from writing. Even the most successful writers in the world have to augment their income with things like teaching, editing, or speaking engagements. Find ways to support your writing habit. Be willing to have a day job, to do whatever it takes… but whenever possible, try to make those other sources of income writing-related, such as freelance writing, editing, teaching, etc. It makes it easier.


Future Mum-and-son writing team

Future Mum-and-son writing team

Mummum: Emma, thanks for a treasure mine of practical advice. I’m at the final lesson of your on-line 14-week Just Write for Middle Grade course. It’s been so valuable in helping me shape, frame and structure my Big Idea for my manuscript. I love the worksheets, questions and bite-size worksheets which stretch my mind and yet, does not overwhelm me. That really gives me a good foundation given that I’m trying to expand from 500-word picture book manuscripts to 20 times the number of words in chapter book writing! Read more about Emma here!


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