With the publication of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Lisa Yee realized her lifelong dream of becoming an author. The winner of the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award, there are over 300,000 copies of MILLIE in print. Lisa’s second novel, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time won the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Book of the Year award, and was named an American Library Association Notable Book. Lisa was also named the 2007 Thurber House Children’s Author-in-Residence. Her third novel, So Totally Emily Ebers came out in 2007 and so did Good Luck, Ivy, an American Girl historical novel. She also has written Absolutely Maybe, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and the anthologies Geektastic and The Year We Missed My Birthday. She now has continued writing her American Girl books with the addition of Aloha Kanani and Good Job, Kanani. To find out more about this award-winning author, read her interview below!
1. What or who inspired you to become an author?
My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was to read. I LOVED books, and I still do!!! When I was about ten-years old I thought, “Hey, I want to be an author when I grow up.” However it wasn’t until after I graduated from college and had lots of other jobs that I decided to really giving writing books a try.
2. Did you have a mentor who helped you learn about writing stories?
I’ve always been lucky and had wonderful English teachers. They always encouraged my creative writing. Later, when I started publishing books, my editor, Arthur Levine was my mentor. He was also J.K. Rowling’s editor for the HARRY POTTER series. How cool is that???!!!
3. What was your first published book you wrote?
MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS was my debut novel. It was published in 2003. Since then, I’ve had nine more books come out, and several short stories.
4. How did you get it published? Did you have someone who helped you?
It was really hard to write my first book because I was working full-time, plus I’m a mom and a wife. But because I wanted to be an author so badly, I didn’t let that stop me. So I ended up writing really late at night when everyone was asleep. I read books about writing, and just kept going. Later, I sent in the first part of the book to Arthur Levine at Scholastic and he encouraged me to keep going . . . and I did.
5. What do you like most about writing?
Sometimes it’s hard to write. I’ll just sit and stare and nothing happens, and that can be so frustrating. But every now and then the words just flow and I feel I can write forever. It’s almost as if the characters are telling me what’s going to happen next to them. I like that.
6. Your latest American Girl book, Aloha, Kanani, is about sharing the “Aloha spirit.” What does that mean to you?
I’ve come across the “aloha spirit” during my many visits to Hawaii. It’s a way of life where friendliness, care and compassion are shared with others. Kanani embodies this in her books and in doing so, touches the lives of many others.
7. How did you come up with the idea for the book? Did you have any experiences like Kanani, the book’s main character, when you were growing up?
Well, I knew that the story would take place in Hawaii and that the girl would love animals. So I decided to look at some of the endangered animals in Hawaii. That led me to the Hawaiian monk seal – there are only 1200 of them left in the entire world. Many monk seals live in Kaua’i, so that’s where I set the story. I also wanted Kanani to be part of her community, so I gave her family a shave ice and sweet treats store. (Plus I have a sweet tooth!) From there, the story evolved to include misunderstandings between Kanani and her New York cousin, and then in the second book, between Kanani and her best friend. I know that when I was Kanani’s age, if I ever had a fight with my best friend it was devastating and I’d feel so alone. So this was how Kanani felt, too. I’ve learned through the years that it doesn’t help much if you mope around and feel sorry for yourself. Therefore, Kanani turned things around and tried to help others—and that included not only the monk seals, but some of her elderly friends as well.
8. In the book, Kanani and her cousin Rachel work together to help save a baby monk seal. At the end of the book, there are some stories about real life girls who are helping animals in their own communities. Where can kids find out about getting involved in helping animals in their communities?
Thank you for asking this! There are so many ways kids can get involved. You can call your local humane society and volunteer, or team up with other animal rescue agencies in your area. Plus, you can have fundraisers, like Kanani, and donate to well-deserving causes. And kids can also come up with more ideas on their own, like the real-life girls did in the end of ALOHA, KANANI.
9. What advice would you give kids who dream of becoming an author someday?
Read, read, read, write, read, write, and read some more. Becoming a good writer takes time and a lot of practice. So it’s best to have small goals, like writing a great sentence, rather then saying, “I am going to write a novel.” However, if you write enough of those great sentences, one day they may turn into a book!
10. What lesson do you hope kids will learn from reading your Kanani books?
I would hope that the readers will discover that you don’t have to live in Hawaii to embrace the “aloha spirit.” No matter where you are, you can make the world a better place by showing kindness and compassion to all.