Interview with Dane Liu, Author of LaoLao’s Dumplings

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Apr 10, 2024

Dane Liu believes in the power of stories to affirm, transport, and transform. Her debut for young readers FRIENDS ARE FRIENDS, FOREVER is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, a Kids Indie Next Pick, and a Best Book of the Year from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. It has been selected for national and international reading programs, including the Forest of Reading in Canada, the Panda Award in Asia, and the Gold House Book Club. As a writer, Dane hopes to empower young people to see the importance of their own stories and the beauty of sharing them.

I had the opportunity to interview Dane, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I write books for young readers. My family and I live in a forest in the Pacific Northwest.

What can you tell us about your latest project, LaoLao’s Dumplings? What was it like to work on this book?

LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS is a picture book about intergenerational relationship, this food we love (dumplings!), and the different ways we show care. It is also a tribute to the North American communities of Chinatown and the relationships they nurture.

As a writer, what drew you to storytelling, specifically to picture books?

For me, storytelling is a game, a puzzle, a world to be constructed—character by character, scene by scene. It also helps me digest my own experiences and make sense of things. When my thoughts are heavy, I can unload them and let the paper help shoulder the weight. When my feelings are joyous, writing lets me live them twice. Then when we share our storytelling, we create a bond with someone else, a connection that wasn’t there before. Lucky for me, picture books connect me with our younger readers, though not only. I think the genre is for everyone. It is our easiest access to fine art.

What were some of your favorite picture book growing up? What are some of your favorite now?

I grew up in Northeastern China until my tween years. So I didn’t know picture books the way we know them here, until I became a parent. There are so many good picture books! I love MOLE IS NOT ALONE by Maya Tatsukawa, THE QUEEN IN THE CAVE by Júlia Sardà, THE WATER LADY by Alice B. McGinty and Shonto Begay, WHEN YOU CAN SWIM by Jack Wong, Mr. FIORELLO’S HEAD by Cecilia Ruiz, and DESERT QUEEN by Jyoti Rajan Gopal and Svabhu Kohli.

Growing up, were there any books/stories in which you felt touched by/or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

When I was a kid, there weren’t many stories about Asian girls in North America. Today (finally!), we see more and more books that center Asian kids, their families, and their many human layers, such as MEASURING UP by Lily LaMotte, WHILE I WAS AWAY by Waka T. Brown, STARGAZING by Jen Wang, THE TRYOUT by Christina Soontornvat, FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang, and Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee. I would love to see more stories that look at Asian families through the lens of humor.

How would you describe your general creative process?

When an idea comes, I write it down right away. I used to jot it on paper. These days, I use Notes on my phone to avoid misplacing it. LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS began in Notes as a dialogue between a girl and her grandmother. FRIENDS ARE FRIENDS, FOREVER began with my childhood memory of making paper-cut snowflakes and freezing them outside. Some ideas never go beyond Notes. But ones that stay with me, where the characters keep yapping in my ear and I see them in everything I do, become first drafts. Then I revise. I get feedback from my critique group and my agent. Then I revise some more.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

I think everything is a source. Every thing can be the seed for a story. For me, being a creative is a lifetime practice of paying attention and growing those observations into something new.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

My favorite is humor. The most challenging is also humor. When it works, humor deepens everything.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I love nature, and I love city. My husband and I live in a forest, but we met and married in New York City. I return often, including for LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS’ book launch, and it feels like home. I have two little kids. Our family of four is fluent in English, Mandarin, German, and French.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

My mom and my kids are the inspiration for LAOLAO’S DUMPLINGS. The exact moment was a conversation I overheard. A few years ago, my daughter asked Laolao if they could eat dumplings. It was a weeknight. There was no celebration. So my mom said, “Which tooth of yours craves my dumplings?” And my daughter answered, “All of them!” I wrote this exchange in Notes right away and grew the idea into a story.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring picture book writers?

Write foremost for yourself. You are the story’s first audience. The story (and this pursuit) isn’t working if you are not entertained. Read in the genre and widely. Stay observant. Write badly then rewrite. Join a critique group. Definitely join a critique group. Learn by giving and receiving feedback. Read more. Take risks with your storytelling. Repeat.

Writing takes guts, optimism, and persistence. It requires consistency, showing up at your keyboard and in your notebook. It takes confidence and humility, skill and luck, pushing and letting go. It takes passion, compassion, patience, and trust. Writing also gives. You know you are a writer, when you feel terrible not writing. When in that moment your story finally works, you feel indescribable joy. Being a writer has longevity when we accept what it takes and gives.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I am working on a board book, a chapter book series, a historical fiction picture book, a historical fiction middle grade, and a collaboration with an illustrator friend.

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

On my nightstand, there is LUNAR NEW YEAR LOVE STORY by Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham, MEXIKID by Pedro Martín, THE CREATIVE ACT by Rick Rubin, NEPANTLA (one of my favorite poetry collections), THE LIFTERS by Dave Eggers, and ONE MORE JAR OF JAM by Michelle Sumovich (my critique partner!) and Gracey Zhang. I also recommend books by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Tracy Subisak, ShinYeon Moon, Sophie Blackall, Sydney Smith, Lian Cho, Lynn Scurfield, Beatrice Alemagna, and Julie Flett.

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