While a lot of schools are winding down, DRAGON SCHOOL has just begun! I’m excited to welcome Helen Wu 吴卉婷 back to the blog to talk about her latest book, LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, with art by NYT Bestselling illustrator Mae Besom (YeeHoo Press). And there’s a #Giveaway!
In addition to being a children’s author– she is an illustrator, translator, and the Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher based in San Diego, California.
We Have Questions!
Q 1. What was the inspiration for this book?
Helen Wu: Long Goes to Dragon School, was inspired by my own experience as a minority immigrant student. It follows a Chinese dragon who struggles to breathe fire in his new Western dragon school, only to discover he must carve his own path to finding a sense of belonging. In this story, Long’s name is based on the Chinese word for dragon:
In Western culture, dragons are intricately intertwined with Chinese culture. However, Chinese dragons do not typically breathe fire. Instead, they are known as water spirits. I have always been fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures. And living in America, I’ve realized that everyone is different and that learning from others helps you discover your own talents, while still allowing you to find your own path.
Turning Insecurity to Motivation
Q 2. In what ways has being a first-generation immigrant become your motivation?
Helen Wu: As a first-generation immigrant, I’ve felt impostor syndrome ever since—including throughout my journey as an author. But here’s the good news: while I don’t think these thoughts will ever go away completely, I’ve learned to control them. In fact, I’ve learned to let them motivate me to think outside the box and find my own unique path in writing and publishing.
I managed to use those feelings of insecurity to motivate myself to keep learning, keep going, and seizing every opportunity that came my way. I learned that taking even a small step forward is a significant achievement and should be celebrated. So eventually, I embraced my multicultural identity and began to tell stories that were not only personal to me but also unique and universal.
Embrace Your Individuality
Q 3. Which character is most like you: Camila, Mia, Willy, Long, or Professor McKay?
Helen Wu: Definitely Long!
I identified with Long’s story because I could relate to feeling like an outsider and struggling to find my place. I wanted to write a story that celebrates cultural differences and encourages readers to embrace their individuality.
Speaking of School…
Q 4. What were your favorite/least favorite subjects in school?
Helen Wu: I grew up in China and my favorite subject was Language (语文 Chinese Language of course). Language is also intertwined with culture, offering insights into different societies and ways of thinking.
Studying language enhances critical thinking, analytical skills, and broadens my perspective on the world. Additionally, the study of language allows me to appreciate the beauty of words, literature, and the art of storytelling.
Although I didn’t start English writing (except for essays for examinations) during my school years and only began exploring picture books in my twenties, my love for the subject of Chinese Language during school had a subtle influence on my English writing and storytelling abilities.
Path to Publication
Q 5. How does this experience compare to your path to publication of TOFU TAKES TIME?
Helen Wu: My experience publishing Long Goes to Dragon School was quite different from my debut book, Tofu Takes Time. The biggest difference is that with TOFU TAKES TIME, I was solely the author, so I did not have much involvement in the editing or illustration process. This made the whole publishing process much simpler and easier for me.
Wearing Many Hats
However, with LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, I had the opportunity to serve as the editor and be involved in every single step of the process – from text editing, illustration thumbnails, sketches, and coloring, to graphic design. I provided a lot of input into the layout design, cover design, and jacket design. In fact, I even came up with the idea for the poster on the back of the book and designed it myself. Working so closely with the team was an incredible experience, while effort-consuming.
I always appreciate the efforts from a publishing house, including the editorial team, design team, marketing and sales team, that goes into making a book possible and ensuring that it is the best it can be.
Q 6. What surprises did illustrator Mae Besom bring to LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL?
Helen Wu: Collaborating with Mae Besom is an absolute delight!
Chinese dragons are typically visually different from western dragons, with their long snake-like bodies. However, in this book, the focus is not on their physical differences but on their unique inner abilities. To bring each character to life, I designed them with distinct personalities and body shapes, and Mae Besom’s exceptional talent made them even more captivating with her mesmerizing illustrations.
Mae’s specialization in drawing cute childlike Chinese dragons, coupled with her mastery of traditional Chinese watercolor art style, added another layer of beauty to the book. When our team pitched the story to Mae, she immediately jumped on board and brought her artistic magic to the project.
During the character design phase, Mae meticulously explored each dragon’s background and personality, and the results were breathtaking!
From Camila, the fiery dragon who loves to read, to Willy, the hilarious double-headed dragon who breathes lightning, and to Mia, the fluffy dragon who spews lava – each character had a unique and captivating design that perfectly matched their distinct personalities. Mae’s artistry was truly remarkable, making the characters jump off the page and into our hearts! I’m thrilled that Mae’s talent and passion contributed to the project and that people of all ages can now enjoy the story and its characters.
Q 7. Can you share a few cultural differences you experienced as a first-generation immigrant who was born and raised in China and then studied and worked in the U.S.?
Helen Wu: As a first-generation immigrant, I have encountered significant cultural differences between China and the United States, with one of the most prominent disparities being the contrast between individualism and collectivism. In the U.S., there is a strong emphasis on individualism, valuing personal achievements and self-expression. Conversely, China leans towards collectivism, emphasizing group harmony and social cohesion. This exposure to individualism in the U.S. has allowed me to develop a greater appreciation for my own identity and a deeper sense of pride in my cultural heritage.
For interactive lesson plans click HERE.
Q 8. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Helen Wu: I hope that readers will take away a message of self-discovery and cultural understanding from Long Goes to Dragon School. The book celebrates diversity and teaches children that our differences should be embraced and celebrated. I also hope that the book will inspire children to persevere through challenges and find their own unique paths to success.
Q 9. What new projects are you working on now?
Helen Wu: My upcoming book, Ping’s Perfect Pot, illustrated by Zihua Yang, will be published by Beaming Books in December 2024. In this story of persistence and not giving up, a girl tries to make the perfect pot for the tangerine tree she and her grandfather got for Lunar New Year. I can’t wait to share the rich culture of Lunar New Year with the rest of the world!
Endless thanks to Helen Wu for joining on the blog today.
* To learn more about Helen Wu and her books check out her website: helenhwu.com
Follow her on social media: Twitter: @HelenHWuBooks
FB: Helen Huiting Wu
and see: linktr.ee/helenhwu
And what about that Giveaway?
One lucky reader will receive 2 Dragon Pins + Dragon Keychain + Dragon Bookmark + Dragon Art Print + Signed bookplate + Dragon Sticker Sheet!
Deadline: June 27th.
See you next time for a #BookBirthday celebration of CINDY AND PANDA by Benson Shum.