I'm very excited to have Natalie Dias Lorenzi stop by today for an interview! Natalie is the author of the MG book, Flying the Dragon. You can win my ARC of this book below the interview and be sure to check out my review.
Q1. What three words best describe your book Flying the Dragon?
Caught between cultures...
Q2. In one sentence, tell readers why they should read your book.
Flying the Dragon is for any reader who has ever felt like a fish-out-of-water.
Q3. Now, using as many sentences as you’d like, can you tell us a bit more about Flying the Dragon?
At its heart, Flying the Dragon is about finding one’s place in this world. The two main characters, cousins Skye and Hiroshi, each feel out of place for different reasons; Japanese-American Skye has all but forgotten her Japanese heritage until her estranged Japanese relatives come to town. Her parents make her attend Saturday Japanese school to improve her Japanese language skills, which threatens her chances to play on the All-Star soccer team. Hiroshi, on the other hand, has been plucked from his small village in Japan and moves to the US with his family, where he has no friends, doesn’t speak English, and struggles to navigate his way through American culture and slang. Both compete for the love of their grandfather, a kite-maker and rokkaku kite-fighting expert. It isn’t until the two work together to honor their grandfather in the local kite battle in Washington DC that they learn the meaning of honor and family and self-identity.
Q4. What inspired the idea/story behind Flying the Dragon?
The inspiration for Flying the Dragon came from three main parts of my life. First, as an ESL teacher, my students come from all over the world and most come to the US knowing very little English. Once they’ve been here for about a year or so, things start to shift; they want to assimilate and become more like the American peers in the ways they talk, dress, and act. At the same time, their parents still speak to them in their native tongues and abide by customs that match what they were familiar with in their home countries. There are elements of my students in both Skye and Hiroshi.
Secondly, I lived in Yokohama, Japan for two years, and experienced first-hand what it’s like to not know the language or culture of your new home. Unlike, Hiroshi, I had the luxury of spending my day at the international school where I taught with colleagues and students who spoke English all day. I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of this intricate culture and try out my fledgling Japanese language skills, which was not easy!
Lastly, I was an Air Force brat growing up, and attended five different elementary schools. I know what it’s like to be the new kid in class, and it’s never easy until you’re settled in and have made friends.
All of these experiences are threads in the tapestry of this story.
Q5. What do you hope readers will walk away with from this inspiring story?
As a teacher, my hope for all students is that they will connect with the characters in the books they read. When we connect to characters, it feels like we’re stepping into their world; they feel like friends. Some readers will identify with Hiroshi, who doesn’t fit in at all in his new school. Some will identify with Skye, who is caught between two cultures and languages and needs to decide who she really is. Readers who haven’t experienced these situations may still connect with the core emotions that come with Skye’s and Hiroshi’s stories. Even if a reader doesn’t feel caught between two cultures, he or she may feel tugged between two very different groups of friends, or two households when parents separate. Readers who have a relative who is ill, like Grandfather in the story, may feel a connection to the different ways in which Skye and Hiroshi deal with Grandfather’s illness. No matter how readers connect to the story, that reader connection is what authors hope for when they send their books out into the world.
Q6. Kites play an important role in Flying the Dragon, especially one with a beautiful dragon painted on it. What significant symbol/picture would you want painted on YOUR kite?
What a great question! I think I’d have a colorful map of the world, marked with the places where I’ve lived and traveled.
Q7. In Flying the Dragon, American born Skye teaches her Japanese born cousin Hiroshi helpful American slang words, like cool and sucks. What three American slang words would top your Helpful Tips list for a non-English speaking person?
Slang is one of the hardest things to learn in a foreign language, next to humor. My husband is Italian, and when we met in Italy, he spoke very little English. When we moved to Japan and later the US, he learned to speak English, and slang was probably his biggest hurdle. Even traffic reports befuddled him with terms like “rubber-necking” and “bumper-to-bumper.” I had similar struggles when I was first learning Italian.
For my students, here are the top three slang terms that usually surprised them:
--“friend” as a verb—thanks to Facebook
--“like” as a speech tag, as in, “She was like, ‘Where’s your homework?’ and I was all like, ‘My little brother ate it.’”
--“Get out,” meaning, “Are you kidding?” For example, a student might say, “I have four tests tomorrow!” and her friend may respond with, “Get out!” This can definitely confuse some students who are new to English!
Q8. Skye and Hiroshi are wonderful MG characters...who is your all-time favorite middle grade character?
Thanks for the kind words about Skye and Hiroshi! This is a really hard question, because there are so many to choose from. One recent middle grade character who comes to mind is Carley Connors in Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s middle grade novel One for the Murphys. Carley is tough and scared and protective of those she comes to love. She comes from a heartbreaking home life and has to learn to let other people love her. She is one of the bravest characters I’ve met in a long time.
Q9. What's the one book you think everyone should read at least once in their life?
This is so hard to answer, because there are so many kinds of readers out there. I hope I’m not taking the easy way out by not naming a specific title, but I will say that I think everyone should read a book with a protagonist who is completely different from the reader. I would hope that, say, a teen born and raised in the southern US might read a book like Mitali Perkins’ Bamboo People, a young adult novel about two teenage boys on opposite sides of the modern-day conflict in Burma. Or an immigrant girl living in San Francisco might read Audrey Vernick’s middle grade novel Water Balloon, about a girl born and raised in the same town whose comfortable life starts to crumble when her parents divorce and her lifelong friends turn out to not be the people she’d thought them to be.
I know that I’m always recommending books whose characters share similar experiences with my students. But sometimes it’s necessary to step out of the familiar in order to discover characters with whom we don’t think we’ll have anything in common. When we discover that emotions are universal, even when circumstances are not, that’s when we start to look at the world through a more empathetic lens.
Q10. If you were to bake a Flying the Dragon inspired cupcake what would it taste/look like and what would you call it? Oh, great question! At one point in the story, Skye samples Hiroshi’s favorite sweet, a Japanese yomogi mochi. She actually likes it until Hiroshi tells her what’s in it: sweet rice and bean paste. If I could, I’d create a cupcake that looks like a yomogi mochi on the outside, but with a more American version of sweet on the inside—maybe chocolate with a thin layer of peanut butter in the center. Mmmmm....
Thanks so much for hosting me on Word Spelunking!
You are so very welcome! Thank so much for answering my questions!
American-born Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage. Her father taught her to speak the language, but when their estranged Japanese family, including Skye's grandfather, suddenly move to the United States, Skye must be prepared to give up her All-Star soccer dreams to take Japanese lessons and to help her cousin, Hiroshi adapt to a new school. Hiroshi, likewise, must give up his home and his hopes of winning the rokkaku kite-fighting championship with Grandfather. Faced with language barriers, culture clashes and cousin rivalry, Skye and Hiroshi have a rocky start. But a greater shared loss brings them together. They learn to communicate, not only through language, but through a common heritage and sense of family honor. At the rokkaku contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, Hiroshi and Skye must work as a team in order to compete with the best.
Win an ARC of Flying the Dragon
Since the pubs were awesome enough to send me a finished copy of this book, I'm going to giveaway my ARC!!!
-There will be one winner who will win my ARC
-Giveaway will run from 6/25 - 7/2
-Fill out Rafflecopter form to enter
- Must be 13+ to enter
- One main entry per person
- Winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
- I am NOT responsible for lost, stolen or damaged prizes