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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Margaret Chiu Greanias, AMAH FARAWAY

Kylie is nervous about visiting her grandmother—her Amah—who lives SO FAR AWAY. When she and Mama finally go to Taipei, Kylie is shy with Amah. Even though they have spent time together in video chats, those aren't the same as real life. And in Taiwan, Kylie is at first uncomfortable with the less-familiar language, customs, culture, and food.


Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books (January 25, 2022)

Hi Margaret! First off, I have to say I’m blown away by your mirror structure! It’s hard enough to write a book—and now here you are making everything 1,000 times more difficult for yourself. Can you explain your process, and how you chose it? MCG: "In my opinion, writing in mirror structure is like writing in rhyme in one particular way--the story must drive the structure vs. the other way around. So importantly, I first defined what I wanted my story to be about, a loose plot, and the crucial midpoint moment.

Then, I wrote one sentence at a time by hand starting at the beginning (and end lol). I scribbled all over a notepad. This really was trial and error. I would change the words, I would change where the sentences were broken into lines, and I would read from top to bottom and bottom to top to see whether the narrative made sense.

To reduce the intimidation factor, it helped to break the story into scenes and tackle each scene individually.

I built the story one sentence at a time until I had a complete story. Even though I knew I was writing both halves of the story at the same time, it still felt surprising when I got to the midpoint and was able to read my story the whole way through for a complete story. I still remember the feeling of being amazed that it worked!"

Amazing! I'm so impressed. Have you seen the mirror structure in other picture books? Which ones do you most admire? "I've seen the mirror structure or some form of modified mirror structure in these fantastic books:

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias and Teagan White is about two sisters with opposite personalities enjoying wintertime activities in a true mirror structure book where the words themselves reverse at the mid-point.

Mirror Mirror, Echo Echo, and Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer and Josée Masse are themed compilations of reverso poems, a form created by Marilyn Singer. A reverso poem is one that can be read from top to bottom and in reverse with different narratives. The only change between regular read and reverse read is punctuation.

I'll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca and Sara Palacios is a story about an Indian American girl whose grandmother makes her feel at home during visit to India and how she returns the favor when her grandmother comes to visit her in America. Rajani uses a looser version of the mirror structure, so each visit is specifically Indian or American.

Are there other picture books you admire for their unconventional structure?

The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt and Jay Fleck tells dual parallel narratives of how a diamond is formed and how H. Tracy Hall became the inventor of a machine that makes diamonds.

The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of by Kirsten Williams Larson and Katherine Roy is another biography and tells the parallel narratives of how Cecilia Payne's curiosity and career develop with how a star is born.

The classic Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw highlights dual point-of-views and shows how two boys who live on opposite sides of the world, both culturally and physically, can be the best friends."

For those who love Amah Faraway, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy?

"I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne and Julia Kuo is a touching picture book about a girl who immigrates from Taiwan to America, leaving behind her beloved Popo. It's a picture book about being far away from the ones you love and what happens to that bond after the family immigrates."

What are some forthcoming books you’re most excited about? "This is Not My Home by Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh: Most immigration picture books are about children moving to America. But this one is about a child immigrating from America to Taiwan and how while she repeatedly insists that Taiwan is not her home in the beginning, she eventually decides to give it a chance and becomes comfortable with her new home.

Others that look terrific:

Maybe a Whale by Kirsten Pendreigh and Crystal Smith

The Fire of Stars by Kirsten Williams Larson and Katherine Roy

Dear Mr. G by Christine Evans and Gracey Zhang

The Boo Crew Needs You by Vicky Fang and Saoirse Lou

I Am An American by Darshana Khiani and Laura Freeman

I must also mention my own forthcoming books: Hooked on Books illustrated by Kristyna Litten coming out June 27, 2023 and How This Book Got Red illustrated by Melissa Iwai coming out October 1, 2023."

Who are some other writers you admire, with titles?

"Dane Liu: Friends Are Friends, Forever illustrated by Lynn Scurfield has a beautiful lyrical and sensory writing voice that makes you feel like you are there.

Pat Z. Miller: Most recently In Our Garden illustrated by Melissa Crowton and See You Someday Soon illustrated by Suzy Lee. All of Pat's books are so well-written whether they rhyme or not. I have been wowed by every one of her books.

Carrie Finison: Don't Hug Doug illustrated by Daniel Wiseman took a very didactic topic of consent and made it feel lighthearted and humorous while slyly teaching the reader."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and illustrated by Cátia Chien


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