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The Best of Both Worlds, a guest post by Maisie Chan

My debut novel Danny Chung Sums It Up opens with Danny stealth drawing a Druckon – a mutant duck with a Chinese dragon’s head. Danny thinks it’s the “best of both worlds.” I didn’t realize this duality was a theme of the book until someone else pointed it out. There is a sense throughout the book of belonging in two different spaces for diasporic heritage children such as Danny. And indeed for myself, a British Chinese writer living as someone who looks Asian, in a country where there you don’t see Asians on TV or in books.

The title of my novel is a little play on words. Danny Chung doesn’t think he is good at math, sums are not his thing and he has some things to say about it all. He is definitely not the model minority stereotype that is often seen of Asian kids: geeky, glasses wearing, uncool…Danny is really cool (he just doesn’t realize it yet), he draws fantastic comics and has a fantastic imagination.

Being universal versus being specific

When writing the novel, I had two things in the back of my mind. Firstly, I wanted any young reader to relate to Danny no matter what gender they were, what ethnicity or nationality. Danny is a child who wants to be his own person and not always bow to the expectations of his parents or wider society. The universal themes of the book could be about many children that are in school navigating friendships and family life. Secondly, I wanted to center a British Chinese family rather than have just one token British Chinese boy. There are little details I put into the book such as the Chinese characters always taking their shoes off, the fight to pay the restaurant bill and many more things that I have witnessed between Chinese families around the world. Danny is quick to tell us that all Chinese people are not the same. Even though the book brings forth microaggressions as a normal occurrence, and particular Chinese family ways of thinking in the ‘Chinese Way’ – the novel really sets out to debunk and question ideas that there is only one kind of Chinese person.

Nai Nai is based on my friend’s grandmother who arrived in my hometown of Birmingham, U.K. when she was aged 92. She was short, very wrinkly, and full of life even at that age. She was strong and very brave in my eyes for making such a trip so late in her life. Nai Nai was also based on my own grandmother Wai Ping who I met in my late 20s. I used to stay at her house overnight so we could get to know each other but we couldn’t speak each other’s language, I didn’t speak Cantonese and her English was fairly limited. However, we could communicate. I myself moved to a country where I couldn’t speak the language, I arrived in Taipei during my mid-twenties and had to point to photographs of food to make myself understood. Again, that experience taught me that humans can get along, they can make friends with someone who is different from them. And this plays out when Nai Nai makes a best friend in Mrs. Cruikshanks. There is a sharing of culture and of emotion as the two ladies find out what the best of each other’s world is. Mrs. Cruikshanks sharing her love of bingo and Nai Nai sharing her exotic fruits. In today’s divisive society, I felt that a story such as this one was important. There are so many stories made up of fear of the ‘other,’ fear of the ‘foreign’ – a sense of them and us – I hope my novel usurps those notions that someone is better than anyone else.

My friend’s grandmother, who Nai Nai is based on.

I think my novel is also a timely book, as hate crimes against Asian Americans, and anyone who looks Chinese have increased massively. The linking of Covid-19 with sinophobia around the world has created and reimagined the idea of ‘otherness’ and ‘yellow peril’ – Danny Chung Sums It Up is a book about hope, about kindness and acceptance. Danny and his family experience joy and there are many moments of laughter and lightness in the book in a time that has been very heavy for many Asians around the world.

Stealth learning and entertaining at the same time

The best of both worlds for me means that I can tell a narrative centering a British Chinese family, however there is also a story that will educate but also entertain. Danny Chung has creativity as part of its heart. Danny’s love of drawing is integral to who he is, and the book has many of his drawings throughout. And as the title suggests there may be a smidgen of math too – the book has something for everyone! It has something for readers who are fond of math and for those who aren’t! I like to call it ‘stealth learning’ – in Danny Chung, the reader might learn about a family a little different to their own, or they may learn about an interesting math topic, or about some yummy food they’ve not heard of before.

I hope that when readers finish Danny Chung Sums It Up they feel a little more hopeful about humanity and perhaps about themselves.

Meet the author

Maisie Chan is a British Chinese author. She has written early reader books for Hachette and HarperCollins; a collection of fairy tales, myths, and legends in Stories From Around the World for Scholastic; as well as many stories for The Big Think, a well–being curriculum based around stories for elementary school children. She also started the group Bubble Tea Writers to support and encourage new British East and Southeast Asian writers in the UK. When Maisie isn’t writing, she enjoys yoga, dim sum, and singing really loud. She has lived in the U.K., U.S., and Taiwan. Originally from Birmingham, Maisie now lives with her family in Glasgow.

To learn more about author Maisie Chan, visit her website maisiechan.com or on social media via Twitter @maisiewrites and Instagram @maisiechanwrites.

About Danny Chung Sums It Up

A touching and funny middle-grade story about a boy whose life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother moves in

Eleven-year-old Danny’s life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother comes to live with his family in England. Things get worse when Danny finds out he’ll have to share his room with her, and she took the top bunk! At first, Danny is frustrated that he can’t communicate with her because she doesn’t speak English—and because he’s on the verge of failing math and Nai Nai was actually a math champion back in the day. It just feels like he and his grandmother have nothing in common. His parents insist that Danny help out, so when he’s left to look after Nai Nai, he leaves her at the bingo hall for the day to get her off his back. But he soon discovers that not everyone there is as welcoming as he expected . . .

Through the universal languages of math and art, Danny realizes he has more in common with his Nai Nai than he first thought. Filled with heart and humor, Danny Chung Sums It Up shows that traversing two cultures is possible and worth the effort, even if it’s not always easy.

ISBN-13: 9781419748219
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

Publisher’s description

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth—that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

american pandaI LOVED this book. It was on my list of books I’m most looking forward to this year and it totally delivered.

At only 17, Mei is a first-year pre-med student at MIT. Her Taiwanese immigrant parents should be proud of her. She should be excited to be in college and on the path to her career. Except her parents only sparingly dole out praise and Mei doesn’t actually want to be a doctor. Her debilitating fear of germs is one roadblock, sure, but it’s more that she just really has no interest in this career; she’d love to own a dance studio instead. But her parents pressure her and expect certain things. After all, all it took for her (now doctor) brother to be disowned was him falling in love with a Taiwanese-American woman who has endometriosis and may have trouble conceiving. Mei’s mother is endlessly critical of her (telling her that no man wants a panda—lazy, round, and silly—her body-shaming is incessant), micromanaging her life and making it clear that anything other than the plans her parents have laid out for her are unacceptable. Mei longs for freedom now that she’s in college, but it’s hard to achieve with your parents constantly checking in and criticizing.

 

 

Despite the pressures, Mei can’t help but live her own life, one that she has to keep secret from her judging parents. She dances, teaches dance, spends time doing things other than studying, shadows a doctor and HATES it, reconnects with her brother, and falls for the charismatic Darren Takahashi, a Japanese-American classmate. Keeping so many things secret is hard on Mei, who is struggling to figure out how to exist in multiple cultures, how to carve out her own life, and to figure out where her parents end and she begins. After years of convincing herself that what she wants doesn’t matter, that fulfilling her duties is what’s important (even if it makes her miserable), Mei begins to see there may be another path. But making her way along it won’t be easy.

 

Though the pacing was sometimes a little off (with extraneous scenes/characters that didn’t particularly move the story along), overall this was a fantastic read. Mei is a great character—funny, awkward, determined, and conflicted—and the plot of how to straddle cultures as a child of immigrants will appeal to many readers who can relate, as will the story of wanting to make your own choices but not being sure how to go about that. Mei’s voice is strong and determined, in spite of what her controlling parents have tried to impose. I loved seeing her begin to stand up for herself and surround herself with people who got to see who she truly was. I can’t wait to see more from Chao!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481499101
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/06/2018