Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Lorian Tu are the author and the illustrator of the new children's picture book The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round. Shang's other books include This Is Just a Test. Tu's other books include the forthcoming The Sunshine Squad.
Q for Wendy Shang: What inspired you to write The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round?
WS: My family and I had gone to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving, and he has this huge circular table with a lazy susan in the middle (which really should be given a more admiring name, like helpful susan).
As I was reminiscing about our dinner on the drive home, The Wheels on the Bus popped into my head, with new words! I used to be a library volunteer doing storytimes in preschools, and of course, this song is a standby.
Q for Lorian Tu: What inspired your creation of the illustrations for The Rice in the Pot?
LT: I tried to channel my own memories from dinners at my grandparents' house... I wanted to convey a sense-memory of each moment, dream-like almost. I used my family as a jumping-off point for the characters, especially my grandfather and his mother.
Q for Wendy Shang: What do you think Lorian's illustrations add to the book?
WS: I really can’t say enough about Lorian’s illustrations – they match the spirit of the book so perfectly – bright colors, joy and love just spring from every page!
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Lorian, who is Cuban-Chinese-Jewish, by the way, you’ll find that the illustrations match her personality!
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "This deceptively simple story artfully brings an authentic expression of family love." What do you think of that assessment?
WS: I appreciate that description very much! I think there are layers to the book – you can enjoy it as just the song, or you can enjoy looking at the family members and learning their names, or you can focus on the food.
The same review also says the book has “delectable onomatopoeia” which was a phrase I didn’t know I wanted in a book review, but I love it!
The back matter in the book has explanations for family terms and the foods in the story.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
WS: I hope that Chinese children will see themselves and their families in a joyful moment. I hope all children will see that families of all kinds share foods together!
I have a friend who shared this story with her preschool class, and then kids drew pictures of their own families sharing a meal, at tables of different shapes. It’s all about making connections, isn’t it? Lorian created an amazing worksheet to go with the story.
LT: That deep joy can be found in the smallest, most mundane moments, and that those are actually the best and most lasting moments in your life.
Q for Lorian Tu: What first got you interested in illustrating children's picture books?
LT: I spent so much time as a child just immersed in picture books. They were my world growing up. Once I did eventually grow up, I became a teacher and still used picture books almost daily.
Once I had kids of my own, and needed a more flexible schedule, I decided to start up my own artistic endeavors again (I was an art minor in college), and after a few hard-working years, some good timing and good luck, and very good friends later, I now get to illustrate picture books for a living!
Q: What are you working on now?
WS: I’m back to middle grade stories! I can’t say too much, but I’m very excited about this book, which explores themes of history and restorative justice.
LT: Chicken Soup for the Kids Soul picture books are coming out in September 2021, which I am super excited for and just finishing up now. My author-illustrated debut picture book, Family Song, will be out early in 2022!
Q: Anything else we should know?
WS: I’d love to give a shout out to the talented editor of this book, Rachel Matson. Editors are such unsung heroes in this business. Rachel really brought together the elements of this book into an amazing, unified whole!
Also, if you’d like a signed copy of this book, you can order from my delightful local bookstore, One More Page Books!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Wendy Shang.