Kat Zhang on Childhood, Summers in China and The Emperor’s Riddle
Contributed by Kat Zhang
Much like Mia, the 11-year-old heroine of The Emperor’s Riddle, I spent the summer between 6th and 7th grade visiting family in China. Unlike her, I didn’t stumble across any ancient treasure! I did, however, draw upon a lot of my own experiences growing up to write The Emperor’s Riddle.
My parents immigrated to the United States only a few years before I was born, and trips back to China were a staple of my childhood summers. The scene in Riddle where Mia flips through old photobooks of her mother’s childhood pictures is pretty much pulled from my own eagerness as a kid to know more about my own parents’ lives so very long ago. Their childhoods in 1960s China always seemed like another world, one so very removed from my own growing-up years in the US.
I remember when I was a kid that adults would often respond
to my beliefs on social, human, and political positions with some version of: Well, you won’t feel that way when you grow
up. I was raised in a conservative town with conservative ideals (starting,
I suppose, with the belief that kids’ opinions were not of equal value!). But I
remember thinking, even at the time: Oh,
I bet you’re wrong about that. I bet I’ll feel exactly the same way when I grow
Well, I’m grown up! Or I am at least by the measures
specified by the adults of my childhood, and I in fact do feel the same way on
most of those issues. With the confidence of age, I might even maintain some of
my positions more vigorously.
I am currently the writer of a book series for seven- to
twelve-year-olds. The series has some other stuff I still like from childhood:
imagination, mystery, a little bit of adventure. But in these books I also
focus a lot on compassion and understanding. In particular, I extend these
themes to my villains. I do this because my human, social, and political views
are, at their core, founded in the belief that humans are the same. People of all gender, color and
income levels—we’re not as far apart as we sometimes appear. In fact, our
distance is sometimes our shared vulnerabilities and insecurities, just
expressed in different ways.