Storytime

Grace Lin makes books about her life and family.
By Ellen Nam
Grace Lin in her studio
Grace Lin is an author and illustrator.
DANIELLE TAIT

Because Grace Lin didn’t grow up seeing other kids like her—she was the only Asian American in her class—she connected with books. “I felt like books were my friends,” she told TIME for Kids. “Books never made me feel weird about who I was.” 

Grace Lin spends a few hours each day writing. She likes to take a walk before writing, to clear her mind.
DANIELLE TAIT

Lin started making books of her own. “Whenever there was a school project, I always made a book,” Lin says. In middle school, one of Lin’s teachers encouraged her to enter a book-making contest. Before the contest, Lin didn’t think that being an author was a career path for her. “I never saw anyone that looked like me as an author and an illustrator,” she says. After winning fourth place, Lin was motivated to become an author professionally.

Lin focused on illustrations, and took several art classes in high school. She went on to the Rhode Island School of Design, a college which many famous children’s-book illustrators have attended.

After graduating, Lin sought to launch her career as an illustrator. “I started sending out samples of my artwork to lots of publishers hoping that someone would hire me to illustrate a book,” she says, “but nobody did.” Looking back, she says her artwork didn’t feature characters that were popular at the time. “The images I kept sending out were images of my own childhood, which featured . . . an Asian American family.” 

But Lin kept trying. One day, she sent a postcard to an editor at “a small publishing company,” which hired her to illustrate her first book. It was called The Ugly Vegetables. Now she has published more than 20 books. 

Lin loves to draw. She believes drawings are important in books.
DANIELLE TAIT

As an illustrator, writer, and mom, Lin finds it helpful to set a schedule to follow when making books. She starts by waking up early and going on a long walk to clear her head and think about what to write.Then she goes home and eats breakfast before sitting in front of the computer to jot down any ideas that come to her. “Sometimes, I don’t get that much done,” she says, “but I try to spend most of the day [writing] until my daughter comes home from school.”

Lin’s books are based on her life and family. A Big Mooncake for Little Star is one of her favorites. It was inspired by something her daughter did. “She ate up all the mooncakes at our Moon Festival celebration,” Lin says. The book won a Caldecott Medal. Caldecott awards are for the best picture books of the year.

Some of Lin’s stories are based on her daughter (left).
DANIELLE TAIT

Lin believes that pictures are important in children’s books. She wants kids to see themselves in her work. “Children’s books are their first exposure to art and culture,” she says. “I hope when kids read my books, they find a friend that they want to keep forever.”