Name: Melanie Linden Chan of North Kingstown
Book: Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work for Sustainable Farming (Tilbury House, 2018, 40pp)
Written by: Sigrid Schmalzer
Illustrated by: Melanie Linden Chan
Age Group: 6-10
Book Reading/Signing: Noon-2 pm, Saturday, June 2, 2018 at Wakefield Books
Read Local Children’s Book Synopsis
In the early 1960s, while Rachel Carson was writing and defending Silent Spring in the U.S., Pu Zhelong was teaching peasants in Mao Zedong’s Communist China how to forgo pesticides and instead use parasitic wasps to control the moths that were decimating crops and contributing to China’s widespread famine. This story, told through the memories of a farm boy, will immerse young readers in Chinese culture, the natural history of insects, and sustainable agriculture.
Meet Melanie Linden Chan
By Jeanette Bradley
Melanie Linden Chan lives and works in North Kingstown. We chatted about her debut picture book Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean.
Q: What sparked your interest in children’s book illustration?
A: My artistic style and interests have always been very childish and fun. I learned how to draw by copying my favorite Disney characters and comic strips. I even used to make my own little books! Then when I went to college for my degree in Fine Art, I sort of lost my way, and although I could paint a great landscape or still life, I had forgotten my love for the fun stuff.
It wasn’t until I started crossing things off my personal bucket list and enrolled in courses at RISD that everything clicked. I saw RISD’s Children’s Book Illustration program, and it felt like my own little world suddenly aligned with universe and, BAM! That’s what I was missing this whole time! Working on picture books!
Q: MOTH AND WASP has such an interesting mixture of paper cuts and watercolor. How did you come up with this idea?
A: Originally I had wanted to do an intricate carved cherry wood border around each spread, much like the beautiful antique style furniture one finds in many Chinese homes, and equally all over the place in China. However, it turned out to be too heavy a design for the layout and topic we were working on. The author, Sigrid Schmalzer, had been on a trip to China and saw some paper cuts, and she reminded me of that ancient folk art. I was so excited she had brought that up, because it was exactly what I needed for the project.
The only issue was that I was very short on time, and to expertly cut all of my paper cuts by hand, I would have run out of time. So instead I drew the designs in pen and ink, and then scanned them. I also scanned some paper textures. I brought it all into Photoshop and superimposed the design over the paper texture and tweaked the shadows a bit. And it worked out great!
Q: Is there a local Rhode Island connection for your book?
A: When I first began working on Moth and Wasp, I spent much of my creative time in a small studio space on the second floor of our family restaurant in North Kingstown, the Pagoda Inn. It was a really good place to be working on a story that involved the Chinese culture, because I could easily run downstairs and take a look at one of our decorative pieces of art or furniture for a reference.
I also had access to the Chinese employees that work for us in the kitchen. Most of them grew up in the same area and around the same time as the main character. I would ask the kitchen staff, or my in-laws, which Chinese characters I should use for my paper cuts, or if something I had drawn looked accurate or not.
It was also helpful to surround myself with inspiring music, so during times when I was working double duty and drawing in between cashing out customers, the classic Chinese music was very helpful in keeping my brain in the right place. The bonus of those double duty days was that our customers could peek in and see how things were coming along on the book. It got everyone excited to see the final product!
Q: Where can we find you online?
A: My website, www.mlcillustration.com, has photos of my process, and other art that I have created.
Q: Where can we meet you locally or pick up a signed copy of Moth and Wasp?
A: I keep pre-signed books in stock at our restaurant, Pagoda Inn, in North Kingstown. If you want them to be personalized, I can easily do that for you and have them available for pick up at the restaurant.
Melanie will be reading and signing her book noon-2 pm, Saturday, June 2, 2018, at Wakefield Books.
Photo by Jeanette Bradley, book cover provided.