Dragon Mountain: Katie and Kevin Tsang on working together and why we need diverse characters in children's books

Published on: 21 September 2020

Sam Wu creators Katie and Kevin Tsang are back with a brand new series, kicking off with Dragon Mountain!

We asked them about the magical adventure - and what it's really like writing together as husband and wife...

A photograph of Katie and Kevin Tsang and the front cover of their book Dragon Mountain

We love the characters in Dragon Mountain. Were they inspired by anyone in particular?
Thank you! We love them too! All the characters probably have some elements of ourselves and people we know in them. Charlotte is bossy like Katie. Billy is inquisitive and curious like Kevin. Dylan O'Donnell, who is from Galway in Ireland, was slightly inspired by our friend Catherine Doyle, who is also from Galway - not only his Irish heritage, but his excellent sense of humor. And Ling-Fei's love of nature and the natural world is something we both have.

We know that you are both passionate about including authentic Chinese and diverse characters in your books – why is it important?
We want our books to accurately reflect the world we live in, and we live in a diverse world. We want to make sure that children from all over can relate to our books and see themselves in them.

We feel especially passionate about including Chinese characters as that is Kevin's heritage, and he wishes he had seen more Chinese characters in books he read growing up. It was also important to us to have an ensemble cast instead of just one main character, so more readers can have characters they might relate to.

Dragon Mountain Top Trumps cards for Buttons and Spark

We hear that you had some adventures in the mountains in China – tell us more!
We met studying abroad in Hong Kong in 2008 and then went back to Hong Kong to live and work in 2011. While there, we often travelled to mainland China - one of our favorite trips was a hiking trip we took in Yunnan province. We hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world, and it is incredible! The scenery in Yunnan really inspired some of the settings in Dragon Mountain, as did a trip Katie did in Sichuan when she hiked E Mei Shan with friends in 2008.

What are the best and worst things about writing as a husband and wife team?
The best thing is how much fun it is. And anytime one of us has a new idea, we can always turn to the other one to talk it out and get excited about it! We genuinely love working together, and feel very lucky that we get to write together.

The hardest parts are when we don't agree on a plot point or idea, but funnily enough the things we have to discuss and debate over usually turn out to be some of the strongest parts of the books.

Dragon Mountain Top Trumps cards for Tank and Xing

You did lots of research into Chinese dragon mythology for this book (and the rest in the series). What were some of the most fascinating things you discovered?
We got inspiration for our dragons from both Chinese folklore as well as Western and European folklore, as we wanted to merge the two for our own unique dragons. As part of our research, we looked at lots of ancient Chinese art depicting dragons, as well as important artefacts throughout Chinese history.

The eight pearls in the novel, which play a very important part, are inspired by the Eight Great Treasures in Chinese culture. We also included peaches of immortality, which come from Chinese mythology. In our take on it, in the Dragon Realm, there are peach trees scattered all across the land, and if you are lucky, you may find a peach that grants you immortality.

Finally, what books did you love when you were kids? And what books are you reading to your daughter now?
Kevin really loved Goosebumps and one of his all-time favourites is Jurassic Park. Katie loved the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce and anything by Madeline L'Engle, especially A Wrinkle in Time.

And we love reading books to our toddler! Some big favourites at our house are Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien, Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall, and we also love our BookTrust Bookstart books - Chuffa Chuffa Choo Choo by Emma Garcia and Bouncing Babies by Helen Oxenbury.

Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang is out now - you can read our review here.

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