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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Mia Wenjen and Review of Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!

Mia Wenjen is half Japanese & half Chinese American and married to a Korean American.

Author photo of Mia Wengen.

This unusual ethnic combination made her seek out all kinds of Asian representation in children’s books for her three kids. Mia blogs on parenting, children’s books, and education at PragmaticMom.com and is the co-creator of Read Your World,  a non-profit celebrating diversity in children’s books.

Collage of 4 of Mia Wengen's books.

She’s the author of 8 books, including, the upcoming We Sing from the Heart: How the Slants®  Took Their Fight for Free Speech to the Supreme Court (October 2024), Changing the Game: Asian Pacific American Female Athletes (2023), Food for the Future: Sustainable Farms Around the World, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng (2023), and Sumo Joe, illustrated by Nat Iwata (2019). 


Her newest picture book, Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!, was released on May 26th.


Welcome Mia!


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write and/or illustrate? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)


I started writing as a reaction to being a book blogger at PragmaticMom.com. There was a time when blogging brought in $ but then that stopped and many of the education bloggers that I grew up with in the blogsphere started publishing books. Some turned their content into books but my content didn’t lend itself to that. 


I first got the idea to write a book for adults on how to keep girls in sports. My husband coached our daughters in soccer and found that the older the group was, the less they listened at practice. My neighbor was the Women’s Varsity soccer coach at Boston College so I convinced her to co-author How To Coach Girls with me. We also wrote a book about how to play sports in college, The Elusive Full Ride Scholarship, once she left coaching to become a college admissions consultant for sports. 


I took a class on how to write children’s books in January of 2016 at my local high school’s community education program and had the good fortune to have classmates Jannie Ho, Katia Wish, and Jen Betton. Sumo Joe came out of that experience. My favorite type of book to write is either a social justice issue that doesn’t get enough attention or something humorous. I write a lot about the Japanese and Chinese American experience. 


Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Book cover - a child and older man looking up at a spider hanging from a thread.

I loved the Madeline, Babar, and Curious George books as a child. Also Harry the Dirty Dog and Be Nice to Spiders. I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books as a kid. I loved fantasy including The Wizard of Oz series, The Chronicles of Prydain series (The Black Cauldron), and The Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings series though these books scared the pants out of me. I loved old-fashioned families like the All-of-a-Kind series, Cheaper by the Dozen, and The Five Little Peppers series. The Winkle in Time series was a revelation and got me interested in STEM. I also loved biography. I was a book nerd, for sure!


I love discovering books I haven't read. Thanks so much, Mia! What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!? 

Book cover - baby wearing boxing gloves KOs monkey and reject the pacifier.

I love boxing. I have been training as a boxer fighter for more than 12 years with an additional ten years as a kickboxer. I have always wanted to write a picture book about boxing but because it is NOT a sport that kids watch, it took me a long time to come up with a concept. Using idioms as part of the story was also my initial thought because I like to sneak teachable moments into all my books.


It is a really unusual premise and a lot of fun. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!


On the publishing side, we decided to time the book’s release with the Paris Olympics so that gave us more than a two and a half year window to create and print the book. I think I started working on the manuscript in 2017. I remember showing it to a Scholastic editor at Kweli and getting the feedback that it was too short. Still, it took me more than a year to fix it. 


Glad it all came together in time for the Olympics. Such great timing. What was the toughest aspect of writing Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!? And what was the most fun part of creating this book?


When I first wrote the manuscript, I was new to writing picture books and had crafted a book that was too short. There simply weren’t enough page spreads. Once my agent told me that he liked the story idea but it was too short, I added more scenes but used the build-up to the fight such as the weigh-in, the face-off, and the entrance. 


This was my first time working with an illustrator and editor and being part of the creative process. My agent who has created over 300 books as a book packager would also sit in. We had such a fun time meeting over Zoom. Kai’s illustrations always made us laugh and that would generate more ideas of how to push the humor. The ideas themselves would make us all laugh. It was like going to a comedy show!


Working as a complete team must have been such a great experience. When you first saw Kai Gietzen’s illustrations, did anything amaze or surprise you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal image - on left, dad sitting on the couch. On the right, baby on rocking horse with toys swirling around her.

Text © Mia Wenjen, 2024. Image © Kai Gietzen, 2024.


It is so hard to pick a favorite spread but I think I would choose the scene where Boxer Baby is riding her rocking horse with toys circling her overhead because that is the first thumbnail that Kai presented to us as finished art and it totally blew me away.


My agent, editor, and I have commented that Kai uses perspective in a way that we have never seen before in picture books! He heightens the drama and the humor by showing very unusual ways of cutting off a scene, zooming in on a scene, or using scale to heighten the drama of a scene. He is an amazing talent. My daughter who is graduating from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] thinks that he is one of the best illustrators to come out of RISD.


I love this image. It sets up the beginning of the match and the upcoming whimsy so well. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written and/or illustrated a manuscript?


I’m pretty boring. I am a procrastinator when it comes to writing so I tend to only write at my desk in my office. I use a laptop but I never unplug it so I can’t go anywhere. However, I do constantly make notes for ideas for picture books or manuscripts that I am working on. I got the idea for Sumo Joe while waiting in line at the grilled meat counter at a Brazilian dive restaurant in Waltham, MA. 


That's an interesting combination. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!?

Title page - on the left a quotation by Muhammad Ali. On the left, baby in hooded towel wearing boxing gloves.

Text © Mia Wenjen, 2024. Image © Kai Gietzen, 2024.


We used the hallway with portraits to highlight some female boxing icons. Leila Ali is a boxing champion and the daughter of Mohammed Ali whose quote graces the title page. Clarissa Shields is a boxing champion who dyes her hair blue to highlight her hometown of Flint, Michigan, and their ongoing lack of clean water. Finally, Katie Tayor is a great boxing champion that I have had the pleasure of meeting as she will spar at my boxing gym, Nonantum Boxing Club. Not only is Katie a boxing champion and Hall of Famer, but she is also a humble, kind, and lovely person. 


Thank you for sharing these special treasures tucked in the story. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Fortune Cookies for Everyone, illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage will come out in the Fall of 2025 through Red Comet Press. I have six picture books coming out with them over the next few years. Fortune Cookies for Everyone tells the story of who invented the fortune cookie.


Colleen Kong-Savage talks about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61j-w8rmIAU


That was such a fun video, thanks! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of Grand Canyon © Maria Marshall

I would love to take my family to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I visited Yosemite a long time ago before I was married and think that it’s such a beautiful place. My husband is not a big camping kind of guy so it’s perfect that there is a lovely hotel there. 


No one in our family has been to the Grand Canyon there and we talk about a road trip a lot but haven’t managed to get there yet.


I hope you do get there it is amazing, awe inspiring, and humbling. Thank you, Mia for sharing about yourself and your new picture book with us. 


For more information about Mia Wenjen, or to contact her:


Review of Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!


A nearly universal struggle occurs almost daily between caregivers and babies/toddlers. While adults need the time to recharge or get chores done, babies/toddlers don't want to miss anything, be left out, or admit they are tired. Setting this contest of wills in the arena of boxing makes for a humorous exploration of some common idioms (like throw in the towel or lightweight) and a fast-paced book sure to enthrall youngsters as they wait to see who wins the bedtime battle - Dad or Baby.

Book cover - baby wearing boxing gloves KOs monkey and reject the pacifier.

Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime!

Author: Mia Wenjen

Illustrator: Kai Gietzen

Publisher: Eifrig Publishing (2024)

Ages: Baby to 11

Fiction


Themes:

Naptime, boxing, humor, family, and dads.


Synopsis:

Mom is counting on Dad to get Boxer Baby down for her nap, but Boxer Baby is the G.O.A.T. of sleep avoidance. This hilarious face-off mimics a three-round boxing match, as Boxer Baby is no lightweight when it comes to staying awake.


Dad has a few tricks up his sleeve, but will it be enough in this epic battle against nap time?

Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime! uses figurative language to show how many common idioms have boxing origins.


Opening Lines:

Welcome, fans!

First to weigh in today

is Boxer Baby, the

undisputed champion

of avoiding naps!


The big question on

everyone’s mind today is,

WILL SHE TAKE ONE?


What I LOVED about this book:

This is such a fun opening. It definitely sets up the "sports announcer" voice for the narrator, the traditional opening weigh in, and the conflict of Boxer Baby versus the dreaded nap. The slightly cartoonish illustrations add to the humor.

Internal spread - baby power posing on a scale as Mom, Dad, & Dr. look on.

Text © Mia Wenjen, 2024. Image © Kai Gietzen, 2024.


After introducing Dad as the 'contestant' in the blue corner (see the image above in Mia's interview), Mom leaves and the match is on. Even the dog gets into the action - holding up a "Round 1" card!

Internal spread - Mom leaving. Dad aprehensively closing door, dog holding "Round 1," sign and baby at end of hall.

Text © Mia Wenjen, 2024. Image © Kai Gietzen, 2024.


“Make sure she naps,” says Mom.

It’s up to Dad to get Boxer Baby

down for the count!


Caregivers will identify with Dad's antics trying to snag Boxer Baby and accomplish his mission of achieving a nap. Kids will love the humorous ways Boxer Baby dodges and ducks, bobs and weaves, and initially evades with a "foul below the belt." A snicker inducing "colossal poo" necessitating round 2 in the bath, where soap in the eye almost ends the match. When round three begins with a giant yawn, Dad moves in "a flurry of combinations. Cozy blanket! Favorite Stuffy! And the irresistible pacifier!" But . . .


Well, you are going to have to catch the match ending on replay (i.e., read the book). This is a fun look at the exhaustion many caregivers experience, the almost universal resistance of babies to naps, and nature's own one-two punch. The bold, exaggerated illustrations work well to portray lots of boxing related imagery and movement. A glossary defines the boxing terms and their usage in common speech. Overall, this is a great book for a snuggle reading time but is probably not necessarily sleep inducing with it's fun boxing battle vernacular and high-stakes energy.


Resources:

Photo of stars floating in a jar.


  • pair with King Baby by Kate Beaton, The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, illustrated by Tom Knight, and How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep?  by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague.

1 Kommentar


Elizabeth Suneby
Elizabeth Suneby
06. Juni

Loved reading about Mia's journey and interests and her new book!!!!!

Gefällt mir
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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