The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.
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“Karina Zhou is a Chinese Canadian writer and artist who is currently studying animation at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She enjoys creating adventurous, meaningful stories for both children and adults. Kai’s Tea Eggs is her first book.”
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in elementary school, my teacher read to us The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. On that day, I fell in love with storytelling. I knew that I had to explore this passion and that led me to pursue the core component that created this magic: writing.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
I don’t, but I remember the first writing piece that gave me the courage to be authentic. After joining a social justice club my freshman year in highschool, I felt inspired to write and direct a video essay about a topic we learned. It was artistically dramatic, abundant in metaphors and a tad cringe-inducing when I look back now. Yet such a project awoke a hibernating courage within me to write without fear of judgment and to advocate for issues that I care deeply for.
How did you develop your skills?
I’m a firm believer that we learn through practice and constant exploration. Before I started writing Kai’s Tea Eggs, I studied every children’s book I could get my hands on!
For me, writing is an interior and exterior process. I write. I read. I search for feedback. I’ll write some more. I’ll read some more. I’ll search for more feedback. The cycle continues until I can grasp a more in-depth understanding of what I’m expressing.
Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?
This is a HARD question. I’m constantly inspired by the mixture of genres and writing styles around me. I’m inspired by authors and poets such as Ocean Vuong, Thi Bui, Maia Kobabe (along with many more), whose works stimulate conversations on identity and society.
For children-oriented stories, my favourite classics include The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.
How would you describe your work?
My work aspires to cultivate a safe space for readers to explore the topics of identity and relationships. I love when stories can compliment fun adventures with meaningful narratives! I hope my books provide an outlet for both entertainment and thought-provoking discussions.
While my children’s book is orientated to younger audiences, it’s really meant for everyone!
What’s your writing process like?
When I don’t know where to start, I always begin by observation. I observe myself, other people, and the world around me.
Wherever I go, I carry a notebook by my side because inspiration sparks anytime, especially during our most mundane moments. I write down every fleeting and ridiculous thought that passes through my brain, organizing a collection for potential stories or characters.
Tell us about your most recent book.
I like to think of Kai’s Tea Eggs as a love letter to all kids who have ever felt different. The story follows the journey of Kai, who wants to avoid sharing her Chinese food at a “MultiCultural Day” at school. Ming, the dragon, helps her explore how to embrace her family roots and identity!
People from different cultures and backgrounds have shared with me how they could relate to Kai. This has touched me profoundly. Although the story focuses on Chinese food and culture, its messages of embracing ourselves and celebrating our unique attributes is truly universal.
What are you working on now/next?
I’m working on more children’s books! My most recent story, Eddy’s Shadow Puppets, is in development and has gained international recognition for its artwork. It’s a story that shows how we can make our worlds more colorful with friendships and art. I hope to be able to share this special adventure with you all soon.
In my free time, I’m challenging myself to write more graphic novels and poetry. I hope to push my comfort zones and create work that provokes important conversations. I’m so excited for what’s to come!