Author Spotlight: Andrea Wang
|© Elaine Freitas Photography
April 26, 2019
We are excited to feature picture book author Andrea Wang and her debut book, MAGIC RAMEN: THE STORY OF MOMOFUKO ANDO, illustrated by Kana Urbanowitz (Little Bee Books Mar. 2019). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I learned to read pretty early, and from then on, I was never without a book or two or three. It seemed only natural to take the stories I was writing for my 3rd grade teacher and bind them into book form. In high school, I was lucky enough to have wonderful English teachers who encouraged me to keep writing. One even created an afterschool writing club where my friends and I could share our (very flowery, very angsty) poetry.
Although I studied science in college and pursued a career in environmental science, I kept writing little pieces here and there when I had time. It was only after I became a stay-at-home mom that I began taking classes in creative writing for children in the hopes of getting published. I could see the impact of reading picture books aloud to my kids and I loved the idea of my stories having that same effect on other kids someday.
Congrats on your book, MAGIC RAMEN: THE STORY OF MOMOFUKU ANDO. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! I’m so excited about the reception MAGIC RAMEN has received so far. It tells the true story of Momofuku Ando and how he came to invent instant ramen. Initially, I was just curious about who had invented instant ramen, because it was one of the few things my super-picky kids would always eat. But as I discovered more about Ando, I was very moved by his story and his desire to help feed people.
He had immigrated to Japan from Taiwan as a young man, and began a business making socks. In the aftermath of WWII, he saw long lines of starving people waiting for a bowl of ramen noodle soup at a black market food stall. That experience inspired him to switch from making textiles to making food products, even though he wasn’t a chef or a food scientist. Fast forward ten years, and Ando was still haunted by the memory of the starving people. He decided to try and make a new kind of ramen that would be tasty, easy to prepare, and shelf-stable. Lucky for us (and millions of college students), he eventually succeeded! His perseverance, ingenuity, and altruism inspired me to write his biography.
Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
It was long and winding until suddenly it wasn’t. I submitted to editors for years while also taking online classes, going to SCBWI conferences, and getting an MFA. After receiving my MFA, I began doing write-for-hire work and wrote seven nonfiction books for the school and library market.
In 2015, I received an offer for my first picture book, THE NIAN MONSTER, which I had submitted to the slush pile at Albert Whitman & Co. over 18 months prior. From there, things moved rather quickly. I signed with Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, THE NIAN MONSTER published in 2016, and MAGIC RAMEN sold in 2017. I’m thrilled to report that I have two picture books coming out in the next few years from Neal Porter Books – WATERCRESS in 2021, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin, and LULI AND THE LANGUAGE OF TEA at a later date.
Congrats! What projects are you working on now?
I’ve been working on a MG coming-of-age novel for the past few years about a Chinese American girl who has lived in Boston’s Chinatown her whole life and suddenly finds herself moving to a tiny town in Ohio. I also always have a bunch of ideas for picture books that I work on when I need a break from the novel.
What research tips would you give to other nonfiction picture book authors/writers?
Tip #1: Sometimes it’s worth pursuing tangential sources. I found a memoir by Andy Raskin called THE RAMEN KING AND I: HOW THE INVENTOR OF INSTANT NOODLES FIXED MY LOVE LIFE to be incredibly helpful, even though it didn’t seem like it would be on the surface. Raskin is fluent in Japanese (I don’t know any), and he translated quotes about Ando from sources only available in Japanese. His extensive bibliography also led me to numerous other helpful sources, including a compilation of autobiographical newspaper articles written by Ando himself. That brings me to:
Tip #2: Don’t give up. From Raskin’s book, I knew that Ando had written a series of articles for a Japanese newspaper column called “My Resume.” The articles had been collected and published in book form with a preface and additional information by Ando. After much sleuthing on the Internet, I discovered that an English translation had been published by Nissin Foods, the company Ando founded. Alas, I couldn’t find a copy for sale anywhere. I decided to fill out an online inquiry form to Nissin USA to ask if they had any copies that I could purchase. I received the terse reply, “We neither have copies nor distribute books.” Dejected, I almost put the manuscript away. But a week later, I received an email from the VP of Marketing saying that they had located a copy of the book, which had been published in-house and had only been intended for employees, and offered to send it to me! I was elated and immensely grateful – I couldn’t have written MAGIC RAMEN without Ando’s autobiography.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I, too, was a super picky eater as a kid. I practically lived on mantou (Chinese steamed buns) spread with butter and sugar. Eventually, I branched out and by high school I was eating sushi (yum) and tripe (still not my favorite). Now I’ll try most anything, as long as it isn’t larvae.
Where can people find you online?
My website is andreaywang.com, and I post sporadically on Instagram (@AndreaWhyWang), Twitter (@AndreaYWang), and Facebook (andrea.c.wang).
Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster. She loves to travel and sample new and unusual foods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of her writing is about food. Andrea writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her second picture book, Magic Ramen, published in March 2019. She has also written seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and their dog, Mochi, named for the sticky rice dessert.