This week I am very excited to be interviewing Australian author Sofia Goodsoul about her picture book Nian the Lunar Dragon, illustrated by Marina Kite. With Multicultural Children’s Book Day coming up on 27 January (see previous post I am Australian) and Chinese New Year (see next week’s post) on 16 February, the time is just right.
Before we begin the interview, let me provide you with a little information about Sofia.
Sofia Goodsoul is an author, emergency kindergarten teacher and indie-publisher. Her poetry writing has grown from a hobby into a great passion. Now she can’t live a day without writing poems, riddles and stories for young children. The children give themes and inspiration for her books.
Sofia lives in Melbourne with her family and pets. She loves going to Zumba classes and taking long walks with her husband and family dog Mack. Sofia dedicates all her spare time to her writing and publishing career.
Nian the Lunar Dragon, an entertaining and beautifully illustrated rhyming narrative for young readers, is Sofia’s second picture book in collaboration with Marina Kite. The book is about the legend behind the traditions and celebrations of Chinese New Year, sometimes called Lunar New Year. According to the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year commences with the new moon at the beginning of spring.
A long time ago, the dragon named Nian lived in the deep ocean to the east of China. Nian was a strong and ferocious dragon, which no creature could defeat. Once a year, Nian climbed ashore to hunt for cattle and human prey. The people of the nearby villages and towns lived in terror, and each New Year’s Eve they had to leave their homes to save themselves. One day, a monk came to the village. He knew a well-kept secret about how to scare Nian away and free the Chinese people from the danger and their fear.
Welcome to readilearn, Sofia. We are looking forward to getting to know you a little better.
Thanks for inviting me!
Sofia, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t remember capturing that specific moment, but my grandmother was a children’s book illustrator and I often stayed with her when I was little. She read to me a lot and let me ‘work’ with her on illustrations. I believe that it was her who introduced me to the magical world of picture books. Nian, the Lunar Dragon I dedicated to her, my grandmother Nina.
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
I write in my play-room–that’s what I call my writing room with no windows, but a skylight. It’s where I keep my favourite cultural artefacts and books that I take with me to teaching and reading sessions to share with my kinder students.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
For the first story touch I prefer using a notebook, but then I type it on my laptop. When I work, I sit on my old couch with a laptop and my writing buddies, dog Mack and cat Diesel.
When do you get your ideas?
The majority of story ideas come to me when I am going to sleep and even in my dreams. I try not to forget in the morning what has come to me at night, but often I do. Now I have trained myself to half-wake up and draft those words into my small bedside-table notebook.
Why did you decide to write this version of the famous Chinese legend Nian, the Lunar Dragon?
The idea of retelling the famous Chinese legend of Nian came to me after relieving a kinder teacher in one of the pre-schools. That day, a group celebrated Chinese New Year. I decided to ask the children what they knew about the Chinese New Year festival and why the Chinese people celebrate it wearing red clothes and making lots of noise. I could not get a straight answer, even from children of Asian background, so I decided to educate myself and create a teaching resource.
What do you like best about the story of Nian, the Lunar Dragon?
The legend of Nian is the most famous old Chinese legend. From it, a young reader can learn a lot about Chinese cultural traditions, artefacts and even inventions. I have tweaked the story a little bit to make it more interesting for modern children. For example, in the original legend, a monster is a blend of odd creatures, not a dragon.
Do you like the way Marina Kite illustrated the story?
I could not wish for a better illustrator for this story. Marina is an extremely experienced children’s book illustrator with hundreds of books in her portfolio. Moreover, her favourite art technique is Chinese painting on silk. She was very happy to help me with illustrations.
How did you feel when you wrote Nian, the Lunar Dragon?
I was feeling happy that I could assist teachers and educators with my book. I think that feeling inspired and helped me along the creative process.
How do you hope readers will feel?
Our main reader is a child and, as you know, children love being a bit scared. I also expect readers to feel interested in Chinese values.
How would you like teachers to present Nian, the Lunar Dragon to children?
I run an author reading program Creative Reading with Children, where I come to educational settings and present my books and picture books written by my colleague authors. This is an entertaining program involving children in reading by playing with props including Chinese drums, dancing with fans to Chinese folk music, making lanterns and folding fans, colouring-in activities and more. I have developed Teachers’ notes to assist teachers with presenting Nian, the Lunar Dragon. They are available free on my author website.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
I suggest that teachers and students discuss how their families celebrate traditional and national festivals and the stories behind those traditions.
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
I work with younger children who can’t yet read or write themselves, but they all love being entertained. If they enjoy how you introduce a book, they will cherish that feeling and be lured into Writing World.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Play, play and play using your imagination. Play with friends, colours, nature and words!
What is your favourite picture book?
Oh, it’s a tough question…I have so many favourite authors and picture books…I will name a few I have read in my Creative Reading with Children program that were loved by students: FLORETTE by Anna Walker, Goodnight Possum by Coral Vass and Sona Babajanyan and Bird and Bear and the Special Day by Ann James.
Who is your favourite author? What do you like about her work?
I adore Julia Donaldson’s creative genies. Her writing is playful. It’s fun to read her books to young ones. Her picture books are always in my teaching bag as an emergency entertainment at story times.
As a special treat, Sofia has included this poem for your enjoyment:
My day (describing my average week day 😊)
Open one eye.
See the blue sky.
Birds in a tree
Look back at me.
Hubby comes to the room,
“You better get up soon.”
5 minutes gone,
Then 10 minutes gone
Trying to get
What I rhymed in the bed
Before going to sleep.
Birds in the tree go, “Chirp, chirp.”
Have a cup.
Feed a cat,
My curious pet.
Walk a dog. Think,
‘Dog’ rhymes with ‘frog’.
Take a call
From a school.
Their teacher is sick.
Can I come quick?
Back home. Jump in car.
Thanks Dear Lord,
That school isn’t far.
Meet new friends.
Sing, play and dance.
Back to house.
Talk to spouse.
Write a tale.
Look at the clock.
Have a shock.
Off goes the light.
Thank you, Sofia Goodsoul, for sharing these insights about your writing process, and especially about writing Nian the Lunar Dragon. We wish you success.
Thank you, and thanks for having me!
Sofia’s credentials include:
- Author/Speaker/Teacher at SCBWI Australia and New Zealand
- Author at Children’s Book Council of Australia Vic Branch
- Studied Early childhood education at RMIT University
- Studied Pedagogy and children’s psychology at Swinburne University of Technology
Sofia’s other books include:
Nian the Lunar Dragon and Sofia’s other picture books may be purchased from her online shop or from Amazon.
To find out more about Sofia, visit her website,
Connect with her on social media:
Facebook: Sofia Goodsoul
LinkedIn: Sofia Goodsoul
Goodreads: Sofia Goodsoul
Google+: Sofia Goodsoul
or contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A shortened version of this interview is available in Author Spotlight: Literacy Resources Author Spotlight: Sofia Goodsoul. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
Check out next week’s blog for some additional suggestions for celebrating Chinese New Year in your classroom.
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