Chinese-American author travels the world inspiring children to write

World Today

Chinese-American author travels the world inspiring children to write

Writing a book that gets published is no easy task. Writing a successful one in a language that isn’t your mother tongue is even more difficult.  

CGTN’s Mark Niu met one author who managed it and asked about her secret.

She travels the world inspiring children to write.

“How many of you have finished a story?” she asked this group of youngsters. Some raise their hands.

These students in Dubai just spent a week learning from Chinese-American author Ying Chang Compestine.

“I’m so glad to hear that you’re thinking about structure,” she tells them.

Ying’s book, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, based on her own life as a young girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution, has won more than 30 international awards.

And now she’s just launched a new book, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes, a re-telling of the Hans Christian Anderson Fairy tale set in ancient China.

“The book took me 13 years to write,” she said. “And, like I said in many other books, I really miss China. A lot of my books are inspired by my homesickness. Whenever I think about my childhood, I’m inspired to write a story. When I was a little girl growing up during the Chinese cultural revolution, I read The Emperor’s New Clothes, and even though some of the pages were missing, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.”

Now Ying’s stories are moving beyond the page. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party is being turned into a film, co-produced by Dutch and Canadian studios.

Another book, Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier, has been optioned by a Hollywood producer to become an animated TV series. She co-authored that book with her son Vinson, who was only in high school at the time.

“We had a contract that he would work three to five hours a day with me,” she said. “Recently, he told me that it really taught him a life lesson, that behind every success comes a lot of hard work and discipline. When I look back I wouldn’t do it again but I’m glad we did it.”

Ying has so far written fifteen books, primarily for children and young adults. But there’s another genre in which she’s written five more books. That subject is cooking.

“When I was making dumplings with my son when he was three years-old, I looked at him and thought, if I was a ghost what would I like to be in my dumpling,” she said. “I’d love to eat a chubby boy, so that’s what inspired me to write “Boy Dumplings.”

Colorful ingredients have a way of morphing into material for Ying’s stories, which often include recipes at the end of the book, but she says the life of a writer can be lonesome. Ying prefers to stay active and write in her head, so that when she finally does sit down before the screen, she just can’t wait to tell her story.