A little treat for you before the month is over. Picture book author Natasha Yim is visiting to share a revision story about her newest book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. To me, writing picture books is about the hardest thing to do as a writer. I have personally failed at every attempt. They look deceptively easy, and I’m so impressed by anyone who writes them well. This book looks charming as could be, and if you’re looking for a diverse book for your children’s library, make sure you pick this one up.
As a children’s author of four published picture books and many articles for magazines, I’m no stranger to the revision process. Still, I could never have foreseen that my latest picture book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Jan. 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing) would take an arduous nine years to publication. Along this lengthy journey, the manuscript passed through the hands of four beta readers in a writing group (multiple times), five editors, marketing personnel (yes, they have significant input in whether a title is acquired or released), and two publishing houses who all had different visions, different perspectives on what the story did or did not need -- more Chinese-themed details, fewer details, more authentic setting, more American setting, and so on. At times, I felt like I was holding one of those old movie reels and the film was unraveling on the floor and coiling at my feet in one jumbled, messy heap.
The journey began about a dozen (or so) years ago, when I learned about fractured fairy tales at a writing conference. I was intrigued by the idea of re-writing a familiar tale from a different perspective. I played around with a few fairy tales, but something about the Goldilocks story had always stuck with me. Here was a little girl breaking and entering into the three bears’ home, destroying their stuff, and leaving a mess never to be heard from again. How rude! And what kind of message does this story give kids? I wanted to re-write it with a more compassionate protagonist and a more satisfying ending.
My first few attempts told the story from Papa Bear’s perspective (I believe it was called “Papa Bear’s Good Deed”). The story began from the moment Goldilocks ran away, leaving her hat behind, and Papa Bear’s journey to find Goldy and return the hat to her--and all the people he inadvertently frightened along the way (because he was a bear) even though he had set out to do a good deed. It went on for about 2,000 words. Yeah, not even close to publishable. And, it didn’t have the unique angle I was looking for or the resolution that I felt was missing from the original story.
Then, a title and a “what if” question popped into my head. What if Goldilocks wasn’t a little girl with blonde ringlets, but Chinese? I came up with a Chinese name that sounded phonetically similar to Goldilocks and hence, the first seeds of a story called “Go Dil Lok and the Three Chans” began to germinate. This was eventually changed to the easier to pronounce Goldy Luck (“Luck” serving the double purpose of being a Chinese last name as well as mirroring the theme of good luck in the story). But I wanted the book to be about more than just Goldy having a different ethnic background. I wanted the story to also offer some insights to Chinese traditions and culture. So, Goldy Luck began her fictional life in a skyrise apartment in Hong Kong (where I had spent my adolescent years), preparing to celebrate the biggest and most colorful Chinese festival of the year, Chinese New Year.
In an attempt to give the mundane porridge/chairs/beds a modern twist, earlier versions of the story included an aquarium (Goldy smudged the glass), an oriental rug (she spilled fish flakes all over it) and a computer game (Goldy beat Little Chan’s record). It also had a greatly detailed Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers. Ultimately, an editor wisely suggested I simplify the story and revert back to the original three bowls/chairs/bed structure.
Still, I wanted a slightly different spin. Enter my uncle’s massage chair and my parents’ Tempurpedic electric bed (as a writer, I never know what every day event or thing creeps into a story!). The really fun part was implanting the traditions and rituals of the New Year (receiving “lucky” red envelopes, eating turnip cakes) into the story and thinking up ways to make Goldy’s experiences more culturally relevant (“She felt like stuffing in a pork bun”, “The mattress felt as hard as a week-old almond cookie”.)
The transformation process was slow, gradual--and painstaking. But with each revision the story became tighter, the narrative arc more clearly defined, and I’m truly grateful for all the editorial hands that helped shaped the book. Picture books can appear deceptively simple because of their brevity, but like any story, it can take months, if not years, of hard work, slaving over the right story line, the right word choice.
But in the end, what better reward is there for a writer than seeing your name on the cover of a published book?
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
One Chinese New Year, Goldy Luck’s mother asks her to take a plate of turnip cakes to the neighbors. The Chans aren’t home, but that doesn’t stop Goldy from trying out their rice porridge, their chairs, and their beds—with disastrous results.
In this funny and festive retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Natasha Yim and Grace Zong introduce a plucky heroine who takes responsibility for her actions and makes a new friend (and a whole plate of turnip cakes!), just in time for Chinese New Year.
Includes back matter about Chinese New Year and a recipe for turnip cakes.
Where to get this lovely book:
Barnes and Noble
Penguin Random House
Natasha Yim is the author of four picture books: Otto’s Rainy Day (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000); Cixi, The Dragon Empress (Goosebottom Books, 2011); Sacajawea of the Shoshone (Goosebottom Books, 2012); and Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014), a Junior Library Guild selection. The paperback version of Goldy Luck will be released in December 2015. Her nonfiction articles have been published in the children’s magazines “Highlights for Children”, “Appleseeds” and “Faces” as well as various adult magazines. Natasha is also a playwright whose short plays have been performed in venues around Northern California, Los Angeles, and internationally in Australia, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Natasha’s upcoming picture book, The Rock Maiden—a re-envisioned folk tale from Hong Kong, will be released by Wisdom Tales Press in 2017. She is currently at work on revising another picture book and writing her middle grade novel.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.