Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with 'Dragon Dancer'! - Interview with author Joyce Chng

Joyce Chng is a Chinese-Singaporean author who is passionate about diversity in publishing, particularly children's fiction, werewolves (especially when spotted in urban Singapore and space), and damn good writing, no matter where in the world it's written. 

She has also written a GORGEOUS tale for Lunar New Year with a touch of fantasy. 

Edit added Feb 5th: Take a look at the new book trailer below!

Isn't that stunning? But it's not just the illustrations that make this book special. The prose is so wonderful, reading aloud transforms the room you're in and takes you to a magical place. The illustrations support the story so well they seem to dance off the page. We love it here so much it's become a tradition to read it every Lunar New Year. 
Google doodle for 2019 Lunar New Year - produced by Elaine Zhu
This is actually part of an AI shadow puppet game you enjoy playing HERE.
The dragon, Shen Long (also the name of a spiritual dragon from Chinese mythology) is a character we all fell in love with instantly. The first time we read it, our youngest member spontaneously applauded at the end of the book! Now, older, he still looks forward to it, and requests multiple read-throughs, asking about all the various aspects of Lunar New Year traditions and what they mean, so we are doubly thrilled to be able to ask Joyce a few of his questions on celebrating Lunar New Year in Singapore, and add some questions of our own about her fairy and folktale influences and loves.

Note: all the illustrations for 'Dragon Dancer are by the amazing French artist Jeremy Pailler. You can find more of his work at his website HERE. In the meantime, enjoy a sampling of his work through this interview with the very gracious Joyce Chng.

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Thank you so much for taking time out of your celebrating to talk about 'Dragon Dancer' today Joyce.
JC: Thank you! I am honored to have this opportunity to talk about Dragon Dancer and Shen Long. :)

OUAB: Your writing is very atmospheric and truly dances through the descriptions and story. Having a strong dance background (albeit a different discipline), we were impressed by how much movement you evoked through your text! What was your inspiration? Have you ever been a lion dancer or apprenticed as one? (Could we have caught you acting out the movements as you wrote the text?) 
JC: I love lion and dragon dances. No, I am not a lion dancer nor was I apprenticed under a sifu. I just love the art form and the martial art behind it. I also watch a lot of lion and dragon dances. So I have theoretical knowledge, hehe. :)

OUAB: Is there a Chinese folktale or legend that the sky dragon, Shen Long, is based on?
JC: I don't know if there is a Chinese folklore or legend. But Chinese dragons are known to be benevolent and often are harbingers of great news. 
OUAB: Does Shen Long and Yao's dance describe a similar ritual to that which traditional lion dancers are enacting (seen more often in Western cities than the long dragon performance), or is it unique to dragon dances? (Do dragons also eat lettuces?)
JC: I think the dragon dance has its ritual though it overlaps with the lion dance. The dotting of the eyes symbolizes waking the dragon or lion. (They don't eat lettuce!)

OUAB: What else is included in the book (in words or illustrations) that represents other important cultural customs of a Lunar New Year celebration that people not familiar with the culture and symbolism would miss?
JC: The importance of family and the continuation of tradition. The mention of Yao's granddad. It's during Lunar New Year we also honour our elders (grandparents and parents).
OUAB: What Chinese fairy tales do you wish were better known around the world? (Any you're planning on retelling at some point? Hint, hint!)
JC: Chang' E flying to the moon. (Hopefully... One day...)

OUAB: What is your take on POC authors retelling popular fairy tales, such as Goldilocks, with a (for example) "Chinese twist"? 
JC: I think that's perfectly fine and awesome. That as POC and non-white folk, we view such tales with our own lens and perspectives. 
"I believe mythology and folklore gives us the space to re-myth or re-tell the story in our own terms."  Joyce Chng
OUAB: Apart from buying (and therefore supporting) tales retold by POC authors,  and reading them to diverse groups of kids, how do you suggest folk without an Asian heritage, who dearly love Chinese fairy tales and folktales can help tell and spread these tales? Any do's or don't's?
JC: Ah. I am grateful for the enormous appreciation and respect for Chinese fairy tales. Signal boost and highlight POC telling these stories. Let them tell them. And many of us have grown up in diverse backgrounds (many of us hail from the diaspora). So we bring many perspectives to the table.
OUAB: Are you ready for a lightning round - or should we call it a firecracker round - of questions?
JC: Yes please

OK - Go!

Two of your favorite folktales and/or fairy tales?  Chang'Er flying to the moon. Yang women generals.

Two favorite fairy tales/ folktales from any other culture?  The Firebird. The Little Mermaid.

Favorite Lunar New Year food?  Peng cai.

Favorite Lunar New Year custom?  Collecting red packets.

Favorite dragon ever? (After Shen Long of course!)  Draco from Dragonheart.

And... time!
Wow. What a lot of awesome insight you've given us here! 
Thank you so much for being with us today Joyce. 
Wishing you good luck, continuing success in your publishing and health for you and your family in the New Year!
~ * * * * * * * * ~

And readers, if you're wondering what any of these answers are referring to, let us wish you good google-fu as you do a little digging and discover for yourself. ;)
JUST A FEW OF MANY GLOWING REVIEWS:“A visually lush and stunning selection that is textually atmospheric and evocative. A fresh take on one of the most iconic symbols of Lunar New Year. Pailler’s intricate watercolor illustrations truly stand out. They gorgeously complement and elevate the text as Yao and the dragon slither and dance across page spreads and make striking use of white space. – Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA, for School Library Journal 
‘This is a book that celebrates the power of the imagination and the traditions of another culture. The illustrations waft darkly across the page, never revealing the whole picture but disclosing more the longer you look. The language is evocative and rich; it is a great book to read aloud. Together the illustrations and words compliment each other beautifully creating a dreamlike story that would also be an excellent educational springboard for exploring New Year festivities.’ – Seven StoriesNational Centre for Children’s Books 
‘I burst into tears the first time I read it, both when Yao and Shen Long triumph over bad luck, and when Shen Long, as both ancient sky dragon and grandfather, expresses his pride in Yao’s dance. This is exactly the kind of story that I wish I had been able to read to my children, but it’s just as powerful to me as an adult.’ – Jen Zink, Hugo award-winning podcast The Skiffy and Fanty Show 
‘Dragon Dancer is a gorgeous book that draws on ancestry, legend, and tradition for Lunar New Year reading. The text pulses with the energy of the dragon dance, the art coming alive from the page as the dragon writhes, corkscrews, and spins away misfortune and welcomes in prosperity. The music in the story urges dragon and dancer on, and draws the reader into the narrative: you can feel the drums pounding, the cymbals clashing, the crowds cheering. A note from the author provides a bit of personal experience of the New Year celebration. This one’s a definite purchase for my holiday collection.’ – Mom Read It
'Dragon Dancer' is available through many online retailers. We suggest you buy your local library a copy and donate it to be read for the next Lunar New Year!
Joyce Chng is also one of the editors of a unique collection of stories, titled 'The Sea Is Ours - Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia' (edited by Jaimee Goh and Joyce Chng). It's on our 'to read' list. Here's the description:
In The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, technological wonder merges with the everyday: children upgrade their fighting spiders with armour and toymakers create punchcard-driven marionettes. The fantastic has always been part of our landscape: large fish lumber across the skies, aswang represent diwata to faraway diplomats, boat people find a new home on the edge of a different dimension. Technology and tradition meld as the people adapt to the changing forces of their world.Steampunk takes on Southeast Asia in this anthology, infused with the spirits of its diverse peoples, legends, and geography. Delving into local alternate histories, we will introduce you to a dynamic steampunk world quite different from the one you may be familiar with.
You can find Joyce Chng in the following places around the web:
Twitter (most days!)


  1. This looks like an amazing book! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Interesting interview! I hope that in the future the author will become very popular and can be found on sites like this one https://bookkooks.com/