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page spread from the YA novel Lunar New Year Love Story
Maria Salvadore
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Maria Salvadore

Starting the New Year Right

When authors share parts of themselves through books and conversation, it opens the door to empathy and understanding.

I’ve always known that there is power in books, but when I heard two authors in conversation with another author about their new book, I became even more aware of their power.

Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham (opens in a new window), coauthors of Lunar New Year Love Story (opens in a new window) (First Second) were in conversation with Ellen Oh (opens in a new window), author and cofounder of We Need Diverse Books (opens in a new window) at the DC-based independent bookstore, Politics and Prose.

Lunar New Year Love Story is a rom-com that is funny, thoughtful, touching, and thoroughly engaging — plus it depicts the diversity within a diverse community.

It begins with Valentina, a Vietnamese American teen whose romantic ideas become jaded in high school when her handmade valentines are mocked. Her invisible friend, an adorable cupid she calls Saint V, is replaced by a truly creepy spirit, Saint Valentine. This new iteration reflects her view of her luck in love — simply not good. Her journey is a gradual one, filled with lively secondary characters of all ages and backgrounds as well as some totally relatable moments of romantic angst and just plain fun.

Expressive illustrations combine with lively language to present a host of fascinating characters including traditional lion dancing. Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese traditions come together to present a universal story set in Asian culture.

What was perhaps most interesting about the discussion that evening, was the audience and the questions they asked; questions that went beyond the process of bookmaking.

Gene and LeUyen were asked what their parents thought of the book. They were asked for parenting advice. One question asked them which character they most resembled.

One young Asian woman said she wished she had had a book like this when she was young. But it’s never too late really. After all, as C.S. Lewis said (and forgive me, I’m paraphrasing here), a story that is enjoyed only by young readers is just not a good story.

As long as authors continue share part of themselves through books and conversation, the opportunity is there for pleasure, for empathy, and to build experiences. And isn’t that a great way to start a new year?

(Ellen’s latest book, The Colliding Worlds of Mina Lee (opens in a new window) (Crown), is a fine read, too, and not to be missed!)

About the Author

Reading Rockets’ children’s literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids’ books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.