Maggie’s Chopsticks is about celebrating your differences

Since 1985 the BC Book Prizes have celebrated the achievements of British Columbia writers and publishers.  This year’s winners include Alan Woo for his children’s book Maggie’s Chopsticks.

Author Alan Woo

Author Alan Woo

His first book, Maggie’s Chopsticks is based on Woo’s own life growing up.

“It was based on my own experiences and having people always tell me telling me I was holding my chopsticks the wrong way,” explains Woo of the story of young Maggie who learns a valuable lesson that transcends the traditional eating utensils from China.

“It is meant to be something more,” continues Woo.  “It is about being different and individual and celebrating those differences.”

Along with Montreal illustrator Isabelle Malenfant, Woo shares in the 2013 Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize named after the matriarch of Canadian children’s literature and Order of Canada recipient, who herself was author of 20 books for young people over her long career.

“It is such a great honour,” says Woo of the win.  “It’s good exposure of the book obviously, but really I was just happy to have the book published.”

Beginning as a poem for a contest that didn’t pan out, Woo started the tedious process of shopping the idea of it as a children’s book before it was picked up by Kids Can Press in Toronto.

“There were lots of rejection letters,” smiles Woo.

But agreeing to publish the book was only the beginning of the three year process for the book to becoming reality, with the first devoted to edits, the second for Malenfant to complete the illustrations and the third to pull it all together.

“That first year was spent making sure the words were exactly right because [in a children’s book] there so few,” explains Woo.

Touring with other BC Book Prize winner nominees on Vancouver Island earlier this month, Woo was overwhelmed by the reception the book received from his target audience, a relief after admitting to initially being scared of kids.

“Reading in front them was terrifying,” says Woo.  “I was worried they wouldn’t like the story and kids will tell you what they feel.”

Woo needn’t have worried though as the book has received positive reviews from both the youngsters it targets and their parents.

“I had a friend who read it to her six year old son and he said ‘that’s a really good book mommy, everyone is different and that is okay’. For a six year old to get that message was really awesome,” he says.

Now onto his next project, Woo says he is working on what publisher’s call a “novel in stories” or a collection of short stories that are somehow linked together.

“It’s about family and immigration and definitely more adult. It is based on some of my own experiences,” says Woo whose master plan includes having a book published in every genre.

“The book after that I want to fit into the gay canon and maybe one day I’ll even do a Harlequin romance,” he laughs.

GayVancouver.Net has a signed copy of Maggie’s Chopsticks to give-away to one lucky reader.  Leave a comment below telling us your own most memorable childhood lesson.  You can also purchase your own copy on Amazon.ca.

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