Interview: Lyla Lee

Hello, Lyla! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village as part of your blog tour celebrating the launch of the first two books in your Mindy Kim series! Would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! I’m Lyla, the author of the Mindy Kim series for younger readers, as well as I’LL BE THE ONE, a young adult novel that comes out in June. After working various jobs in Hollywood and studying Psychology and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, I now live in Dallas, Texas. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching kids, petting cute dogs, and searching for the perfect bowl of shaved ice.

The Mindy Kim books constitute your debut. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page?

My journey is a REALLY long one but it all began in fourth grade, when I had a really great teacher that inspired me to become a writer through her own stories. I was an avid reader all throughout my childhood, mostly because I moved around a lot as a kid and books were my only constant friends. In eighth grade, I finished my first book and started submitting it to literary agents. I finished and queried four more (out of many more incomplete manuscripts) books off and on from 8th grade to college. The last of these books was a novel adaptation of the script I wrote for a final project in my university screenwriting class. This book got me my agent three months after college graduation. Unfortunately, my journey wasn’t over then. In the next two years, two of my books got rejected by publishers. I wrote two more books, and the second one was a middle grade book I tried writing on a whim. It sold in a few days. That was MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS, the first book of the Mindy Kim series.

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from the Mindy Kim books?

I hope readers (especially young ones!) learn the value of open-mindedness and friendship. Mindy is all alone and sad in the beginning of the book, but ONE friend takes a chance on her and that makes all the difference. Mindy herself is scared of the kids at her new school at first but she finds the courage to actively seek out the other kids’ friendships. The other kids gradually take a chance on her as well, despite the fact that she isn’t like them. And that makes the world of a difference for Mindy. We really need more open-mindedness like this in our society today.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians. Is there anything you’d like to say to them — in particular those planning to add the Mindy Kim books to their classrooms and libraries?

The Mindy Kim books are fun to read aloud to kids as it has really cute illustrations. At its core, the series entails the slice of life family adventures of a second grader navigating through life in a new town with her father, but it also has lots of fun aspects of Korean culture like yummy food and games that can be played in a classroom setting. We pitched the series as FRESH OFF THE BOAT meets JUNIE B. JONES. The third one is coming out in May and there’s another one coming out this fall.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Readers can visit me at my website: lylaleebooks.com! There, I have a contact page where readers can reach me. I am also on Instagram and Twitter (@literarylyla), if more grown up readers would like to contact me through there.

Meet Mindy Kim: the plucky protagonist of a new chapter book seriesthat is like Fresh off the Boat meets Junie B. Jones. Mindy Kim tackles the everyday experience of millions of Asian-American kids—sorely underrepresented in chapter books—with tenacity and heart.

Mindy’s first day of school goes awry in MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS (Aladdin | On Sale 1/14/20). Mindy’s grateful when her new friend Sally is able to make her initially unpopular dried seaweed snacks seem totally delicious to her new classmates. But when someone tries to sabotage Sally and Mindy’s Yummy Seaweed Business, Mindy wonders if she’ll ever fit in. Starting a new school is hard for any kid, but for Mindy, who finds herself at a school without any kids who look like her for the first time, starting anew means finding the courage to stay true to oneself even when it seems like no one can understand. Kirkus Reviews gave this “lovingly authentic debut” a star, raving that “Lee takes on a number of issues with a new school, microagressions, friendships, and grief, and she manages to artfully balance it all.”

In MINDY KIM AND THE LUNAR NEW YEAR PARADE (Aladdin | On Sale 1/14/20), it’s Mindy’s first Lunar New Year without her mom and she’s determined to enjoy the day. When Mindy decides to make traditional Korean New Year food to celebrate, things don’t go according to plan. But with the help of her family and friends, Mindy finds a way to celebrate her old traditions and create new ones along the way, discovering that she can find her own way of being Korean-American.

This series is for every new kid, every kid missing a parent, every kid picking themselves up after facing a challenge—but it’s vital that Mindy isn’t just any kid. Korean-American author Lyla Lee writes Mindy from her own experience as the new kid at a predominately white school.

Mindy Kim speaks directly to Korean-American kids who have never seen themselves on the page, inviting readers to both express their cultural identity with pride, and celebrate identities unlike their own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LYLA LEE is a writer of many things. After working various jobs in Hollywood and studying psychology and cinematic arts at USC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. When she is not writing, she is teaching, watching Korean dramas and other TV shows, and eating all kinds of good food. Visit her online at lylaleebooks.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @literarylyla.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

DUNG HO was born and raised in Hue, Vietnam, where she studied graphic design at the Hue University College of Arts. After graduating, she worked in the design and advertising industries before discovering a great passion for illustration and picture books and becoming a freelance illustrator. Currently, she lives and works in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Ho draws inspiration from nature and the interaction between people and nature and especially loves to draw children. When not drawing, she enjoys cooking and watching movies. Visit her online at dungho.me and on Instagram @dunghanhho.

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