Award-winning author, YIN was exposed to her Chinese roots growing up in New York City. Her parents made sure of it by enrolling her in kung-fu school on Saturdays and having ‘dim sum’ for lunch on Sundays after Chinese school. That experience was the inspiration behind her 1st book COOLIES.
Yin graduated from college with a finance degree. She got a job writing financial reports on Wall Street. But her career took a turn when she decided to manage husband, award-winning illustrator, Chris Soentpiet’s growing illustrating career. She also saw an opportunity to turn an important story about her ancestors into a children’s book.
COOLIES, won the Parents’ Choice Foundation’s Gold Award for Best Picture Book in 2001 and was named an ALA Notable Book and an IRA Book Award winner in 2002. Her follow-up, BROTHERS has been selected as an IRA Teachers' Choice in 2007.
DEAR SANTA, PLEASE COME TO THE 19TH FLOOR is Yin’s other collaboration with Chris. This delightful, engaging book, about two young boys living in a building who have a memorable encounter with Santa, is based on Yin’s growing up on the 19th floor of a New York City apartment.
Q&A with author, YIN
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are inspired by my experiences. In general, I listen and watch people around me for ideas. I also keep up-to-date by reading the papers every day and cutting out articles that might spark an idea. As the years pass, I notice things I used to take for granted, such as the smell of soup simmering for hours on my stovetop, or the sound of birds chirping outside my window. Even these small details of my life can turn into an idea. Ironically, I sometimes get inspired by doing absolutely nothing.
Once I have my ideas, I write them down in a notebook so I won’t forget them. Writing down my ideas helps me practice my writing skills. My notebook is a place for free-flowing ideas: where nobody will judge me if the idea is silly. I’ve discovered that finding a way to describe the moment when the idea came to me often leads to an interesting story, and that the more I write my thoughts out on paper, the better I become at brainstorming. However, the most challenging part of being an author is working with my ideas to discover an interesting story with a satisfying ending.
||Where are you from?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York (Bensonhurst, to be exact). When I was three, my family moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and lived in the housing projects. You can actually see the neighborhood where I grew up my book Dear Santa, Please Come to the 19th Floor.
My mom was a seamstress in a sewing factory, and my dad worked long hours in a Chinese restaurant. My neighborhood was rough. My brother and I learned to be street-smart, and in that way, we avoided the drugs and gang-life. We knew that getting an education was the only way out of that neighborhood.
When and why did you decide to become an author?
Shortly after I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in finance, I worked as a financial writer on Wall Street. After a while, I discovered I didn't like my job and wasn't good at crunching numbers all day. I decided to switch careers and become a registered nurse, because I love helping people. In my spare time, I was also helping my husband, Chris Soentpiet, with his school visits and art endeavors. At the schools, I had the opportunity to work with kids and found that I loved reading to them. This newfound love inspired me to start writing some stories of my own.
Did you always love books?
Why did you write Coolies?
I didn't always love reading when I was in elementary school because I struggled with the English language. But my English improved as I practiced writing in my diary every day.
As I became more confident in English, I learned to love reading and embraced books! Today, for example, if I was going to take a subway, or any mode of transportation that involves waiting, I would never leave the house without some sort of reading material (a book, an instruction manual for my digital camera, my weekly magazines, etc...). While I’m waiting in line at the post office or the supermarket, you'll always catch me reading something.
As I worked with my husband Chris in children’s publishing, I found there weren't many children’s books on the Asian-American contribution to America. The Chinese railroad worker’s struggle was a personal story because my ancestors worked on the transcontinental railroad a very long time ago. The first wave of Chinese immigrants that came to America was from my ancestral village of Toi Shan-China.
Did you like school when you were a kid?
Yes! I loved school because it was the only place where I could have a hot dog or pizza. At school, I also ate French fries for the first time! At home, we only ate Chinese foods, so I often craved the American foods found at school. But school also had its challenges. Early in my school years, I had a hard time understanding English because my parents only spoke Chinese at home. My mother and father were new immigrants from Hong Kong, and they didn't know the language when they arrived to America. Although I was born in Brooklyn, I felt like a foreigner, and not being able to speak English only compounded my isolation. The kids at school were either Black or Puerto Rican, so I couldn't communicate with or relate very well to them. I felt very lonely. Luckily I had a few cool friends and nice teachers who were patient with me as I learned English.
Did you get good grades?
I wasn't one of those kids that didn't need to study to get an “A”. I HAD to study. I was more of a self-learner and extremely motivated by the challenges that surrounded my daily life. I lived in a bad neighborhood. I looked for afterschool training or job. I helped my grandmother a lot by cleaning her apartment, making dinner. I was determined to stay out of trouble and get good grades.
How do you develop your writing?
I have a college degree in finance and have no formal training in creative writing. I learned by reading lots of books and by following the writing styles of my favorite authors. Some of my favorites are: Eve Bunting, Edgar Allan Poe, Denis Hamil, Avi, Jane Yolen, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Mark Twain (there are too many amazing writers to list all of them here). Also included among my favorites are all the writers from the New York Times Magazine, for their creative writing styles and thought-provoking topics.
How hard has it been to get your works published?
Luckily, I already knew a couple of editors in the publishing field, since I had worked with Chris on his publications. I focused on one particular publishing house, Philomel Books, since they publish compelling books of human interest: it was a good match for the types of books I write.
What do you look for in a good book?
I must sympathize with the characters. I have a short attention span, and I need the story to grab me quick. I like to see more books with social, as well as entertainment value.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love music that makes me smile, even in rush-hour traffic. I love to catch-up with my friends and listen to their meandering stories filled with experience and wisdom. In their voices, I find focus and peace. I also love to read a good book.
Can you speak Chinese now?
Growing up I resented being an immigrant’s daughter. I had to translate financial letters, housing documents, and doctor’s notes for my parents. It was a lot of pressure for me, as a child, since my family’s livelihood depended on it. Now I’m grateful I kept up with the Chinese language. These days, I put my Chinese language skills to good use, as a volunteer at the hospital where I used to work during my nursing days.
Can I write to you? Absolutely, click on my guest book:
Click on article to find out more about YIN:
Luncheon with staff at Penguin Books.
Accepting the International Reading Association Book of the Year(IRA) award for COOLIES.
Book signing with Chris Soentpiet.