An Interview With Children’s Book Author Michele Wong McSween

Michele Wong McSween
After a super fantastic Chinese New Year celebration over the weekend we thought it would be great to find out a little more about Michele Wong McSween, the author of the Gordon and Li Li series. Wait till you see the app she’s designing to teach your little one Chinese. It’s awesome!
Click here to check out pictures of the festivities and I posted a video of one of the traditional Chinese dances below the interview. Thank you everyone for making the event such a success!
How did Gordon and Li Li come to be?

As a 4th Generation Chinese American, I never learned to speak Chinese.  It wasn’t necessary because everyone in my family spoke English.  When I had my first son I realized that I was his last connection to our culture, especially since my husband is Caucasian.  I enrolled myself in Mandarin lessons and then found some fun Mandarin classes for my two sons.  I was amazed and thrilled that they picked it up so easily.  In order to continue their learning at home, I started looking for books that were fun and effective, but also had an aesthetic that I could relate to.  When I realized that it didn’t exist, I decided to create them myself.

Who are Gordon and Li Li?

In my books, Gordon and Li Li are cousins.  Gordon is from Brooklyn, New York and Li Li is from Beijing, China.  In my life, Gordon is my Dad’s name and Li Li is based on my Mom’s name, Merrily.  Li Li means “beautiful” and is a tribute to my Mom, who is truly beautiful, inside and out.

How did you and illustrator, Kevin Murawski, find each other?

Kevin Murawski illustrated my first book, Gordon & Li Li: Words for Everyday.  He and my husband are friends from art school.  Initially, my husband was going to illustrate my books.  But after a week or so, our creative differences proved that it wasn’t going to work out (he’s a designer).  I joked about calling his friend, Kevin, and he agreed.

Have you written other books?

I wrote Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin and Gordon & Li Li: Count in Mandarintwo years ago.  It made the most sense, since my boys LOVE animals and were learning their numbers in Mandarin.  My friend introduced me to Nam Doan, a New York illustrator/animator.  Nam illustrated these two books and brought an amazing sense of humor to Gordon & Li Li.

What did you do before creating the Gordon and Li Li series?

After I graduated from U.C. Berkeley, I got my Fashion Design Degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.  My first job out of design school was in Merchandising for Old Navy in San Francisco.  After three years, I landed a design position at Old Navy in New York.  After seven years, I left to start our family.

Do you have any special books that you remember from childhood?

I loved Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka books.  The charming little Swedish triplets started me on my love for reading.  I remember sitting in the library reading all of them before my mom could check them out.

Do your children enjoy your books?

My boys love my books.  They should, they were the ones telling me what the wanted on each page!  But, it makes me extra happy to see our newest little guy carrying my books all over our apartment.  I promise he has other books at his disposal too!

What would you tell other parents about learning a second language with their child.

Learning a second language takes effort from the entire family.  It’s an ongoing process that takes time, effort, patience, and consistency.  I speak to my boys in my very limited Mandarin whenever I can.  We have them enrolled in Mandarin lessons every Sunday.  When the boys were young, we had a wonderful Chinese babysitter who spoke Cantonese and Mandarin to them.  We take family trips to Chinatown, visit museums of different cultures, watch Mandarin DVD’s, and play games in Mandarin on the iPhone and iPad.  Ultimately, any exposure to a second language can benefit children, culturally, educationally, and socially.

Are you working on any new book projects?

In an effort to keep up with technology, and my boys’ interests, I’m about to launch my first iPad app for my book, Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin.  It’s been an overwhelming, exciting, scary, what-did-I-get-myself-into kind of experience.  But, it’s going to be worth it!  In addition to hearing the words spoken in English and Mandarin, the child will be able to learn how to read and write the Chinese character by tracing it on the iPad.  After this launches, I’m going to take a nice, long break!