Kung fu and figure skating merge to promote girl’s power and Asian portrayal in a recent novel.
The combination of the two sports comes to life in the “Peasprout Chen” series of books by UCLA Extension instructor Henry Lien, in which it is a martial art called wu liu. The second installment of the series, “Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions” was released on January 22. The novel follows the main character on her journey to subdue Wu Liu in the fictional city of Pearl, where she attends the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. Born in Taiwan, Lien has sought to incorporate his Asian-American immigrant experience into the “Peasprout Chen” books, which are aimed at college readers.
“I wanted to make my own ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Star Wars’ – that’s what I wanted,” Lien said. “I like ‘Harry Potter’. I love “Star Wars”. But I wanted to create something where diversity and references to my own origins and culture were integrated from scratch. “
Peaspout has to endure academic pressure to be a top student, while also facing discrimination for being a foreigner from Shin’s country. Despite marketing the series to young readers, the “Peasprout Chen” books cover several mature and relevant topics, Lien said. In “Battle of Champions”, Peasprout must excel in several school competitions to avoid deportation and possible execution for betraying his homeland, addressing issues such as the war on immigration and the experiences of immigrants in America. Lien said the framework of the books incorporates themes of resilience and several distinct elements of East Asian culture.
Lien said he wanted the cultures he identified with most growing up – Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese – to be central to the sets and stories in the books.
Many of the details in the books, such as Pearl’s architecture, were taken directly from Asian culture, said Tiffany Liao, Link editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Liao said many on-screen depictions of Asian culture tend to be vague in origin, while Lien’s books include distinctly Chinese, Japanese, or Taiwanese details.
When the City of Pearl was originally designed, for example, some elements of its layout, such as the location and orientation of structures, were rejected because they did not adhere to Chinese feng shui practice. . The scenes in the books, like a banquet, also remain very faithful to Taiwanese culture, Liao said. While some of these attributes may initially come across as stereotypes of Asian cultures, Liao said she believes the book manages to exploit them as nuances of Peasprout’s character.
“What (Lien) has done is really pay tribute to the diversity of Taiwanese culture. I think what he captures so well is not resisting stereotypes or resisting anything that seems too much, ”Liao said. “But (Link) looks at that and finds empathy in that too. – in the background (from Peasprout) and his character.
Tina Dubois, Lien agent at ICM Partners, said the City of Pearl was unlike anything she had ever encountered, with its new concepts and cultural inclusions. Link said the city of Pearl symbolizes the birth of adversity, which is paralleled in the character of Peasprou. Peasprout endures adversity from his peers due to his heritage and ultimately transforms him into something beautiful, like a pearl that forms in resistance to sand cutting through the flesh of an oyster.
Peaspout’s persistence was influenced by Lien’s preparations for writing the series, he said. To help her describe wu liu better, Lien took figure skating and kung fu lessons. While Lien has said he is appalling at both sports, the difficulties he encountered helped light up Peasprout’s character. Lien said he realized that sports, which reward balance and flexibility over brute strength, have a huge subtext for empowering women by rewarding the way young girls and women are built differently from men, so he incorporated the importance of physical and mental flexibility. in Peaspout’s character arc. Peasprout is a confident, headstrong and determined young girl, but also stubborn and arrogant at times, Lien said. Unlike many fictional characters who discover new power and gain self-esteem, Peasprout’s development happens in reverse.
“She starts with all the power in the world. And she has to learn when to let go of her power and be flexible enough to accept help from other people, ”Lien said. “Learn to have friends, and learn to be weak, and learn that she isn’t always going to win, and that’s okay.”
In order to keep young readers engaged in serious topics, Lien said the books needed to be even more entertaining with the issues raised. At the launch of “Battle of Champions,” Lien performed original songs he composed for the series in order to help audiences connect with the City of Pearl. When designing the set for the “Peasprout Chen” books, Lien made sure to create a world without magic, unlike many fantastic stories. Lien said he wanted to replace this typical fantasy with culture, history and athleticism, which he believes can be as cool as any magic.
“Books are a response to the world we live in today, which is a very imperfect world,” Lien said. “But I also think very strongly that it’s important to have optimistic books. We have to show how we can face an imperfect world, and not shrink from an imperfect world, and meet it with hope and luminosity. “