Title: Ting Ting, the Girl Who Saved China
Author: Ryan O’Connor
Illustrator: Xiang Minghui
Genre: Illustrated Children’s Book
Interviewed by: Barbara Miller
Today we are talking to Ryan O’Connor, author of Ting Ting, the Girl Who Saved China.
PBR: You are a native of Pittsburg, but have lived the past decade in Shanghai – what brought you there, kept you there, and what are your future plans?
After I graduated from college, I moved away from Pittsburg and spent time in Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. While I was living in Massachusetts, I was working as an English teacher. At that time, there were a lot of layoffs and it was hard to find English teaching jobs.
I had a good friend who spent time in Asia and persuaded me to look for teaching jobs in several Asian countries. I was able to get a job teaching at a university in Shanghai. The plan was to come for a year and then go back to the United States with the hopes of securing a teaching job somewhere; however, I fell in love with the life in Shanghai. After a few years, I met my wife and settled down.
We do plan to move back to the United States in the next year or two so I can pursue a writing career.
PBR: You brought the themes of Chinese culture interleaved with the confidence building of young girls as being strong and can achieve anything they set out to do. Can you kindly tell us how these played out in your writing?
When I started writing Children’s books, I really wanted to write several stories about Chinese culture to share with western children. China is filled with amazing stories and culture that seems to be lost in the current climate.
As I started to plan the story, I thought of my nieces, Aidyn and Kiara, and wanted to create a character that they could relate to. My nieces are sounded by brothers, so I wanted to tell them, through a story, that they are just as brave and tough as their brothers.
It’s important to me that I give voice to young girls, and it is equally important to me to show diversity and teach children about different cultures.
PBR: You have an excellent illustrator, Xiang Minghui. Noticing this is her first published work, how did you team up together?
Alice (that is Xiang Minghui’s English name) is related to my wife, so I know her through my wife. In fact, it was my stepdaughter’s idea to have her illustrate this book.
My stepdaughter, who is 16, illustrates my books for the Bobby the Bear series. My wife’s family has several talented illustrators.
I don’t know if Alice will be able to illustrate many more books. She is a university student studying to be a scientist. But I certainly hope to work with her in the future. She did an amazing job with the illustrations, and she was able to make the lead character, Ting Ting Wang, look like my wife when she was a teenager (which was the plan as Ting Ting is named for my wife).It has made this experience so rewarding to be able to share it with my stepdaughter and Alice.
PBR: Shanghai is a wonderful city – I’ve been there. What are some of the reasons you like it also?
Shanghai is an amazing city. I have been fortunate to travel around the world and Shanghai is one of the best cities; I am biased, though.
I love the diversity of the city. I have met people from all over the world and built lasting friendships. The city has done a wonderful job of capturing some of the history of China and its culture and blended it with a mix of modernism that appeals to people of all ages.
PBR: Do you have future plans for more stories by Ting Ting?
I don’t plan on writing any other stories about Ting Ting, but I do plan on writing more about some of the great Chinese tales. The next story I plan to work on, in regard to China, is about their Mid-Autumn Festival and the story around it.