When Grace Lin Realized She Was Chinese


When Grace Lin Realized She Was Chinese

This week’s guest is the fabulous Newbery-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. There she is as a kid with her mom ^^.Tune in to hear the story of how she went from hating her parents’ culture to making a living by embracing it.

Since this story is so visual, we’ve also created a pictorial timeline of Grace’s journey. Please enjoy that below. And click HERE to find out how to win a beautiful little limited edition booklet by Grace, with a chapter that didn’t make it in to her latest novel, When the Sea Turned to Silver.

How Grace Lin Went from Drawing White Princesses to Bold Chinese Heroines

Grace grew up in a small town in upstate New York, the child of Taiwanese immigrants. She was the only Asian kid in her class.


Grace didn’t like being Asian. But she loved to read and write and draw.


The stories she’d tell were mostly about fairies and princesses, and sometimes just regular girls. But they were always white, never Asian. Grace says it didn’t even occur to her to draw characters who looked like her, because there weren’t characters who looked like her in any of the books she read.


The image above is from a book Grace made that won her fourth place in a contest. The cash prize of $1000 convinced Grace that she wanted to be an author and illustrator, and publish her own fairy tales. So she went to art school. Where she learned … you don’t get to paint princesses right away. Here’s one of her many still lifes.


She spent a year abroad in Rome, hoping to learn to draw and paint like Michelangelo and da Vinci.


But while Grace was in Rome, she wound up having a conversation with an inquisitive Italian that led her to question who she was and where she came from. And she started making paintings of an Asian girl looking for … something. Here are details of two of those paintings.


Grace began studying Chinese art, and even went to China, to learn more about her heritage.


Grace was especially drawn to flat, colorful Chinese folk art, like the image detailed above. So she tried painting a portrait of her family in that style.


Grace felt that she had finally found her artistic voice, and what you see in that family portrait has become her signature style. She’s used it in her picture books, like The Ugly Vegetables. (Top image on this page is Grace and her mom in their real Chinese veggie garden, which despite her thumbs up, Grace says embarrassed her as a kid.)


Grace even has Chinese-folk-art-influenced illustrations in her novels, like Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver. They’re full-color, too—which is unusual for novels, even novels for kids. Here are a couple images from Grace’s Newbery-award-winning book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon—a Wizard of Oz type saga.



These days, Grace is married (to a white guy). They have a daughter named Hazel.


And Grace is struggling to figure out how to incorporate Asian culture into her daughter’s life without sounding preachy … and without seeming like an imposter.

Tune in for the full story! And don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a limited edition booklet, written and illustrated by Grace! It just involves retweeting one thing. Super easy.

Grace Lin’s Recommended Reading List
Here’s a list of Grace’s favorite Asian-American children’s lit.

Hush by Minfong Ho
The Lost Horse by Ed Young
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki
Alvin Ho book series by Lenore Look
Millicent Min by Lisa Yee
Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (this one is for older young adult readers)
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I’m gonna add one of my faves to this list—for YA readers: A Step from Heaven by An Na

How have YOU connected with your heritage?
(Or not.) Tell us! And add any favorite Asian American books or authors.

Our sponsors for this episode are Olive & Cocoa, Bark Technologies (code: LONGSHORT), Yogi Tea, Little Passports (code: LONGSHORT) and Fracture (mention LST at checkout). Use these links to access special deals for LST listeners! 

19 thoughts on “EPISODE #99: When Grace Lin Realized She Was Chinese

  1. I am also Chinese American – 2nd generation, so my parents immigrated here also. Although I don’t have a kid, if I did have a biological child, they would most likely be half Asian and half White too (my female partner is White, our donor would probably be White). I related so much to the disconnection between identifying as White, but being Asian. It is such a disconnect. I also really liked Grace’s outgoing personality and how she works really hard to bring Asian culture and pride into her daughter’s life.

  2. I’m so grateful I stumbled upon this post and podcast! The Ugly Vegetables was one of my daughter’s favorite books. Now I’m going to order Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver, which sound like the perfect fit for her current interests. :-)

  3. I loved this episode and am so glad Grace Lin shared her story. I am a white mother in St. Louis and as a family we participate in a new local organization called “We Stories.” It also believes that stories matter, and its mission is to create family conversations about race, particularly with young children, and they do so using children’s books as an entrance point for conversation. I have learned a lot along with my children through the children’s books and supportive resources that We Stories recommends.

    I just wanted to share some links for anyone looking for more resources for diverse books. And I want to show my support for the importance of talking about race and difference and the importance of experiencing stories from a diversity of perspectives.

    Thank you Grace Lin and LST.


    10 Steps to Diversify Your Child’s Bookshelf



  4. I agree with Grace! I wish that multicultural books weren’t in their own category — instead I wish that so many books had diverse representation that they are all just “books.”

    I am white and feel a great sense of loss about my heritage and the culture & traditions of my ancestors. Yet another “cost” of white privilege that brings me great sadness.

  5. Hello,

    I am a teacher interested in reading more culturally diverse picture books to my students. In the podcasts, Grace mentioned she found books with characters of various backgrounds. I love the recommended reading list, but I was wondering if she has more to share? It sounds like she went through quite a few books reading to her children.

    1. Hi Kristen. Glad to hear you’re interested in more books. I’d reccomend you check out We Need Diverse Books. They’re an organization that promotes diverse books and authors and curates lots of lists! We also have a blog post about other books with diverse characters.

  6. Grace Lin is one of my absolute favorite children’s authors. My daughter and I have read together all of her chapter books, including most recently, When the Sea Turned to Silver. Her writing is mesmerizing and the themes are universal and ageless. I love that her novels are a window into Chinese culture, and though I am not Chinese (I am Jewish American,) I have a love for ancient Chinese culture, and it touches some deep place in me to hear these stories. I love how she entwines folk tales within the story, and the rich symbolic threads woven throughout. I especially love the courage and strength of the female heroines. Please write more novels, Grace! We can’t wait to read another one!

    Reading to my daughter is one of my favorite parts of being a mom. Sharing books about children from other cultures is the primary way that my daughter is learning about the world. She is still young, (age 8) and I don’t feel she is ready yet to know about all of the harsh realities of the world that she doesn’t have the ability to digest or comprehend. Yet, folk tales from around the world are a gentle way to bring the beauty of the world to her, and to share with her themes and lessons that are true for people of all cultures.

    In fact, going through her current library books, we have:
    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin (for the 3rd time)
    Magical Tales from Many Lands, by Margaret Mayo
    Dream-of-Jade The Emporer’s Cat, by Lloyd Alexander
    Mariana and the Merchild, A Folk Tale from Chile, by Caroline Pitcher
    Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African tale, by John Steptoe
    Mama Panya’s Pancakes, A Village Tale from Kenya, by Mary and Rich Chamberlin

    There are so many beautiful books for children from every part of the world!

Say Something

Commenting Guidelines Curiosity and spirited discussion are welcome; personal attacks are not. We reserve the right to reject comments for any reason.