Eileen Wacker: Where’s the Sushi?

Mar 23, 2015 by

An Interview with Eileen Wacker: Where’s the Sushi?

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Eileen, first of all, tell us about yourself, and what led up to you writing this series of books?

Hello Michael. Nice to meet you in such a modern way. I was living in Seoul Korea with my husband and four (then) small children. I was a volunteer running the books program at the international school and wanted to add value so I started to ready up on reading and children’s literacy. My children were in kindergarten and younger so I was also very interested in what they were reading (and what they should be reading). I’m more enlightened now and think all reading is positive but I was a little more uptight in those days about being the greatest mom ever when it came to my children’s academics! Now I realize that children not peaking in pre-school is a positive thing.

Anyway, it came to my attention there was a shortage of children’s book that highlighted Asian culture in a mainstream way. My oldest daughter is adopted from China so I also wanted to research her heritage with her and celebrate her culture. When I moved to Honolulu, I decided to write a children’s book series. I named it The Fujimini Adventure Series. The inspiration was Mount Fuji. I researched myths and legends and outlined contemporary story lines.

I wanted them to be smart books so I created glossaries and worked with an education consultant to develop lesson plans and discussion guides. My children have been part of the whole process and encouraged me to make the books multi-media. So we have ebooks, animated books and a fun sticker app. We are working on dvds and a reading game app now. We are trying to create a nice world for the readers and have them interact with the stories in different ways.

2) Let’s look at the Red Penguin and the Case of the Missing Sushi. Is there really a hero to this story, or is it more of a teaching fable?

In Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi, there are several lessons embedded in the story. I attach a link from our website that can give you more details! http://oncekids.com/stuff-for-grownups/discussion-guides/

One of the most important messages is that children can get caught up in things such as a party, and forget about others. So they may brag about something they are doing, not understanding that another child may feel bad about their situation. Children brag all the time (often exaggerating :-)) and other kids don’t appreciate it. Or some children may be so caught up in party planning that they forget that some may be excluded and this makes them upset. Including others makes the party more fun anyway. There is a quiet message about keeping promises, apologizing sincerely, how pranks can backfire, and teamwork as well.

3) What does Fujimini mean? And why did you choose this word?

Here is the link to the page itself, http://oncekids.com/stuff-for-grownups/cultural-tidbits/

but to summarize… Mount Fuji

The animals reside on an island called Fujimini Island (and this is the name of the book series). The inspiration for the name came from Mount Fuji or Fuji-san in Japan. Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. On a clear day, you can see this beautiful cone shaped mountain from Tokyo. It is named after the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi and is sacred to the Shinto goddess Sengam-sama. Mt. Fuji is the holiest of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” and many believe this mountain has a soul. Every summer thousands of tourists climb to the summit.

I also love the sound of the word Fuji (fun to say). So Fujimini came about as the stories are small literary mountains for children to climb!

4) I guess the moral of this book is that one should not play tricks on one’s friends. Am I off on this?

Sorry I think I answered this back in question 2!!

5) What age and grade is this appropriate for?

The word count and vocabulary level makes this a good fluid reader for a second grade level. The glossary is really meant to read with someone older as there is more word density. But with ebooks and all the visuals, a child as young as five could enjoy. The animated books have the words light up as they are read by voice actors so any age child can enjoy hearing and watching the story. The younger child does not have to get the nuances to enjoy the story but the second grader will understand some of the points (hopefully).

6) Tell us about this Moon Festival Celebration.

Here is the link to the description! I hope you like it. http://oncekids.com/stuff-for-grownups/cultural-tidbits/

Moon Festival

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place in mid-September and celebrates a bountiful fall harvest. In China, families take time to get together in a place where they can view the full moon. Homes are often decorated with bamboo posters with three visual elements – the moon goddess, the moon and the Jade Rabbit (who lives on the moon). They eat moon cakes which are delicious flaky pastries filled with sweet fillings such as lotus seed paste, coconut, walnut, dates, etc.. Moon cakes are also a symbol of reunion and during this time families gather together and think about others far away, imagining them staring at the same moon. The hamsters are making lanterns. Often, lanterns are made if the family will walk to a certain spot to view the moon – to light the way. They are festive and pretty.

7) You acknowledge Korea in your book. I am happy to say I visited Teagu, Seoul and the Minjok Leadership Academy when I was there….what are you trying to teach U.S.kids about that part of the world?

I’m trying to teach kids that kids that eat with chopsticks or celebrate a moon festival, still want to be included and work as a team on issues. I also want them to understand the impact Asian culture has on our culture now. Kids have heard of Samurai warriors and take taekwondo lessons. Most everyone has heard of sushi and has eaten lots of Chinese food. I think some of the background embedded in the glossaries is fun and will add to the reading experience. I love the research and result. I love the shape shifting dragon for example and the myth behind it. In ancient times in China, the advent of spring was marked by the dragon waking up (by firecrackers being set off). The dragon would wake up from his hibernation and shift into a cloud. Then he would float across the fields watering the crops. The advent of spring, renewal and preparing for a successful fall harvest.

Living in Korea for four years was a wonderful experience and I wanted to highlight some of the things about their culture that I found interesting/fascinating and fun.

I also want kids to know that wherever you are, kids are more similar than they are different.

8) Tell us about your illustrator- because some of his pictures really make the book.

The illustrator of Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi is Alan Low and he is a wonderful drawing and graphic artist. He lives in Honolulu and runs a graphic design firm. He is Chinese American so he enjoyed working on the project!

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