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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with co-authors Joanna Ho & Liz Kleinrock

Joanna Ho is passionate about anti-bias/anti-racism, equity and inclusion in books and education.

Author photo of Joanna Ho.

She has a Master's in Educational Leadership from UC Berkeley and has worn many hats in education including English teacher, dean, and a teacher professional development mastermind. She is currently the vice principal of a high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Homemade chocolate chip cookies, outdoor adventures, and dance parties with her kids make Joanna’s eyes crinkle into crescent moons.

Collage image of Joanna Ho's book covers.

Joanna is the author of 10 books, including, On the Tip of a Wave: How Ai Weiwei's Art Is Changing the Tide illustrated by Catia Chien (2023), One Day illustrated by Faith Pray (2023), Say My Name illustrated by Khoa Le (2023), Eyes That Speak to the Stars illustrated by Dung Ho (2022), The Silence that Binds Us (2022), Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma illustrated by Teresa Martinez (2021), and Eyes That Kiss in the Corners illustrated by Dung Ho (2021).

Liz Kleinrock (she/her) is an anti-bias and anti-racist educator of both children and adults, and creates curriculum for K-12 students, specializing in designing inquiry-based units of study.

Author photo of Liz Kleinrock

In addition to her work as a classroom teacher, Liz also works with schools and companies to facilitate learning for adults that supports antibias and antiracist practices. In 2018, Liz received the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching, and in 2019 delivered her TED Talk, “How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics. She currently resides in Washington DC with her partner and two bunnies.

Collage image of Liz Kleinrock's book covers.

Liz is the author of Come and Join Us!, illiustrated by Chaaya Prabhat (2023) and Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to AntiBias and AntiRacist Work in Your School Community (Heinemann Publishing, 2021).

Their picture book collaboration, as co-authors, Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders, releases on January 23rd.

​​Welcome Joanna and Liz,

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

JOANNA – I began writing for children after my first child was born, nearly ten years ago. I was looking for inclusive picture books for him and began to realize how challenging it was to find books with characters like him and so many other children of historically marginalized backgrounds. So, I began my journey learning the craft and industry. I write best in the mornings and love writing for all ages, from picture book to YA, and am always exploring ways to push my own craft.

LIZ – I loved creative writing in elementary school, but as I got older, all school-based writing assignments were about research and literary analysis which I didn’t really enjoy. Even after I published my first book in 2021, it was hard for me to say that I’m an author! My background is in education, so I love writing nonfiction and realistic fiction for all ages, especially breaking down seemingly complex ideas for kids. My favorite place and time to write are anywhere that isn’t in my house in the morning!

What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

JOANNA – I’m a bit boring in this regard! I usually write at home where it’s quiet and comfortable with lots of easily accessible food and hot chocolate. Sometimes I write in coffee shops (again, easily accessible food and hot chocolate!). Once in a while if I can carve out the time, I escape to a cabin near Yosemite and hermit myself inside to write without any other distractions.

LIZ – For the life of me, I cannot write in my home. I get easily distracted by my cat and bunnies, and proximity to the kitchen! I don’t think I’ve written anywhere that is unusual, I like libraries and coffee shops, especially the MLK Library in downtown DC and Bru Coffeebar in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. My absolute favorite location to write is at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania!

Sounds like you both have enjoyed writing a quiet cabin. How did the two of you meet? What led to your decision to collaborate on Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders? How did you divide up the work/writing?

JOANNA – Like many, I have been a Liz fangirl for many years. As an educator who has also led many anti-bias/anti-racist initiatives and professional development sessions in schools, I really admired not only her work but her unwavering commitment to students and social change. When my editor approached me with the idea to add a book to the Eyes collection about adoptees, I was really clear that as a non-adoptee, I could only write this book with an adoptee co-author. Liz was the first person who came to mind!

Book cover - young girl staring across the cover as a swallopw soars in the upper right corner.

LIZ – I’ve been a huge admirer of Joanna for years, and we initially connected as friends through social media. I’m so grateful that our online friendship moved into a real-life friendship, and we’ve gotten to hang out in California and DC and spend time with each other’s families! One of the things I love the most about Joanna is her dedication to amplifying the voices of others, and I was so excited when she approached me about partnering for this book. 

It's wonderful that your friendship and mutual admiration enabled you to collaborate on this stunning book! What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders?

JOANNA – It is such a gift to be able to collaborate with Liz, someone who I’ve admired from afar, with whom I’ve only come to love more as a friend. This is a story I would never have thought to write and it’s such an honor to be part of a project that uplifts an adoptee story from the voice of an adoptee - a voice that has sadly too often been missing from the narrative.

LIZ – Even though “Asian transracial adoptee” is a pretty specific identity, there are a myriad of experiences when it comes to adoption. When we first started planning this book, I don’t think we intended it to mirror my own family this much. However, I didn’t want to speak on behalf of other adoptees, so it felt right to share this one narrative that will be one thread in the larger tapestry of the adoptee literary community. 

I love the idea of this story being "one thread" in the story of adopted children's experiences; especially as it is often so unique and personal for many kids. What was the hardest or most challenging thing about writing Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders? 

JOANNA – I was very conscious that as a non-adoptee, I had a deep responsibility to tell this story with truth. I was very worried that I would create something that did not do justice to the character or very real lived experiences of so many. Like most projects, when I first started out, I didn’t know what the end product would be. When Liz and I connected virtually to help me better understand her feelings and experiences as an adoptee, I don’t think either of us realized that this story would end up being her story. That’s where my years of following her online must have come into play! I knew so much about her interests and family (at least the bits she shared publicly) and they naturally wove themselves into the manuscript.

LIZ – Truthfully, I didn’t find the process to be that difficult because Joanna is such a curious, caring, and thoughtful partner! What I do worry about though is how the scarcity mindset shows up in the book world. Since there isn’t a ton of adoptee representation, I worry that publishers will view our book as a box to be checked, or non-adoptee readers will assume all adoptee experiences are like this story. 

While that's a risk, perhaps this book will instead spur others to explore and portray their own experiences. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first saw Dung Ho’s illustrations in Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal image - girl in bed dreaming about her birth mother pregnant, holding her as a baby, and kissing her goodbye.

Text © Joanna Ho & Liz Kleinrock, 2024. Image © Dung Ho, 2024.

JOANNA – Her illustrations always leave me in tears. In fact, I still can’t get through reading the book without tearing up at parts of it because the emotion she conveys in her art is so powerful. She has an incredible ability to deeply understand not just the words but the layered meanings and heart in those words and she shows it all in her illustrations. The spread that gets me every time is the one where the narrators says, “sometimes love must look like letting go.” The image of the birth mom kissing the baby makes me cry just thinking about it.

Internal image - Adopted parents stand behind the girl and her birth mother holds her hand in frontt. Ribbons and swallows spin around the four.

Text © Joanna Ho & Liz Kleinrock, 2024. Image © Dung Ho, 2024.

LIZ – I sobbed. Many times. The final image of the adoptee, her birth mother, and adoptive parents wasn’t in the first draft of illustrations, so when I saw the final interior art it completely took me by surprise and I immediately burst into tears! There’s something so powerful about putting images to the words and experiences, I had no idea it would hit me that hard. Dung did an incredible job. 

These are both such powerful images. How long did it take from idea to publication for Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders? Do you recall how many revisions you did?

JOANNA – I think we first connected about the idea long before we actually hopped on a call. We must have connected in 2022 and then shared the manuscript back and forth a few times before it was finalized.

LIZ – What Joanna said! 

Sounds like you both were definitely in sync. What's something you want your readers to know about Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders?

JOANNA – I hope that readers, whatever their own experiences or backgrounds, know that they have the power to tell their own stories. That the stories they live are uniquely theirs and that they matter. Many of us have questions and wonderings about our families and histories, and our lives are full of wonder and beauty also.

LIZ – I want readers to know that you don’t have to wait around for someone to invite you to tell your story. You can write your narrative! 

Awesome answers! Are there any upcoming projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? 

Book cover of  We Who Produce Pearsl.

JOANNA – I have another picture book out on April 16th, titled We Who Produce Pearls: An Anthem for Asian America, illustrated by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. I researched this book for a year before writing it and I can’t wait for it to be released!

LIZ – I have two books coming out with our mutual friend Caroline Kusin Prichard! Both are about the diversity of the Jewish community, and the first one is a middle grade nonfiction book called What Jewish Looks Like - due out in the fall. 

We will have to keep our eyes open for these books! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of Marsh and Mountains in Yosemite NP.

JOANNA – My favorites are Yosemite (it feels like my second home) and Glacier. I love camping and hiking and one day, I’d love to visit every National Park!

Photo of cactus and hills in Joshua Tree NP,

LIZ – Having lived on the west coast for a decade, I absolutely love Joshua Tree because of the unique landscape and it has the coolest campgrounds! Arches National Park is also incredibly beautiful. I’d love to visit Denali one day!

Thank you, Joanna and Liz, for stopping by for this interview. I enjoyed talking with you both. 

Book cover - young girl staring across the cover as a swallopw soars in the upper right corner.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on Eyes That Weave the World’s Wonders.

To find out more about Joanna Ho, or contact her:

To find out more about Liz Kleinrock, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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