When I was eight years old and living in Wuhan, China, the teacher sent for my mother. I was so nervous because I thought I had failed a test. To my delight, the teacher explained that a magazine wanted to publish an article I had written and the editor of the magazine wanted to meet me. The editor presented me with a hardcover notebook as an award. I brought that notebook with me from China and kept it in my office for all of these years.
I always loved to write, but I never dreamt I would be able to write stories in my second language, English. I used to be so uneasy about writing even a simple note, let alone a book! I worried about spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. In some ways, writing in English helps me face that fear. I discovered that by making mistakes, I became a better writer. I challenged myself to write a book in English and sold my first cookbook in less than two months.
Writing keeps me close to the country I love — China. I enjoy losing myself in my stories. As a young girl, I lacked the patience for sewing, needlework, and fan dancing — things girls were expected to do in China at that time. I preferred playing with boys! I relive my childhood fantasies through the boys in my children's books by allowing them to do all the naughty things I wish I had done. In the end, the boys get rewarded for their creativity and inventiveness.
My three biggest passions are children, travel, and food. I love to be with children; they ask the most fascinating questions. A few of my books were inspired by those questions.
Traveling to new places allows me to search out the best food. After sampling delicious dishes, I become inspired to create new recipes for my books. I enjoy coming up with a good recipe, especially if it goes along with a good story.
My typical workday begins with Tai Chi sword, a type of Chinese exercise. Then, after a long walk, I sit down to write. Walking gives me time to think; it helps me structure my writing. Writing makes me hungry so I go to the kitchen to cook and eat!
I have always enjoyed teaching, even when I was four years old. My first group of students were children in my neighborhood who were three or four years older than me. During the long, hot, boring summer afternoons in Wuhan, I invited them to come to my home and sit by our front door. I used the door as the blackboard. On it I wrote down the titles of the books I was going to read. The problem was that I could not read very well at that time. So, I made up the story based on the pictures. I then asked them questions based on my version of the stories.
When my father later read the books to me, I was surprised how different they were from what I had taught my "students". Sometimes I liked my version better. Soon, some children decided that I was not doing a good "teaching" job and refused to come to my class. That was when I decided that I had to improve my reading skills.
Much of my life has involved teaching in one form or another. Now, because of my busy writing schedule, I have had to stop my regular teaching career.
There are many days when I miss the students and the classrooms. I love visiting schools. It gives me the opportunity to be with my readers. Their energy and questions always give me new inspiration.
Many times, students ask me what I like to do for fun. In addition to writing, travel and cooking good food, I like to play badminton and go for brisk walks.
I also love reading letters from your students. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Is your next book going to have the Changs in it? Which of the Chang boys is your favorite. I like the one who likes to eat. He reminds me of me. I love to eat.
I have a problem. I can not start a story. Will you help me?
Who told you noodles were invented in China. That is so cool. My Chinese name is Wang Jing. Do you know any companies that will publish children's books?
Have you read a lot of your books? I have one of your cookbooks the food is good. You are very pretty.
Do you have any good ideas for stories? Because I'm thinking about writing one.
Which one of your books was the easiest and funniest to write. I wonder if any of your children's books are true. Definitely not The Runaway Rice Cake because rice cakes can't run away. Soon, I will be an author like you.
If my story is going on and on, what can I do? Do you like my letter?
What's it like being an author? I might be an author when I grow up. I have an idea for a book title "the story of silk." How do you like it?
In China did they have kindergarten and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th grades? What do you do in your spare time? Who was your favorite writer when you were a child?
I think you are a great cook. Do you enjoy boys or girls better?
Can you give me a recipe for Chinese food? How old are you?
I was wondering if you ever got nervous when you were doing a TV show. My favorite part is when your son poured all of the raisins into the rice cake.
The chopsticks were so cool. I went to eat China food. I used my chopsticks. I would be so happy if you could come back and visit us again.
Thank you for coming. When is your birthday?
I love the rice cake. Do you love to write a lot?
Do you have fans in China?
I have always dreamed to go to China. Can you send me a picture of the Great Wall of China? I was the one who got picked to grab a marshmallow with chopsticks.