Spring 2019 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Remy Lai

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring 2019 Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In the illustrated middle-grade novel Pie in the Sky, Jingwen faces the challenges of a new culture and language when he, his mother, and his semi-bratty little brother move to Australia. It’s tough, but pie helps.

1. What’s your sibling story?

I’m the middle child of five — two older sisters and two younger brothers — perfectly situated to fight with all of them. Because my mother always blamed my sisters, my strategy was: pick fights with them. But as much as my siblings and I fought, we also laughed and caused tons of mischief together. My life would be so much poorer without them.

2. Salted caramel: yea or nay?


3. How do you decide what will be in words and what will be in pictures?

My natural “voice” is a mix of words and pictures — that’s how I jot down thoughts in my notebook. During the revision process, my relentless editor threw questions at me that made me curse him (just a little bit). I discovered that my reasons for choosing words or pictures vary — from controlling pacing to portraying certain emotions to simply asking myself, “How much fun would that be to draw?”

4. Have you ever had to learn a second language?

I had to learn English and Mandarin when I was nine and moved from Indonesia to Singapore. Mandarin was much harder. I begged my mother to let me learn Malay instead, because it’s much closer to the Indonesian language I already knew, but she played the dictator-mom card, which I’m now grateful for. I picked up Singlish — English mixed with Chinese dialects, Malay, and Tamil — and I love it to the moon and back. I studied Japanese for a year in university, but I’ve mostly forgotten it. Immersion is important in learning languages.

5. Singapore is famous for its food, and Crazy Rich Asians makes me ask: how was the pie?

Hands down, Singapore has the best food — pies or otherwise! I visit about once a year, and basically spend the whole time eating. My favorite local baked goods include kueh dadar (rolled pandan crepe filled with grated coconut), lapis legit (layered cake), durian chiffon cake, all Chinese breads, Chinese sponge cake, egg custard tart — aaaaah, now I’m hungry.

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