Speed Interview with Livia Blackburne, Author of I Dream of Popo
A speed interview with Livia Blackburne, author of I Dream of Popo
The Children’s Book Review
New York Times–bestselling author Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full-time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She is the author of the Midnight Thief and Rosemarked duologies. Livia was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to Albuquerque, NM when she was five. After a twelve-year stint at Harvard and MIT, where she earned an AB in Biochemical Sciences and a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience, she moved to Los Angeles, where she now lives with her husband and daughter. In her free time, Livia likes to karaoke, dance, and dabble in martial arts.
Which five words best describe I Dream of Popo?
Livia Blackburne: Love, Distance, Generations, Language, Food
Can you share a highlight from the book? Or maybe your thoughts on, or an excerpt of, your favorite sentence, paragraph, or page?
I Dream of Popo centers around a young girl’s immigration from Taiwan to San Diego, and a large part of the story hinges around her losing her proficiency in Chinese. This makes it harder for her to communicate with her beloved Chinese-speaking Popo (maternal grandmother) in Taiwan. My favorite spread is the one at the end, where she dreams about her grandmother after Popo becomes ill. In the dream, she speaks Chinese to Popo, and her Popo replies in English. At that point, the girl realizes that she’ll always have a connection with her grandmother in her heart, despite barriers of distance and language.
What has been the most rewarding reaction from a reader so far?
I don’t think I truly understood the value of #ownvoices literature before I wrote this book. I wrote I Dream of Popo to tell my own story, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to hear from readers who saw their own experiences reflected in the book. Their enthusiasm has been truly touching. One reader said, “I’ve never felt more known by a book than this one.” Someone else said, “Is this what representation feels like? It’s a first for me.” It’s truly a humbling experience to be a part of that.
Please share your thoughts on why you feel books like I Dream of Popo are great additions to a child’s home library.
It’s funny. We wrote this book before the pandemic, with the immigrant experience in mind. We’d never have predicted that by the time the book came out, the world would be a very different place, and the experience of being unable to see your loved ones in person would be that much more universal. I think many children will identify with the idea of facetiming their distant relatives, and I hope this book gives them a way to process the experience.
Also, I’ve already mentioned the reception the book has received from immigrants and minorities, but I also wanted to make the point that everyone benefits from reading books about minority cultures. The point of diverse books is two fold: first for minority children and adults to see themselves represented and their stories told. The second is so that the majority culture can benefit from exposure to corners of the world they might not seen before. Both are important.
For your writing energy: sugar or salt, tea or coffee?
Salt and very weak tea (I’m super sensitive to caffeine.)
Writing tools: computer, pen and paper, or all of the above?
All of the above, plus a microphone and digital voice recorder. I do a lot of my early brainstorming with voice recognition software. I brainstorm and diagram plot snags with pen as well, and I type for everything else.
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
I have a notebook, in which I write morning pages every day. (Three pages longhand stream of consciousness, see The Artist’s Way for more details.) I also have a biofeedback device called Heartmath that you clip to your ear. It measures your heart rate and helps you relax—kind of like a meditation aid. I also use that for five minutes every morning. The latest book on my nightstand is The Savvy Screenwriter by Susan Kouguell. I’m trying to expand my artistic horizons.
What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh or cry?
I just read The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and it really is the most beautiful thing. A really touching story about a Hmong grandmother helping her granddaughter find true beauty in the world. I definitely teared up.
Can you tell us something that even your most loyal fans may not know about you?
I jog in place around the house. It’s really dorky, but it’s the only way I can make my step count these days.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Just that stories are powerful. Civilizations rise and fall on them. Religions have them at their core. Relationships draw life from them. So keep an eye out for your own to tell and be mindful of the ones you let yourself believe.
To learn more about Livia Blackburne, visit http://liviablackburne.com/
Written by Livia Blackburne
Illustrated by Julia Kuo
Ages 4-8 | 40 Pages
Publisher : Roaring Brook Press | ISBN-13 : 978-1250249319
Publisher’s Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.
I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.
When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.
Buy the Book
This speed interview with Livia Blackburne was conducted by Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Asian American Books, Books About Grandmas, Emigration and Immigration, Intergenerational Stories, Livia Blackburne, Picture Book, and Taiwanese Culture. Be sure to follow along with our Speed Interview series, too.
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