What’s a girl to do when her plans to have the perfect year begin to crumble? That’s the problem 11-year-old Lucy faces in Wendy Wan-Long Shang’s debut novel, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu.
With her annoying older sister finally away at college and basketball season about to begin, Lucy’s positive that sixth grade is going to be the best year yet—until she learns that her grandmother’s long-lost sister, Yi Po, is coming to stay with the family, which means sharing her bedroom and enrolling in Chinese school.
Shang recently talked to Kirkus about her inspiration for the book, what she and Lucy have in common and the first book she ever wrote at age five!
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What inspired you to write The Great Wall of Lucy Wu?
I was looking for an idea for a middle-grade book, and I was visiting with my mom. She had had a distant relative in China contact her for photographs because he was doing genealogy work. She sent him photos she had, and then he wrote back and said, “Thank you so much. I thought I’d never see these photos again.” He didn’t say this, but we understood what he meant was these photographs were destroyed probably during the Cultural Revolution.
I wanted to write about that moment, but I didn’t want to write directly about the Cultural Revolution because I think that story still mostly belongs to the people who experienced it. But I wanted to find a way to connect a character to that moment.
Do you see any of yourself in Lucy?
Oh, sure. I think when you write your first book that kind of tends to happen. There are definitely things that happen in the book that happened to me. By the time I was done writing the book, Lucy had become her own person, too. It was sort of like when you meet someone and they have a lot of the same childhood experiences but they’re still their own person.
What is one of things that happens to Lucy in the book that happened to you in real life?
One of the things that happened was when she first meets Yi Po. Yi Po says “Oh, she’s so big,” and she means “Oh, she’s older than I expected.” Lucy thought that she meant, “Oh, you mean I’m fat.” That happened to me and it was the same reaction.
You wrote your first book at age five. What was it like?
You’ve got a lamb and a bunny, and they were arguing over who was the fluffiest. And then on the second to last page, I guess I realized I was running out of paper. So on the battlefield, there’s a page of flags, you know, battle flags. Then one of them says, “Wait. We must not fight. We must learn to be kind”—or something like that. And then they end up shaking hands and walking away.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
No, I didn’t. It was really funny because it’s one of those things when I started writing seriously and I thought back on my own, “Oh yeah. I should have sort of seen that coming.” But I guess I always felt like, maybe, my parents wanted me to think more professionally. Then I looked back, and I wrote my first book when I was in kindergarten and I won some writing awards in elementary school. In high school, I wrote a serial with a friend of mine—we took our classmates and put them in a in funny situations. And still, I never had this moment where, Oh, I want to be a writer.”
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Scholastic / Jan. 1, 2011 / 9780545162159 / $17.99