Today #TheBackstory welcomes my friend, Kimberly Lee to the blog with her picture book, BOYS DON'T FRY (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2023) with illustrations by Charlene Chua. This is the perfect read to make your tummy rumble while encouraging kids to follow their passions.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BOYS DON’T FRY.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
KL: Hi Andrew! Thanks for offering me this opportunity to share a bit about my upcoming book and for always supporting fellow creators - I love what you do!
BOYS DON’T FRY is a loving ode to my Peranakan (or Nyonya) Chinese heritage and the glorious food and family that I’ve grown up with, here in Malaysia. It’s a tale about a food-loving boy called Jin, who just knows that cooking is in his blood -that is, if he can prove this to his meddling, but well-meaning aunties! With the help of his grandmother, the formidable matriarch of the family, Jin learns to challenge gender and cultural norms and gain entry into the fascinating world of spices, secrets and Malaysian Nyonya cuisine. This is a story that will aim to warm your heart - and your stomach.
AH: Kimberly, what a beautiful story! You expertly capture the family dynamic. I also appreciate how your use of similies lets us in on Jin's hopes and feelings throughout the story.
What is the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
KL: I love this question! I’ve always wanted to write a story that would serve as a love letter to the unique subculture I come from - the Peranakans, who take great pride in their customs, traditions…and their absolutely phenomenal cuisine!
This is a story that’s intended to challenge gender stereotypes; especially here in Asia, where the kitchen can often be viewed as a female domain. Traditional stereotypes in the past would have dictated that the women (or the Nyonyas) would be in charge of the cooking, instead of the men (the Babas). Thankfully, times are changing, and cooking is such a form of creative expression that should be open to everyone, regardless of gender - or age.
Importantly, this is also a larger story about honoring the desire in every child’s heart to feel seen, valued and included. I wanted BOYS DON’T FRY to serve as an encouragement to young readers to be unafraid of challenges and to keep dreaming big, despite what anyone says - and I hope that this message will resonate with them.
AH: I love how you masterfully tell this tale of changing cultural stereotypes while embedding that larger message of seeing and valuing every individual child for what they love and what makes them unique. This is a message that every child should be hearing and you have given us a beautiful way to help relay it.
AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BOYS DON’T FRY? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
KL: BOYS DON’T FRY was honestly birthed very organically, and was one of the quickest works I’ve ever put to paper (or to keyboard, if you will)! I had a very clear idea of where to take this story, knowing the core elements I considered crucial - and I always wanted the beating heart of it to be my main character’s relationship with his grandmother; someone who honors his skills and passions, believes in him and encourages him to be everything he can be.
AH: That relationship comes through so strongly in your words and through Charlene's beautifully depicted images of their interactions and expressions.
AH: Did BOYS DON’T FRY undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
KL: The version that will eventually be published (on 14th November ‘23 - mark your calendars!) is largely faithful to its original iteration. I was glad that I got the chance to expand a little more on the magic that Jin experiences in the kitchen and the transformative impact it has on him. He finally feels like he’s home there, and I got to work on these aspects a little more, together with my editor, to really drive the message home.
AH: Editors are magical. They have a unique way of pinpointing those crucial elements and giving writers the space to elaborate and dive deeper into the heart of the story.
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on BOYS DON’T FRY?
KL: None that particularly spring to mind, although I did very much enjoy reading other books that also centered around food and family!
AH: As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?
KL: Oh, there are SO many! I’ve found the SCBWI to be an invaluable source, along with the KidLit 411 group, and the terrific work that fellow picture book creator, Justin Colón, has done for the community.
I’m also incredibly grateful to my amazing critique partners, who help me to be a better writer with their always insightful commentary, and to my debut picture book group, PBJam2023, featuring amazing creators with books debuting this year as well.
AH: It sounds like you have an amazing network setup to support you while also providing motivation, encouragement, and further learning.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
KL: I honestly don’t know what I can share, or how much it’s supposed to remain a secret haha! In the US, I’ve got 2 projects coming out by next year - and in my home country of Malaysia, I’ll have another book out this November/December, along with 2 more exciting projects planned in 2024 (fingers crossed!).
AH: It is always so hard to know what can be shared. We are excited for all of the vague news you have for us and I am thrilled that we will have more Kimberly Lee titles on the way soon.
Where can people connect more with you?
KL: You can find me on IG at @kimlsywrites and on Twitter (or is it X now?!), under the same handle :) You can also visit my author website at www.kimberlyleebooks.com
AH: Readers, please connect with Kimberly on social media and check out her website for more information about BOYS DON'T FRY. And while you are at it, please consider supporting BOYS DON'T FRY in any way you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Kimberly, thank you for joining us and for sharing all about your incredible book, BOYS DON'T FRY. I can't wait to add it to my collection when it releases on November 14, 2023.
ABOUT KIMBERLY LEE
Kimberly Lee is a lawyer, Managing Editor of parenting platform, makchic, the author of Boys Don't Fry and the co-author of What if?. Her love of cooking good food is superseded only by her love of eating it. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and their two young sons. Find her online on her website or on Instagram and Twitter/X.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.