Author Spotlight: Joanna Ho



January 1, 2021

We are thrilled to feature author Joanna Ho and her debut picture book, EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS illustrated by Dung Ho (HarperCollins Jan. 5, 2021). Enter to win a copy!




Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

 

I am educator who has worn many different hats in the profession. I started as a high school English teacher, and I've been a Dean of Students, an (alternative to prison) school designer, a professional development creator, and am currently the vice principal of a high school in the Bay Area. I became an educator because I had a strong desire to disrupt systems of oppression and to empower students who have historically been marginalized. I began writing for children for the same reasons. A few months after my son was born, I was looking for inclusive Christmas books and had a really difficult time finding them. 

 

This inspired me to learn more about children's publishing and catalyzed my commitment to telling stories as another way to empower, resist and disrupt. I'm so grateful for the kidlit community as it has some of the most vocal, nuanced conversations around racism, inequity and social justice. I learn so much from being in this space!


Photo: Michele Sterling



Congrats on your debut picture book, EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.


Growing up, I used to wish for differently shaped eyes. I remember standing in front of the mirror and pulling up my eyelids to see what I would look like if my eyes were bigger. I envied girls with big eyes and long lashes, thinking I need those things to be beautiful. Every image of beauty, every animated movie, ads in the media featured someone who looked totally different than me. 

It wasn't until I was almost 30 and traveling in Taiwan that I had an epiphany in the middle of a 7-11 while standing in line to purchase snacks. I picked up a magazine, flipped through it, and was struck by all the Asian faces on the pages. Beautiful faces. With eyes and noses and hair like mine. It was a powerful moment when I realized I could be beautiful too. 

This book is for my daughter, who I hope never doubts her own beauty. It's for myself as a child, and for so many others who have shared similar feelings or experiences. Ultimately, I wanted to write a book that was about more than just recognizing one's own beauty; I wanted to write a book that could point people to their own power and ability to define the world around them.

 


Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?



I began writing six years ago, which in publishing could be considered both long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between! I worked to learn the craft (I had so much to learn!), and I was fortunate to find wonderful, dedicated critique partners early on my journey. 

 

After signing with my agent, I had several books on submission to editors over a period of nearly two years with nothing but rejections. This was a challenging time, as I doubted whether anyone would ever be interested in the stories I wrote or if my agent would regret taking a chance on me. I checked my email hopefully every day and got to the point where I was happy to hear anything, even if it was a rejection, because at least it meant my stories weren't lost in the abyss somewhere. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners received several rejections over that period, and each one gave wildly different feedback. 

 

Many rejections helped me improve the manuscript and this also showed me how subjective publishing can be. It ended up exactly where it needed to be, with an editor and team that understood and championed the story in ways I couldn't have imagined. So, looking back, the wait was worth it.


 

What projects are you working on now?


I have been through several rounds of revision on my upcoming YA novel, The Silence that Binds Us. I just started a couple new picture book manuscripts and would love to get back into a middle grade novel I started pre-pandemic and haven't had a chance to look at since!


 

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?



Don't focus so much on your destination that you stop appreciating the journey. It's advice I'd give to my younger self, aspiring authors...and myself right now! It can be so hard, especially now, to appreciate the challenges and triumphs, the learning and stretching that happen on our way to whatever goals we've set for ourselves. But so many beautiful things happen in a day, a week, a month, a year and it's important to love and appreciate those things too.

 


What is one thing most people don't know about you?


I have absolutely no sense of direction and it is not unheard of for me to need maps to get home if I'm more than a few blocks away. No exaggeration.  

 

Where can people find you online? 


@Joannahowrites on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I'm the most active on IG. 





Joanna Ho is the author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners (Jan 5, 2021), Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma (Fall 2021), The Silence that Binds Us (2022) and One Day (2023). She is a writer and educator with a passion for anti-bias, anti-racism and equity work. She is currently the vice principal of a high school in the Bay Area, where she survives on homemade chocolate chip cookies, outdoor adventures, and dance parties with her kids. 



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Comments

  1. Joanna, I love the title of this book and the illustrations look gorgeous! (Fingers crossed that I win a copy!). Best wishes.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your journey! Beautiful book cover!

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  3. Congratulations Joanna! Your journey is very inspiring.
    Can't wait to read this lovely book!

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  4. This book is on my must -read list for 2021!

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  5. This book is on my must -read list for 2021!

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  6. Book looks great, think my twins will love it!

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  7. I am so excited for this book. Fabulous interview!

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  8. I've had this book on my classroom wishlist for months. Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy!

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  9. I've had this book on my classroom wishlist for months. Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy!


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  10. Congratulations on the publication of this beautiful book!

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  11. What a wonderful description in the title. I would love to share this book with my students

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  12. This title is so engaging and I enjoyed reading about your inspiration. Good luck with your book!

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  13. Love the back story! This will be such an inspiring book, Joanna. Congrats on all your other forthcoming books!

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  14. I enjoyed your story of seeing faces similar to yours while traveling in Taiwan. Thank you for the post today--I'm excited to read your beautiful book.

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  15. Wonderful! Your story speaks to why there is such a need for diverse books. I can't wait to read this beautiful picture book. Congrats!

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  16. This sounds like a wonderful book with beautiful illustrations.

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  17. This sounds like a great book to add to my granddaughters bookshelf.

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  18. This is such a beautiful title and book! My mama heart hurts for your little girl heart feeling like you needed different shaped eyes to be beautiful. Thank you for helping create a different world for all the daughters to come.

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  19. Congrats on this and all your upcoming books! The title speaks volumes. Love it!

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