We love children’s books that address the struggles and experiences of modern families and that’s just the case with a new children’s book: “Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire” by Susan Tan.
“Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire” follows a young biracial girl named Cilla Lee-Jenkins who is half-Chinese and half-White, like Tan herself. In the story, Cilla is preparing for the arrival of her baby sister and goes on a personal journey that focuses on her biracial identity.
In the third chapter of the book, a woman asks Cilla “What are you?” Cilla does not realize the woman is inquiring about her ethnic background, so she answers, “I am a future author extraordinaire.”
“There’s this idea that she misunderstands the question and in misunderstanding it gets to reclaim it,” Tan said.
She added, “So much of Cilla is based around this idea of facing this adult world that keeps trying to put you in a box. And for Cilla it’s this constant question of ‘What are you?’”
Many of Tan’s own childhood experiences as half-Chinese and half-White appear in the story.
“I have always felt really disempowered and silenced when people would ask me things like ‘What are you?’ rather than ‘Who are you?‘” Tan said. “They ask you what you are, but they don’t ask your friends what they are, so it’s this reminder that you’re different. You’re a ‘what,’ not a ‘who.’”
While studying children’s literature in college, Tan noticed that there was a serious lack of diversity in middle-grade novels.
“One of my priorities in writing Cilla was to give mixed-race kids a mirror to see themselves and to write a story that not only showed mixed-race kids themselves but honored children’s abilities to observe the adult world around them and understand what’s going on,” she said.
You can find the book on Amazon here.