Talking about Reactions, Artistry, and What’s Next with My Editor by Guojing
Lee Wade: The Only Child was received many accolades since it was published last fall, including three starred reviews and a New York Times best illustrated award. It also received rave reviews in People magazine, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. That is a lot of attention for your debut book, did the attention surprise you?
GJ: Yes, I thought other only children from China would be able to relate to the story, but I underestimated how prevalent feelings of loneliness and isolation are everywhere. Now I see that people don’t need to have lived in China as an only child to feel the feelings I felt growing up. It reminds me that my feelings are not unique to me, and that is helpful in a way. And of course I’m thrilled that my first book has been so well received. To top it all off, I just heard that Shawn Tan sent in a blurb for The Only Child. I couldn’t be happier because he is my favorite author.
LW: Can you tell us about your process? Are there any stories behind the making of The Only Child that you could share.
GJ:I carry a small notebook with me all the time and if I get an idea I either write it down or sketch it. Because of this I have a lot of stories that are partially written, but a few years ago I became determined to finish what became The Only Child. The story has a lot of emotion in it and I thought finishing it might help me resolve the feelings I continued to have that stemmed from my childhood. I realized fairly early that I found it easier to communicate my feelings in pictures rather than in words, so that’s how the book became wordless. Lastly, the fantasy in the book about the stag and the new friends the girl discovers in an alternate world is similar to the kinds of fantasies I had as a child. Those fantasies made my life a bit easier and made me feel more hopeful. My wish was to convey that feeling of hope in The Only Child.
LW: Can you tell us where you live now and about how you became an artist?
GJ: I’m originally from the Shanxi Province in China, and now I split my time between there and Singapore. I started traditional art education classes when I was 10 years old. Through my childhood I sketched constantly and worked primarily in watercolor and oils, but in college I was a sculptor, now I prefer drawing to anything else. I try to be true to myself and put my own feelings into every picture I make. I see drawing as my free land. It’s a place where I can bring my feelings into the open.
LW: What’s next for you?
GJ: Well I’m still writing and sketching my ideas in a little book. I am developing some ideas further, because I’m eager to come up with a book to follow The Only Child. Nothing is far enough along to speak out yet, though.
“A gorgeous, quiet book, deserving of multiple reads.”—Gene Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, author of American Born Chinese and winner of the Michael L. Printz Award“A beautifully drawn adventure that slips effortlessly between dream and memory, as if these two worlds are actually one and the same: that distant place where the heart and mind must always travel before returning home, to know what it means to be lonely before knowing what it means to be loved.” —Shaun Tan, creator of The Arrival and The Lost Thing.