Author Spotlight: Katie Zhao

Sept. 27, 2019

We are excited to feature author Katie Zhao and her middle grade debut novel, THE DRAGON WARRIOR (Bloomsbury Children's Books Oct. 15, 2019). Be sure to enter to win a copy!

cover art © Vivienne To

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

I was born and raised in Michigan. From a young age, I loved reading, and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I came to write for children because I’m a child at heart who simply loves children’s books. I strongly believe that not only are kids’ books fun to read, but they also are powerful in that they can shape readers’ minds from a young age. This is especially important to me because I am passionate about Asian American representation in literature. 

Growing up in Michigan, I had access to a limited Asian American population, but mostly felt removed from the community. I struggled a lot with my identity as a child, and I wish more than anything that I could have grown up with stories featuring heroes who looked like me. Now that I’m older and have been fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to write those stories, I’m committed to writing Asian American protagonists for the next generation of Asian American children to be able to look up to.

Congrats on your debut middle grade book, THE DRAGON WARRIOR. Tell us about the story and what inspired you.

THE DRAGON WARRIOR is pitched as PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS meets the work of Grace Lin. Much of the story, specifically the elements of Chinese mythology and culture, was inspired by the stories I consumed as a child - most notably the beloved Chinese cartoon Journey to the West, an animated adaptation of the classic text by Wu Cheng’en. 

I created a cast of Chinese American characters based off the family and friends I knew, who I’d rarely seen represented in books before. Even the food that the characters eat during their quest is the food that I ate as a child (Asian snacks like Pocky, shrimp crackers, etc). I did my best to write THE DRAGON WARRIOR in the fun, adventurous, accessible manner of PERCY JACKSON, fusing together the stories I grew up with from two cultures to create THE DRAGON WARRIOR. Finally, the Chinatown settings are inspired by the family trips from my childhood; my parents always sought out Chinatowns wherever possible in each new travel destination.

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

My road to publication was something in-between. I’ve known that I’ve wanted to be a published author since late elementary school. I started writing novels in eighth grade. During my senior year of high school, I seriously began pursuing publication with my fourth completed novel, which was also my first #ownvoices novel featuring a plus-sized Chinese American protagonist. I queried a bunch of agents, but it didn’t go anywhere, so I gave up on writing for three years while college life kept me busy. 

During my fourth year of college while studying, I realized that I was heading down a path that would only lead me further from my life’s greatest dream. I wrote intensely, and queried three separate projects during 2017 and early 2018. The third project I queried for only two weeks before receiving an offer of representation from my current literary agent, Penny Moore. Penny took the project onto submission to editors in March 2018, and two weeks later the book went to auction and we accepted an offer with Bloomsbury. When the cards fell into the right place, everything happened quickly, but I would still say that my road from publishing desire to fruition was not short by any means.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently in-between projects as I wait for my editor to send the next round of notes for the sequel to THE DRAGON WARRIOR. I also have a YA social thriller scheduled for publication in winter 2021, titled HOW WE FALL APART. It’s ONE OF US IS LYING meets CRAZY RICH ASIANS, and chronicles the story of four high-achieving Asian American students attending an elite prep school, who suddenly become the prime suspects when their valedictorian best friend turns up dead.

Okay, that sounds amazing! Favorite classic MG novels? Favorite recent ones?

My favorite classic MG novels are the HARRY POTTER series by J.K. Rowling, MATILDA by Roald Dahl, SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL by Louis Sachar, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne, NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry, and ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildren D. Taylor.

My favorite recent MG novels are the PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS series by Rick Riordan, ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME by Rokshani Chokshi, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt, PIE IN THE SKY by Remy Lai, and JUST SOUTH OF HOME by Karen Strong.

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

My advice to my younger self would be the same as my advice to aspiring authors, which is: to read and write voraciously. I used to read a book a day when I was younger. I no longer have the time to do so now that I’m older and have more responsibilities, but I still make it a point to read frequently and to study the author’s craft when I do so. THE DRAGON WARRIOR is my sixth completed novel. I had written probably close to one million words before this novel, so I had plenty of practice, which ultimately helped me become the writer I am today.

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

Most people probably don’t know that I really enjoy singing. When I was younger, I also entertained the notion of becoming a singer, but ultimately decided against it because I didn’t believe I have the stage presence for it. Besides, I’ve discovered over the years that singing is my hobby, and writing is my passion. There’s a difference between the two, which is that I can’t separate my identity from my writing, but I could probably live without singing.

Where can people find you online?

I can be found at my website,, on Twitter as @ktzhaoauthor, and on Instagram as @ktzhaoauthor.

Katie Zhao grew up in Michigan, where there was little for her to do besides bury her nose in a good book or a writing journal. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and a minor in Political Science, and completed her Master's in Accounting at the same school. She wrote The Dragon Warrior in her last year of school, in between classes. In her spare time, Katie enjoys reading, singing, dancing (badly), and checking out new restaurants. Originally from Michigan, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY. THE DRAGON WARRIOR is her debut novel.   

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  1. Chinese legends really lend themselves to epic adventures!

  2. I have many Japanese friends here and enjoy Asian culture and food, so finding books with Asian characters has been fun for me. This year alone, I've enjoyed Front Desk, Aurora Rising, Ignite the Stars, and more.

  3. Glad to see another author in a growing community of Asian middle grade authors!

  4. I haven't seen a lot of books based on Chinese legend. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  5. Wow! I see several of your books that I want to read. Congratulations!

  6. Great interview! Hi from another former Michigander :) I'd love to read this myself, and then give it to my book-loving niece!


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