Playing for Papa (illustrated by Yuka Hamano and published by Topka Books in 2008) is an interesting bilingual (English/Spanish) picture book about a multicultural family in Japan. We are introduced to a Japanese father and an American mother and their twins - one boy, one girl. The little girl cannot walk and needs a wheelchair. Her twin brother tells us the story of how he wants to play baseball for his papa, who is the coach of a high school baseball team that has made it to the semi-finals of a national baseball tournament. His papa's team wins the semi-final, but loses the final game, and we see how both the victory and the defeat affect the family. I love how Playing for Papa shows readers multiculturalism, but isn't about multiculturalism. It is a picture book about family and about what it really means to win or lose.
Today, I am very happy and excited to interview the author of Playing for Papa, Suzanne Kamata. Welcome to Into the Wardrobe's celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Suzanne!
Can you please tell us a bit about your multicultural family?
I'm American and my husband is Japanese. We live in rural Japan with our twins. Our daughter is deaf and has cerebral palsy. I've found that there is another culture associated with the disabled. My daughter has a different first language than the rest of do, for example - Japanese Sign Language.
Does your family ever celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?
We've never celebrated it up till now, but I think from now on we'll celebrate by reading books about kids in various Asian-Pacific countries. (And maybe do a little related cooking.)
What motivates you to write children's books?
I've always had an interest in writing for children, but I didn't start until I had children of my own. I couldn't find as many books about bicultural and/or disabled children in Japan as I would have liked, so I started writing stories inspired by my children, that they would be able to relate to. I'd also like kids in other countries to know more about the lives of children in Japan and children with disabilities. I can present these things in a fun way through stories for children.
What was your path to publication as a children's book writer?
I started out by submitting children's stories to magazines, such as Ladybug and Skipping Stones. Of all the stories I'd written for children, however, Playing for Papa is the one I most wanted to have published in book form. I sent it to several children's book publisher's in the United States and got a lot of positive feedback, but no contracts. Then, while surfing the Internet, I came across Topka Books in Spain, which published bilingual picture books about multicultural families and kids with disabilities where the disability wasn't central to the story. It seemed like a perfect fit for Playing for Papa, in which there is a bicultural family in Japan, with a disabled child. Topka Books published the book late last year.
Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?
Not really. I write when I have time, usually when my kids are at school. I tend to write a quick and messy first draft, which I then revise and polish and share with my SCBWI critique group. Then I revise again.
What inspired you to write Playing for Papa?
My son asked me to write a story about him playing baseball with his dad. Also, my husband was a baseball coach for twelve years and was very busy, but I noticed that even after a crushing defeat, playing with his children could lift his spirits.
What do you want young readers to take away from Playing for Papa?
That there are many kinds of families, that family love is more important than winning or losing, and that even a girl in a wheelchair can be a catcher in a baseball game.
What are the challenges and rewards of writing multicultural children's books?
The challenge is to present characters of a particular culture without resorting to stereotypes, and also to present characters and situations that kids from any culture can relate to. I think the biggest reward comes from touching the lives of the reader or the listener. If they seem interested, or amused or are moved by my stories, I feel like I have done my job.
Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's book authors?
Allen Say, Mitali Perkins, Uma Krishnaswami, Naomi Kojima, to name a few.
What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books? Why are they your favorites?
I really love "Tea With Milk" by Allen Say, which is about a girl caught between cultures. I like the message conveyed in this book that home isn't really a physical place, but more of a state of mind - that home can be anywhere we are with loved ones. I love the poetry of "Monsoon" by Uma Krishnaswami, and the whimsy of "The Singing Shijimi Clams" by Naomi Kojima.
What are you working on now?
I've got a couple of young adult novels in the works both featuring multicultural heroines in Asia. We'll see how that goes.
Thank you very much for writing Playing for Papa, Suzanne! I think it is an inspiring contribution to diversity in children's literature. And thank you very much for chatting with me today. I look forward to reading your young adult novels featuring multicultural heroines in Asia!