Today’s Simply 7 is with both the author and the cultural consultant of an already popular picture book series.
If you are a teacher, you are very familiar with Natasha Wing’s NIGHT BEFORE books. You may have read them in the classroom on the first day of school or on a holiday (or at least seen them in book club fliers). Natasha has published 46 children’s books, with more in the works. Her Night Before titles include The Night Before Kindergarten which has sold more than 2.5 million copies and has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001. Wing was born in the Year of the Metal Rat. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Dan, and cat, Purrsia. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Facebook.
Lingfeng Ho is a Midwesterner living in New York City. She has won many awards for her audiobook work (including Audible’s Best of 2022, AudioFile’s Best of 2022 & 2021). This is her first children’s book. You can learn more about her at her linktree.
In THE NIGHT BEFORE LUNAR NEW YEAR we meet a little girl, Mei Mei, and her family as they prepare to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Through her eyes we learn all about her favorite parts of the holiday and the time she will spend with her family. There is a jaunty rhyme scheme throughout the story (found in every book in the series) that keeps the story moving swiftly through each page (even when Mei Mei is afraid of the noise from the firecrackers).
Welcome Natasha and Lingfeng!
Me: Natasha, you’ve written many NIGHT BEFORE books about holidays or big moments in kiddos’ lives, yet this is the first book in the series that I recall seeing a coauthor. Why did you decide to team up with Lingfeng for this project?
Natasha: Part of the purpose of this series is to introduce kids to holidays from a variety of cultures and religions so they can see how people celebrate. It’s one way to instill empathy. I get requests from teachers for new holiday books and I didn’t want to limit the series to just the holidays I celebrate, so my editor and I thought it would be best to bring in a cultural consultant so that I could get the details right for Lunar New Year. Since I like to write about how modern families celebrate, Lingfeng helped give me that modern perspective. She also ran things past her family to verify some details in the story. With holidays there are always variations in how people celebrate them, so we tried to choose more “universal” details.
Me: Lingfeng, this is your first foray into children’s books from audio books. Why did you decide this was a book you wanted to work on? What made you want to take on the project?
Lingfeng: Representation was a big motivation. I was happy to work with Natasha on a book where kids could see characters who felt familiar and know what’s joyous for their families could be the focus of a traditionally published book. This isn’t a new concept and there are plenty of beautiful English language books depicting Lunar New Year celebrations, but I like to think this story offers a sweet option.
Me: Where did the idea for this story come from?
Natasha: It came from a teacher in Taiwan who told me her students wanted me to write The Night Before Chinese New Year. Other teachers requested it as well.
Me: What was it like working as a team on this picture book? Was this a true team effort where you wrote pieces side-by-side (or email by email)?
Natasha: We first met via Zoom with our editors. All four of us brainstormed ideas for how the story would go. I like to have a twist or something to overcome in my Night Befores. As a kid I remembered I didn’t like fireworks because of their loud explosions so I’d cover my ears. The girl in the book is sound sensitive and she comes up with a solution for how she could enjoy the parade. I was responsible for writing the story then Lingfeng checked it for accuracy. That was all done by email.
Lingfeng: We wrote this during the pandemic so any discussions were over the phone or email. As this is my first children’s book, Natasha truly took the lead. I was there to offer some ideas and shape, but this lovely story is largely Natasha’s vision.
Me: I have heard there can be challenges working on a project with another creative, but I imagine that a rhyming project would be even more difficult. Did you find the rhyme and rhythm of this story particularly daunting due to the team work? How were you able to keep it flowing so smoothly throughout the whole book?
Natasha: Writing in rhyme is fun for me so it wasn’t difficult to get into the rhyming groove. I’ve written so many Night Befores that most of the time it just seems to flow out (especially early in the morning).
Lingfeng: Natasha really had this handled. I contributed a thought here or there and smoothed some lines, but many of the lines flowed from her.
Me: What is one thing that surprised each of you in writing this story together?
Natasha: We worked well together for never having met each other before. It felt like an easy fit.
Lingfeng: I was happy to discover how serious the whole team was in consideration of culturally appropriate and accurate details. It makes perfect sense, these are the small things which help readers feel welcomed and comforted by the story and illustrations.
Me: What advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators would you each give? Would you recommend working as a team?
Natasha: I typically don’t like collaborating since I tend make compromises and lose my author voice, but in this instance (and with upcoming The Night Before Kwanzaa) it truly felt like an equally respectful situation. I would say that other picture book writers should consider collaboration especially if they need someone to check them for accuracy and bring an authentic perspective to the story.
Lingfeng: Maybe one day I’ll have more advice than to team up with someone terrific, like Natasha. I still have a lot to learn!
Thank you both, Natasha and Lingfeng, for stopping by my blog today.
Dear readers, this is a sweet story that easily explains many aspects of the Lunar New Year holiday while incorporating thoughtful elements that children will be able to relate to. Don’t miss it!