Today, I’m thrilled to welcome author Sylvia Chen to the blog to talk about her upcoming picture book Tricky Chopsticks (to be released by Atheneum on March 2024) and to discuss her PB Study Buddy project, which is a wonderful resource of mentor text analysis.
So, let’s dive into the book interview first, shall we?
About Tricky Chopsticks:
TRICKY CHOPSTICKS is a humorous picture book about a girl named Jenny Chow who has the hardest time getting the hang of chopsticks, but uses persistence and STEAM-thinking to try to single-handedly master them for good. Filled with fun read-out-loud onomatopoeia and entertaining chopsticks challenges—not to mention the added pressure of a competitive cousin and a chopsticks-savvy little sister—TRICKY CHOPSTICKS will appeal to those who have achieved the momentous milestone of chopsticks mastery, as well as wobbly chopsticks hopefuls who can relate to Jenny’s harrowing chopsticks mishaps.
M. Sylvia, can you share what inspired you to write this story?
S. Late one night (around 2am!), I was mulling over what next picture book I could write which had some cultural tie-in but with a humorous angle, and somehow the title TRICKY CHOPSTICKS came to mind. After a quick search to make sure a picture book with this title didn’t already exist (it didn’t, to my great shock and relief!), I started drafting a story immediately.
M. That’s amazing! This shows that when inspiration strikes you really have to be ready for it. Can you tell us how did your book go from idea to publication?
S. At the time, I knew my TRICKY CHOPSTICKS manuscript was my strongest work overall, and I initially planned to submit it to that year’s #PBParty contest. However, I realized that I had already queried this manuscript to a lot of the participating agents, so I intensely revised another story I thought could do well in #PBParty and fortunately it made the finalist showcase which ultimately led to the start of my agent relationship with Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Birch Path Literary. She provided some strategic guidance which resulted in some revision work before we went on submission with TRICKY CHOPSTICKS. After a couple months, we received indication of interest with a request for revision from my editor. I was able to chat with my editor before starting on the revision which was very helpful to understand the considerations at hand. Luckily, I was able to revise fairly quickly and my editor loved the changes made and offered from there! There weren’t any major revisions after, but we worked on some edits to tighten up the text and ending as well as some back-and-forth for copyedits. It was exciting to receive F&Gs, and I can’t wait to hold the official, physical TRICKY CHOPSTICKS book soon!
M. Holding your book in your hands is indeed a wonderful experience. Sylvia, why do you think this book will be appealing for kids and teachers? What message do you hope they’ll take away?
S. Whether kids and teachers are comfortable using chopsticks or not, I think there is a pretty universal theme of attempting to pick up a new skill and not necessarily mastering it right away. I hope that readers of any age will recognize how sometimes it takes a lot of effort and frustration to work through a tricky issue, and it is okay to experience those tough emotions and even setbacks. Oftentimes it is possible to overcome obstacles through persistence and even creative tactics, and when those breakthroughs happen, it can be very exhilarating and gratifying.
M. That’s such a positive message for children nowadays! Any new projects you’re currently working on? What comes next for you as an author?
S. I’m always working on new creative ideas and revising my next manuscript for submission. I really hope to have any sort of good news to share sooner than later!
M. Best of luck with being able to share some great news soon, Sylvia! Now, I want to discuss your PB Study Buddy initiative, which in my opinion is a wonderful resource for writers, teachers, and librarians and it’s also FREE!
M. Before we jump to the second part of our interview, I want to share a bit about PB Study Buddy:
Launched in late 2022, #PBStudyBuddy is a cross-social media initiative which features amazing picture book creators and mentor texts using a structured analysis format.
Each in-depth review and feature presents:
Emoji Arc: Emotions felt while reading the book, plotted using emojis on the chart with Pages for the X axis and Tension/Intensity for the Y axis. May vary by reader.
Standouts: Favorites for Phrase, Page Turn Text, and Art Details.
Starry Book Marks: Notable writing techniques used.
Top-of-Mind Book Hooks: Top themes, takeaways, and/or reasons for readers to love this book.
Fast Facts: Quick at-a-glance info for the Publication Year, Author/Illustrator Name(s), Imprint/Publisher, Word Count (excluding text in art + backmatter), and other book details such as backmatter.
M. Sylvia, what inspired you to create Picture Book Study Buddy? How/when did you start?
S. In late 2022, I started getting frustrated with myself because I had a good number of reviews I intended to write for some mentor texts, but kept getting sidetracked by other to-dos and life. I started thinking how maybe I could create fun graphics to show what I love about these picture books. Then I wondered if there was a good way to share the visual review online on social media, and thought the hashtag #PBStudyBuddy was fun and easy to remember. When I played around with graphics in Canva, that helped me to come up with an analysis structure I felt would be useful not just for other fellow #kidlit creators but teachers and librarians too. The overall intent is to lift up and celebrate amazing #kidlit creators, with an extra eye towards featuring more BIPOC-created books. I also figured I could then use these visual graphics to create written reviews for both those original past-due reviews plus future ones. Ironically, I still get sidetracked posting these reviews on Goodreads/etc, but I usually catch up in batches when the guilt factor or some other motivator finally gets me back on track.
M. How did you come up with the different elements you study in each book? Which one is more fun for you?
S. When I was considering the structure for #PBStudyBuddy, I thought about what I usually tend to focus on when studying mentor texts, how to celebrate various ways each picture book was well-crafted, and which elements would apply to any book featured regardless of type (humorous, more serious, fiction vs. non-fiction, etc.). I also wanted to make sure the way I presented the featured reviews was unique since there are already a lot of wonderful reviewers, bloggers, and content creators supporting the #kidlit community. In addition, I didn’t want to give “too much” of the book away, so I think the quoted lines and top-line notes I include are substantial enough to pique interest and hopefully lead to these featured books getting checked out further. The graphic that entertains me the most is hands-down the Emoji Arc! It takes a while to prepare, but I love how it’s so fun visually yet also gives insight into how readers may experience the book emotionally.
M. Here you can see a complete PB Study Buddy of Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang.
M. I love your PB studies, Sylvia! They are so complete and provide an excellent analysis of a book from different perspectives. My favorite graphics are the Emoji Arc and the Standouts. What is your favorite thing about PB Study Buddy?
S. I absolutely love hearing when a #PBStudyBuddy feature has proved useful for a fellow creator, and it’s always exciting when an author/illustrator gets delightfully surprised when the feature posts!
M. I bet that’s a delightful surprise! Can you share what has been the most challenging and most rewarding part of having Study Buddy?
S. PB Study buddy has given me an incredible, creative way to help lift up and connect with kidlit creators. I love how it even led to an epic #BookBoost 5-day-themed giveaway event in May 2023 where we had over 100+ giveaways by 80+ amazing donors and 34 PB promo groups and 450+ participants across Twitter and Instagram, as well as a #GreatPBGiveaway event in August 2023 providing 45 previously featured picture books to teachers and librarians. The most challenging part of running #PBStudyBuddy is my time management. Besides the time spent browsing/reading/considering which books to buy, each picture book feature takes at least 2-3 hours to prepare and post (analyzing, creating and editing the graphics, crafting the social media text and tagging and alt text for multiple platforms), plus actively responding to any engagement after posting the features. Hosting the #BookBoost and #GreatPBGiveaway events also took a ton of time (and super-intense spreadsheeting!), but I thought the outcomes were so enjoyable and beneficial—especially the #BookBoost since it gave a lot more opportunities for our #kidlit community to lift up a lot more fantastic picture books besides what I’m able to feature through #PBStudyBuddy. I hope to optimize whichever event I’m able to host again this year!
M. What plans do you have for PB Study Buddy in the future?
S. I’m planning to continue the regular posting of #PBStudyBuddy features as time allows, and I hope to host the huge #BookBoost event in May 2024 for its second year. This will be in collaboration with PB promo groups again since that’s the most effective way for me to reach as many interested PB creators as possible via their PB promo groups. If anyone recently started a PB promo group and you think your group may not be on my radar yet (see https://www.sylviaichen.com/resources for the list I try to keep up-to-date), please feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in joining in on the #BookBoost event fun!
M. Sylvia, thank you for such a wonderful double chat today. I loved learning more about your soon to be published book and PB Study Buddy. I wish you all the best with both projects and many others that may come your way soon. Please keep us posted of your news.
S. Mariana, thank you so very much for taking the time to feature me on your blog. I hope readers find this deep-dive useful and would love it if you can all check out TRICKY CHOPSTICKS and the #PBStudyBuddy #Giveayay! celebrating the 100th feature. I wish you all the publishing-best too!
M. Congratulations again, Sylvia! Readers, be sure to check out all the details for this on going and incredible GIVEAYAY 🎉 🥳 in Sylvia’s social media (included below). Thanks!
A New Yorker now living in the Seattle area with her husband and two sons, Sylvia Chen is an Asian American children’s book author represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Birch Path Literary. Sylvia is a member of SCBWI and 12×12, a #PBParty judge since 2022, a 2022 and 2023 #PBRisingStars mentor, and the creator of #PBStudyBuddy, which features amazing picture book mentor texts (plus occasional #Kidlit giveaways) on social media for fellow creators, teachers, and librarians. Ever so excited about her upcoming debut picture book TRICKY CHOPSTICKS (March 19, 2024; Atheneum/Simon & Schuster; illustrated by Fanny Liem), Sylvia loves crafting picture books that spark kids’ interest in STEAM and creative thinking. She often stays up late into the night puzzling away with wordplay and working on quirky ideas.
Thanks for reading,
Cover photo by Pixabay.