Hello, story lovers! How have you been? Long time no post with the new semester. However, I’m really grateful to have an awesome interview with the author of Peter Lee’s Notes From The Field. This is an Own Voices book featuring a Middle Grade Asian character who loves dinosaurs a lot. It has accompanying illustrations perfect for your young ones too. Without further ado, let’s hear it from Angela Ahn, in her second book – Peter Lee’s Notes From The Field.
1. Congratulations on your second book, Peter Lee’s Notes from Field. Can you tell us more about it?
Thank you. Where can I start? It started off with the idea of writing a fun, light story about a family road trip. There was a girl (who became L.B. who loved her stuffed dinosaur) and her brother (who resented her greatly). The grandmother in the very first draft was strict and disliked L.B.’s craziness. That person disappeared somewhere along the line (maybe draft 3?) and the story underwent huge, significant plot alterations.
I really think it’s important for me to write #ownvoices stories. I’m not saying I’m not going to one day write a fantasy with a dragon or a field mouse, but right now, I think it’s important for me to write stories centering the Korean immigrant experience in North American. Especially this particularly Canadian angle to the immigrant family experience.
I hope that readers begin to feel attached to Peter because he crashes so badly, but somehow manages to pick himself up for a more meaningful purpose. I hope people find L.B. adorably obnoxious. I hope that people see that despite Peter’s parents being pushy, they ultimately want the best for their kids, and that this is how they express their love. I hope readers laugh at the parts that I find funny. I hope readers, no matter their backgrounds, can see a little bit of themselves in the Lee family.
2. Your first book has a girl POV and this one’s a boy’s. What are the challenges and joys (if any) in writing Peter Lee’s POV?
I really did not want to do my second book from the POV of a girl. If you look around at most #ownvoices MG stories stories, the overwhelming majority are from a girl’s POV. I have no hard statistics on this, but since the vast majority of kidlit writers are women, I’m fairly sure this is accurate. I’m a former high school teacher and the parent to a teen boy (who was a tween when I was starting to write this story) so I didn’t find it particularly hard to get in the headspace of a young boy. I tried him to have him do things that most boys do (like sports, even though ironically, my own son has no interest) and play video games and just hang out like boys do. It’s fun to also write from the POV of a boy because I found myself being able to employ some boyish potty humor. Who doesn’t like potty humor? Maybe these are my own biases coming through, but with most girl focused stories, I don’t feel like potty humor works.
3. Peter Lee has a very curious sister (just like him) who seems to follow him around everywhere. Was her sister’s character inspired by anyone in your life or from films you watched or books?
I hope my daughter doesn’t read this, but L.B. is basically an exaggerated form of her as a young girl. Super loud. Super enthusiastic. Super agile. Super verbal. She’s almost 12 now and will kill me if she reads this.
4. I’m an #OwnVoices stories enthusiast. For our fellow readers out there who also supports #OwnVoices, what can they expect to discover (and love) from Peter Lee as a kid who also has a Korean lineage?
When I was first describing Peter Lee, I remember telling people that it’s not a story about “being” Korean (like Krista Kim-Bap was). I now realize what a dumb comment that was. His Korean identity is really intertwined with how he interacts with the world and what’s important to him. It’s not overt, in your face Koreanness, it’s just series of little things: traveling with your family carrying packages of instant ramen (if you are Korean, you have done this with your family at some point, I will bet my life), getting offended when people constantly mistake you for a different kind of East Asian (100000% happens to Koreans all the time), feeling confused when non-Koreans find Korean things cool (after a lifetime of being invisible, do you know how bewildering it is to me to have so many non-Koreans being K culture enthusiasts????!). I think the most “Korean” aspect of the story though, is actually the most universal–the importance of family. Doesn’t that say something?
5. Speaking of Peter, what’s one attribute did you like most about him?
I love how he resents yet appreciates L.B. Sibling dynamics can be so hard. I think he does a great job figuring out how to utilize each other’s strengths and recognize each other’s shortcomings and when they need each other’s help.
6. Peter has notes and even expeditions about dinosaurs. What was the joy and challenges of writing the book and researching about dinosaurs? Did you find any favorites in particular?
I started to write this book at the tail-end of the time in my family’s life when the kids were starting to lose their passion and intense interest in dinosaurs. It was still pretty fresh in my mind as I was writing though. But over the years of revising, I was finding myself having to go back and look at reference books or online research dinosaur facts to make sure they were “correct.” I also was able to scroll WAY back into our online photo archives to view some of the very first digital photos my husband and I have, which happen to be from our first trip to Drumheller when we used our FIRST digital camera (2004) to remind myself what the landscape around there looks like so I could describe it. I actually still have really strong memories of driving down this mountain highway and then suddenly everything changing and there were were, in this seemingly alien landscape of the Badlands. It’s a very cool place.
7. And lastly, as a bonus point for our fellow readers, since women’s month is approaching, what is your favorite book written by a woman that you’ll always recommend?
Unfortunately, my memory for books is quite short. I only really read MG lately with the occasional foray into adult books. BUT, my favorite book of 2020 was A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. It was of course, a recent Newbery Honor Book. Very well deserved. I know kids books work when my daughter loves a book as much as I do, and I have to say that was one book where we both unanimously agreed that it was an amazing story. Another book that instantly comes to mind is Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. That is one of the few books that I’ve read twice.
Thank you so much for your time, Angela! Thank you also to Hear Our Voices Tour for including me in this blog tour. It is always nice to read a co-Asian author tell a story of what it feels like to have an Asian family.
Angela Ahn was born in Seoul, but her family immigrated to Canada before she could walk. Armed with a BA, BEd, and MLIS, she worked for several years as a teacher and a librarian, but lately has been working from home, taking care of her two children. When she can, she writes novels for kids. She’s lived most of her life in Vancouver, B.C., with brief stints working in Hong Kong and Toronto. Although she likes to blame her parents for her atrocious Korean language skills, she will admit that she was a reluctant learner. Angela’s proud to say that her children are bookworms, and that every member of her family has a stack of novels by their bed. She’s grateful to be able to write books where her children can see faces, just like theirs, on the front covers. Angela’s first book, Krista Kim-Bap, was published in 2018 and her second book, Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, will be released March 2021.
Eleven-year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. But in one summer, that all falls apart. Told in short, accessible journal entries and combining the humor of Timmy Failure with the poignant family dynamics of Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Peter Lee will win readers’ hearts.
Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.
Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.