Interview with Kat Zhang + Giveaway

Everyone, please welcome Kat Zhang to Rich in Color! Kat is an author of young adult, middle grade, and pictures books. Her newest book, THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE, came out just a little while ago:

Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together–one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.

We’re excited to have Kat stop by and to ask her questions about THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE. Once you’ve finished reading the interview, be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of the book!


Tell us more about the development of Mia. What do you hope she means to readers?

First off, thanks of much for having me on Rich In Color! I’m so happy to be here talking about THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE 🙂

As for Mia–it’s always hard for me to talk about “developing” my characters, because it usually feels like they’re revealing themselves to me, rather than being characters that I have to make up. From the first few pages of the first draft, I knew that Mia was going to be a dreamer, a lover of history and fantasy, someone with her head up in the clouds. I knew, too, that as much as she liked these things about herself, they also made her feel inadequate next to her high-achieving mother and older brother. The rest of Mia’s quirks and traits built from these core elements of her personality.

I think there are a lot of kids like Mia, but the world eventually pushes them to change, to be more sensible and realistic and “Adult.” Of course some growing up is inevitable, and maturity is important–but I hope readers of RIDDLE find some encouragement in how it’s Mia’s fantastical, dreamer nature that helps her solve problems no one else can.

Why did you decide to write a family-based story? What importance does family have in the book?

I set RIDDLE during a family trip to China in part because similar trips were a cornerstone of my own childhood. Those summers were all about family for me–not only was I spending a whole lot of time with my parents, but I was seeing all this extended family that I usually didn’t interact with at all. And that’s on top of all the stories about my parents I’d hear, all the old pictures and places I got to see.

Considering the roots of the story, it only made sense to bind RIDDLE with themes of family and belonging. Underneath the treasure-hunt plot, RIDDLE is at its heart a story about Mia coming to terms with the various members of her family, and discovering new aspects of them she never appreciated before.

What was your research process like for the legend and cultural/historical landmarks in The Emperor’s Riddle? Tell us about some of your favorite discoveries.

The research for each of the riddle/clue landmarks was actually pretty extensive, but also a lot of fun! I wanted to make sure I touched on a variety of places, but also used places that were old enough to have realistically been around back when the riddle was created.

My mother is actually from the Fuzhou area originally, so I’m pretty excited about actually visiting these locales in the future. I’d especially like to see the “Three Lanes and Seven Alleys” area Mia and her family visits. It seems really neat!

What have been the most challenging aspects of writing The Emperor’s Riddle? The most rewarding?

The logistics of the riddle was probably the trickiest part–just making sure that everything came together correctly, and stayed as historically accurate as possible, while still being exciting and fun. It was incredibly rewarding for me to get to delve into Mia’s travels, the cool things she sees, and to hear that readers have had fun taking this journey around Fuzhou with her.

I see that you have another middle grade book and a picture book on the horizon. What can you tell us about them? Are there any other projects you’re working on right now?

Yes! My next middle grade is called THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS. It’s about a girl named Sophia, whose mother died when she was six years old. However, that’s not how she remembers it–not always. You see, even after her mother’s death, Sophia kept accruing new “Memories” of her mother, memories of things that never actually happened… Now she’s on a quest to make these “Memories” come true, to change the fabric of her world so her mother never died.

AMY WU & THE PERFECT BAO is my first picture book, and it’s about a little girl on a quest to make the world’s most perfect bao 😉

I’m incredibly excited for them both!

What 2017 books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to reading? Which ones would you recommend to our followers?

I recently got copies of two other books my editor worked on this past year: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and AMINA’S VOICE. I haven’t gotten the chance to read them yet, unfortunately–the last few months have been pretty hectic–but I’ve heard really great things!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about The Emperor’s Riddle or your other work?

Only that I’m so thrilled they’re going to be out there, and I really hope they give kids the chance to see him or herself reflected in the novels they read.


Kat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.

You can reach her at www.katzhangwriter.com, @KatZhang (twitter), or @KatZhangWriter (instagram).


Kat has generously offered a copy of THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE to one of our readers! Enter the giveaway by using the Rafflecopter widget below. The giveaway is only open to people with U.S. mailing addresses. It will end at midnight Eastern time on July 17th.

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Review & Giveaway: The Long Run

Title: The Long Run

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Genres: Contemporary

Pages: 114 pages

Publisher: 7th Generation

Review Copy: Book received from publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: “You are useless, kid. Useless. Why do I have to take care of you? You just hold me back. Useless.”

Travis put his hand on his stomach. He felt the bruise from his father’s blow, but what his father had said hurt more.

Useless.

I’m not useless. I can run. That’s one thing I can do.

“I’m tired of being afraid,” Travis said. He said it softly. He said it to himself.

I can’t stay here, Travis thought. The thought surprised him. But how can I leave my father? Then another thought hit him. It hit him harder than his father’s drunken fists. I have to leave. I have to run. Not tomorrow. Now!

Follow Travis Hawk on a cross-country trek as he escapes a world of brutality and uncertainty and puts his trust, and even his very life, in the hands of total strangers. Travis’s story is one of struggle, survival, risk and resilience, navigating a solo journey of hundreds of miles to seek a safe haven far from the demons of his past.

Review: Before I talk about The Long Run, I want to mention what the 7th Generation PathFinder novels are. The PathFinder novels are all written by Native authors, feature Native teens, and are contemporary or historical fiction. Additionally, the PathFinder novels are designed to engage teens with low reading levels (the books are all written at a 2.5 to 4.5 reading level) who want fast-paced plots and culturally accurate stories. You can find the entire PathFinder catalog here.

The Long Run is a straightforward adventure story, focused on Travis Hawk as he makes the fateful decision to leave his father and the Seattle shelter they live in and travel to his grandparents in Maine. It is easy to empathize with Travis and his sudden decision to run away before his father can wake up. His journey is a hard one (anti-Native racism, lack of money, harrowing encounters), but it is also filled with many uplifting moments and good people. From the man on the bus who shares his food with Travis to the people who pay him for odd jobs so he can continue with his journey, there is a wealth of kindness in this story, too.

As Travis crosses the country, the reader learns more about him and his past while also learning about the people who have stepped in to help him. He meets a wide cross-section of humanity, and the people he spends time with all have their own stories to explore. In fact, I wished the novel were a little longer so Travis could meet more people and so we could learn more about him. The episodic nature of the book generally works well, though it feels a little choppy on occasion.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a teacher looking to diversify a middle or high school classroom library. The Long Run would be a great book to pass on to any teens who like adventure stories and also have lower reading levels.

Giveaway

This giveaway is open to U.S. teachers only. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. One copy of The Long Run is available. The giveaway ends on June 16, 2017.
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4th Anniversary Giveaway

Today is our 4th Anniversary! I can’t believe it has been so long already, but I’m thrilled that we’re still around and still doing our best to read, review, and promote young adult books by and/or about people of color and people from First/Native Nations. We’re excited to celebrate by giving away fifteen different prizes, many of which you’ve probably already seen featured on our site.

We’re giving away copies of An Ember in the Ashes + A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres, History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia, Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith, Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid, Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook by Brenden Fletcher, James Tynion IV, and Rafael Albuquerque, Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields, The Hate U Give by by Angie Thomas, The Tankborn Trilogy by Karen Sandler, and Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. We also have two Winner’s Choice prizes up for grabs, too!

This giveaway is only eligible to those with U.S. mailing addresses. The giveaway ends on March 31st at midnight Eastern time.

Thanks so much to all of you for supporting us here at Rich in Color. Have a wonderful week!

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Book Discussion and Giveaway

wish door

In August we announced our September book discussion. We’re reading A Wish After Midnight and the sequel The Door at the Crossroads right now and will post a group discussion about both books near the end of September. These are fascinating books and we’d love for others to be involved in the discussion. If you’re reading along, please join us by tweeting about the books using the hashtag #Zettasbooks. If you don’t use Twitter, feel free to comment on any of the posts here related to this specific book discussion. We’ve used the tag Zettasbooks with our posts.

Zetta Elliott was generous enough to provide three copies of The Door at the Crossroads to be used in a giveaway. Please enter below if you would like to win a copy.

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Interview with Lita Hooper

Everyone, please welcome Lita Hooper to Rich in Color! Lita’s novel, Running Away to Home, is out today. Running Away to Home focuses on a pair of twin sisters and their father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

rath-coverHow do you find your way home when your home no longer exists? For 17-year old twin sisters Sammie and Ronnie and their father, Willis, the answer to that question becomes a life raft when they are displaced after Hurricane Katrina.

Identity….Fear….Family

Running Away to Home, a YA verse novel, tells the story of two brave sisters, a repentant father, and the amazing triumphant spirit of familial love.

Loss.…Memory….Family

After leaving New Orleans for Atlanta, Ronnie and Sammie are separated and find themselves living in different parts of the city. Each sister is lured by false promises of love and security as they initially believe the people they encounter.

Love….Change….Family

As a YA verse novel, this story relies on poetry to express the intimacy of sisterhood and the triumphant spirit of its characters. Older YA readers will be moved by this family’s journey in the wake of one of the most memorable historical events our nation has experienced.

Spirit….Strength….Family

Today, Lita has stopped by to talk about Running Away to Home and to give away five copies to our readers! The giveaway is open to those with U.S. mailing addresses. Don’t forget to enter the drawing at the end of the interview!


What drew you to write about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Why did you decide to write about it in verse?

I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion when it happened. The thought of being separated from family members is really devastating to me, so as I watched the media coverage on television, that’s all I could think about. How could people find one another? This is has happened to the black family throughout history. During Reconstruction, newly freed black men and women sought family members throughout the South. During the Great Migration, families were torn apart by a need to find employment in the North. I wanted to give voice to this experience and because I am primarily a poet, verse seemed natural. I like persona poems, so this project fit nicely with what I was already doing.

Tell us more about Sammy, Ronnie, and their relationship with each other and their father.

Well, the girls are really interesting to me because I’ve always been fascinated by twins. I thought about how a teenager would feel during this really emotional time and how he or she would deal with the trauma of losing a home and being displaced. That’s when I decided to give to very different perspectives…to work with twin protagonists. I think the girls are very strong but they don’t know how strong they are until the storm changes their lives. I think they’re both very vulnerable but in different ways. Sammie is very simplistic in the way she approaches her survival. She has something to prove to her sister and father, so she takes advantage of being displaced to become the “strong” twin. Ronnie needs to be cared for, something she has longed for since her mother died. She loves her family but doesn’t know how to put herself first. The girls love their father, but when the storm hits, the family was really dysfunctional. The storm changes everything. Literally.

The search for home and family is an essential part of RATH. Why were you excited about these themes?

“Home” has a broad meaning, and I was interested in delving into the layers….I wanted to play around with the idea of running away from one thing in order to find oneself back home. Teenagers always run away from home in YA books. I was interested in creating characters who wanted to return. Being home was so much more than just being in their home town. It was reconnecting with family and fully understanding how fortunate they were. It was about trusting the voice inside, even when others doubted them, and being guided back to where they belonged. I find the idea of family and geographic location interesting because I have always wanted to move and live in a variety of places. Even as a child, I wanted to relocate every few years, but my friends always thought that was odd. In a way, this book is a personal exploration of why traveling and relocating are important to me.

What are you proudest of in RATH? What did you learn while writing it?

I’m proud that I finished my first YA verse novel! The genre is really exciting to me. I never saw myself entering this space, but after reading Make Lemonade by Virginia Wolff, I was hooked. I have been a poet for many years, but I found that book when putting together a list of books for my son’s homeschool reading assignments. Boy, that was a game changer. So RATH is always going to be special to me because it represents my first attempt at YA and at the verse novel.

Are there any other novels in verse that you would recommend to a YA audience? Do you have any recommendations for teens who are looking to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath?

I like the entire series by Wolff (Make Lemonade, True Believer and This Full House). I also really love the character-driven Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (a classic verse novel), and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s beautiful simplicity in The Red Pencil. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is just amazing and so important given the times we are in, and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is filled with gorgeous verse. I would recommend teens watch Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts. It’s a documentary about Katrina. The footage and interviews are amazing though heartbreaking.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or that have already come out this year?

I’m planning to read Erin Schneider’s Summer of Sloane, Aditi Khorana’s Mirror in the Sky, and Mia Garcia’s Even if the Sky Falls. So many great books!


Thank you, Lita! If you like what you’ve heard about Running Away to Home, you can now enter to win a copy of the book. Only those with U.S. mailing addresses are eligible for this drawing.

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lita_hooper
Lita Hooper is a poet and YA author whose young characters are challenged but triumphant in the wake of historic events. Her work has been published in various journals, magazines, and online publications. She is the author of Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Willow Books). When she’s not writing, taking pictures, or traveling, she teaches writing and designs online courses.

 

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