Tuesday, April 10, 2007
An Interview With Rose Kent--Author Of Kimchi and Calamari
I am VERY excited about today's release of KIMCHI and CALAMARI by Rose Kent. I read and reviewed it earlier when I had received an advanced copy. As a member of the adoption community AND as a fan of great children's books, I can't say enough about this book.
I interviewed Rose to celebrate the publication of this book!
Franki: What inspired you to write Kimchi and Calamari?
Rose: My inspiration came wrapped in a diaper and drinking a bottle of soymilk, all the way from South Korea.
I'm referring to Connor, my third child, who we nicknamed Buddha Baba because of his plump cheeks and glowing smile. Adopting Connor was a true joy and believe me that's how I felt. But I also realized early on that it also involved a primal loss for him. I remember holding him in my arms and worrying about how he would cope later, especially during puberty, a natural time for such reflection. I knew I couldn't spare him from some hurt, but I wanted him to know that I "got it"- that who he was as a person didn't begin the moment he arrived in America.
So while Joseph's story is all his own, KIMCHI & CALAMARI came from a place where I wanted to connect with kids reflecting on their identities. And it isn't just adopted kids needing this knowledge; all kids do. I love that old proverb that says children need to know their roots to develop their wings. Nobody cruises through middle school without some struggle to figure out who they are and where they fit in.
Franki: What do you hope readers come away with?
Rose: Above all else, I hope they enjoy a juicy page-turner that makes them laugh and think a bit. We authors love giving readers a bit of a roller coaster. And I would like kids to relate to Joseph, since he has both unique and every kid qualities.
I try not to preach in KIMCHI & CALAMARI - we writers at best are storytellers. Yet I do feel that kids today are pulled in different directions. Because he's adopted, Joseph calls himself an "ethnic sandwich." Other kids feel "sandwiched" by interests, expectations, friend groups, perhaps divorce, different ethnicities, the list goes on. No matter what the pulls, I think kids need to understand that who they are, in all its varying pieces is okay. They are okay.
Franki: What kind of response are you getting from the adoption community?
Rose: It's been wonderful. Adoption Family Magazine was kind enough to review KIMCHI & CALAMARI this month, and Multicultural Review will be covering it soon too. And I've been able to speak to families at a number of adoption conferences and meetings. The feedback that most pleases me is when adopted kids tell me they related to Joseph -- that he felt real to them. And several adoption cultural camps will be using the book for discussion this summer, and that makes me happy too.
Franki: I love how realistic it is. I love how the birthmother search does not stop other things from happening in his life. How did you decide to have it work that way?
Rose: Well I know that nothing in families occurs in a vacuum. I'm the mom of four children and stepmom of two children, ranging from 20-years-old down to eight. The same day that one of my older children was experiencing her first boyfriend break up, another was whooping it up over his All Star team win. Meanwhile, dinner was burning and someone else was yelling because he there was no soap in the shower.
Life is one big mishmash of joys-struggles-and absurdities all packed in twenty-hour hours at a time, so I couldn't make Joseph's search for his birth parent be the only happening in his middle school life.
I did, though, try to show respect for the significance of such a search and what it meant to Joseph.
Franki: I believe that books are a great way for kids to make sense of the world. Are there books that did this for your children as they were growing up?
Rose: Yes, Franki, many. My older kids still recall many touching books we read together, such as A WRINKLE IN TIME, MRS. FRISBY & THE RATS OF NYMPH, SKELLIG and REDWALL. As a teacher I bet you'll agree that special characters stay with you forever. We hear the term character development a lot in education these days, and I really feel kids learn a lot of the right stuff, if you will, from fiction -- when characters step up, in spite of struggle and do the right thing.
This is really topical because my family recently experienced a death of a close friend. This was my younger children's first close encounter with death, and we'd just finished reading EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles together. My daughter Theresa echoed back words Comfort Snowberger had spoken to comfort herself and her cousin Peach after the deaths of Great-great Aunt Florentine and Great Uncle Edesto. The story gave Theresa strength to deal with her grief.
Franki: Your characters are immediately likable and you were able to portray the feelings of all family members and friends realistically when it came to the birthmother search. Was this autobiographical or based on other things?
Rose: Thanks, Franki. Well I don't turn my friends and family into characters. They wouldn't like it and I don't think it would ring true. I do, though, try to tap into feelings that are real and relatable, and of course as an adoptive mom that's what I did in KIMCHI & CALAMARI. I've had many talks with people touched by adoption, including adoptees, birth mothers and adoptive parents, and those feelings fed into Joseph's search for his birthmother. I wanted to show that in this search, Joseph was not only looking for his birthmother, but also himself.
Franki: The school project was an interesting one. The whole issue started with that assignment. What made you choose that as the main catalyst for the problem?
Rose: I'm a great believer in the value of thoughtful school assignments. I remember a teacher-friend assigning an essay to her students at the start of the new year explaining the origins of the student's name. I loved that idea. Not only do these assignments involve writing, but they get kids talking to their parents, beyond the logistical chatter we all experience at home.
Of course the ancestry essay represented a sticky point for Joseph who was adopted, but in the end, writing it helped him make realizations about himself.
Franki: How did your children respond to KIMCHI & CALAMARI?
Rose: My kids would be first to tell you they deserve mucho credit for Joseph's voice, and they are right. I often read sections of KIMCHI & CALAMARI to them, and they'd give me feedback on not only the plot, but also if the voice worked. And you know how kids are; they don't mince words. If Joseph didn't sound fourteen and boyish, they'd shout out "Uggh!" or "That's goofy, Mom!"
Now that the book is coming out, they are very excited. It's also been a nice way for my adopted children to continue conversations about their origins.
But as with many mothers who have jobs and other responsibilities, Mom the Author is quickly forgotten when Mom the Cook or Mom the Chauffer is needed!
Franki: Are you working on any new books?
Rose: I'm finishing up a novel about a girl who moves to upstate NY from Texas with her mom and deaf brother to open an ice cream shop. (This is a tasty story to research. :)) And my other work-in- progress is a baseball story, in tribute to the men in my life and their maniac obsession with this game--I live with a Yankee fan, a Mets fan, and a member of Red Sox nation. Now there's true diversity.
(For another great interview with Rose Kent, visit Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog.)