‘A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha’: Interview with the Author December 14 2012

Here at Epigram Books, we’re especially excited about one of our latest children’s titles, A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, as it is written by one of our own—author Jason Erik Lundberg has been an editor here since September this year!

Bo Bo and Cha Cha have come to the Mandai Zoo! Bo Bo is excited, but Cha Cha is not.
Everything here seems too strange: the other animals, the heat, and the food!
Cha Cha wants to leave—until a caring sloth shows her what being home really means.

Read on to hear from Jason about his experiences working on the book:

What was it like working on a children’s book? Was it very different from editing or writing speculative fiction, which you have previously done?

Very different indeed! Writing for kids, especially for very young kids, was a big challenge, because you have to hit all of these emotional beats with character and plot, and do so in an entertaining way, and in language that is both simple enough for three- to seven-year-olds to understand but at the same time doesn’t talk down to them.

Many people think that writing picture books is easy; you’re only dealing with 32 pages, only about a thousand words (or less) of text, but children tend to be a much less forgiving audience than adults. If you can’t grab and keep their interest with a good story and interesting characters, they’re on to the next thing straight away.

I’d written a couple of middle grade stories prior to A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, but had never even considered writing picture books. However, when the opportunity arose, I took it as an exciting task, and actually had a great experience in doing so. Crucial to this as well was working with editor Sheri Tan, who has years of experience editing children’s books; after I’d come up with the basic story, we worked together closely to shape it into something that was compelling and meaningful, and also fun to read.

What was your process working with illustrator Patrick Yee? For instance, did his illustrations come first, or did he base them on your writing? Did you work collaboratively?

Patrick actually approached Epigram Books with the premise of the pandas coming to the zoo, as well as some initial illustrations, back in April or May, so I had some preliminary visuals to work with in my head. But in terms of story, I basically started from scratch, turning it from a concept that was more appropriate for a baby board book into a proper picture book with some emotional complexity.

Once Sheri and I had finalised the text, she sent the story to Patrick so that he could illustrate the pages based on her proposed layout. There was again some back-and-forth between him and Sheri about the artwork, and once that was all finished, everything was sent to our designer Andy Koh for the final publication layout.

Is there anything in particular you hope kids (or, in fact, any readers) will take away from the book?

At its heart, the book is about the experience of migrating to a new home, and having to deal with a different environment and culture, as well as the inevitable homesickness. It’s very much based on my own journey from the US to Singapore back in 2007, and all of the culture shock that arose from relocating to a country very different from my own. Many of Cha Cha’s complaints in the book—Singapore is too hot, the food is weird, the people behave strangely—were my own at the time.

But what I hope that kids, as well as older readers, will take away from the book is that, even if moving to a new place is a disruptive and disorienting experience, it is possible to feel at home there. That homesickness can feel horrible and never-ending at first, but that it will dissipate, and things will get better. People are surprisingly resilient and adaptable, especially children.

Jason reads his book with his daughter Anya.

Did you learn anything interesting or amusing about pandas in the process of writing the book? Did you have to do a lot of research on them?

I did some research on pandas before I started writing, but because we were on such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked. Regardless, what I found was fascinating. Many pandas are quite solitary creatures, and prefer to have lots of time to themselves; as an introvert, this appealed to me greatly, and I projected much of this temperament into Cha Cha’s personality. They can also be playful and gregarious, and so I steered Bo Bo’s character in this direction to show the contrast between the two of them.

Also, even though pandas’ digestive systems can accommodate different types of foods, including fruits and even meat (they’re actually classified as carnivores), they choose to solely eat bamboo; and because bamboo can only give them limited amounts of energy, they have to eat massive amounts of it. This seems counter-intuitive to survival, but since pandas appear happy to hang out in the mountains of China, where bamboo is plentiful, there’s no need to vary their diet.

What’s next for Bo Bo and Cha Cha? Can you give us any hints about their next adventures in Singapore?

A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha is the first book in a planned series about the pandas’ new experiences, and the next three books have already been outlined; now I just need to write them! And that’s all I’ll reveal for now. :)

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A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha is available in all good bookstores. Check out the book page and view sample pages on our website. You can also visit author Jason Erik Lundberg’s website and illustrator Patrick Yee’s website to find out more about their work!