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“Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School” Cover Reveal + Author & Illustrator Interviews

Cover Reveal: Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School

The cover reveal of a new book represents one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process. I’m excited to reveal the cover of the picture book Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School, written by Traci Huahn and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan that releases on May 7, 2024.

Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School Cover

This historically-based picture book, published by Crown Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House, is about a Chinese American girl in San Francisco in the 1880s who was prohibited from attending school because of her ethnicity.

In their interviews below, the author and illustrator provide the behind-the-scenes process of how this book came to be, what inspired them, and so much more. Readers will see the sketches of the cover during its development to its final stage leading to the beautiful cover we see today.

Interview with Author Traci Huahn

Traci Huahn headshot
The author, Traci Huahn. [Photo credit: Traci Huahn]

Bicultural Mama (BM): Your book is about Mamie Tape, a Chinese American girl in San Francisco in the 1880s who was prohibited from attending school. How did you hear about Mamie Tape? Why did you want to write about her?

Traci Huahn (TH): I’m a former lawyer and was researching Asian American civil rights cases when I came across Mamie and her 1885 case, Tape v. Hurley. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of her before, especially since I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like Mamie, I’m the daughter of Chinese immigrants. My dad even came from the same region in China as Mamie’s dad, so I felt an immediate connection.

Learning about Mamie took me back to my own childhood experience of being mocked for being Chinese while I was walking home from school. I was too scared to speak up for myself or tell anyone about it. So it was very inspiring to me that at only 8 years old, Mamie had the courage to show up at a school where she wasn’t welcome. She had the persistence to keep at it after being turned away.

I wanted more people, and especially kids, to know her story, and to offer families and educators an engaging way to introduce this important piece of history. I sat on the idea for a while. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and anti-Asian hate was on the rise, I felt even more compelled to write the book. As such, I began a deep dive into the research. Sadly, I quickly saw many parallels between what was happening in the 1880s and today, but stories like Mamie’s provide hope and inspiration.

Trip to State Archives for research Mamie Tape
The author makes a trip to the California State Archives to conduct research. [Photo credit: Traci Huahn]

BM: When racial segregation is discussed, we usually hear about it in terms of Black and White separation. Did it surprise you to learn about segregation involving a Chinese American girl?

TH: I wasn’t surprised that Chinese children had been treated unfairly. I was aware of the Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted in 1882, just a couple of years before Mamie’s case. I knew there had been many discriminatory laws specifically targeting Chinese Americans at that time. But I was surprised to learn that the San Francisco school board policy wasn’t just about segregating Chinese American children. It was actually about preventing them from going to school at all.

About fourteen years before Mamie’s case, the school board had closed the only segregated public school for Chinese children and didn’t let them into neighborhood schools like the one Mamie fought to attend. This school board policy was a reflection of the larger national desire to keep Chinese immigrants out of the United States. Denying Chinese children access to public schools in San Francisco, where the majority of Chinese Americans lived at that time, was a way to deter people from setting down roots.

Mamie Tape legal papers
The author at the California State Archives. She holds a copy of the legal papers filed with the California Supreme Court by Mamie’s lawyers in 1885. [Photo credit: Traci Huahn]

BM: What was the process like for you to get the book published?

TH: The publication process for this book was quite unusual. I think a certain amount of serendipity and luck was involved. This book was the first polished manuscript I’d completed. During the KWELI Color of Children’s Literature Conference in 2021, I signed up for an editor’s critique.

My manuscript landed on the desk of my now editor, Phoebe Yeh. I was kind of shocked when, rather than giving me feedback, Phoebe said she loved it. Phoebe asked if it’d be okay to share it with the rest of her team. Of course, I said yes, and the rest is history! I’m incredibly grateful to Phoebe and everyone at Crown Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House who supported this project from the start. I’ve wanted to write children’s books since I was a kid. Getting this book out into the world is truly a dream come true.

Editor Phoebe Yeh - Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School
The author with editor Phoebe Yeh. [Photo credit: Traci Huahn]

BM: What was your initial reaction to the cover?

TH: I loved it from the first sketches! Michelle did a wonderful job of giving Mamie a combination of determination and tentativeness. The schoolhouse and other children set the scene for what this book is about, especially that side-eye glance from one of the other little girls. You know something’s going down. It was also pretty surreal seeing my name on the cover.

BM: What do you hope young readers will take away from this book after reading it?

TH: I hope Mamie’s story will inspire young readers to step up in the face of unfairness and be part of the change, whether big or small. I also hope they’ll recognize that even though change often comes slowly, especially in terms of racial and social justice, it’s always worth fighting for. Every little step counts.

Mamie Tape great granddaughter
he author with Linda Doler, the great-granddaughter of Mamie Tape. They are posing in front of a china cabinet containing dishes painted by Mamie’s mother. [Photo credit: Eric Doler]

BM: Do you have other books coming up?

I’m continuing to work on a variety of picture books, most with a connection to my Chinese American heritage, but nothing to announce…yet!

Author’s Bio

Traci Huahn (she/her) writes books for kids and especially loves stories rooted in Asian American culture, history, and identity. Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School is her debut picture book. As a former attorney and the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she feels a deep connection to Mamie’s story. She hopes it will inspire young readers to become changemakers, even if it starts by taking just one small step.

Traci was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and still lives close to where she grew up. Most days you can find her there writing, along with her husband, two kids, and their pup who loves belly rubs and Brussels sprouts. Visit Traci at www.tracihuahn.com and on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and Bluesky.

Interview with Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan

Michelle Jing Chan [Photo credit: M. Mendelsohn]

Bicultural Mama (BM): What was the process like for you to get connected with the author’s manuscript?

Michelle Jing Chan (MJC): My amazing agent, Jemiscoe Chambers-Black, was contacted by Phoebe Yeh (our editor) and shared the manuscript with me.

BM: What made you say “yes” to the story?

MJC: I didn’t learn about Mamie Tape’s story until I was an adult. I was surprised that my history classes never mentioned Mamie when I was growing up. It was fascinating to learn about the role that Asian Americans played in the fight for desegregation. When I saw Traci’s manuscript, I was excited about the opportunity to illustrate a book that would teach more readers about Mamie’s story.

Traci did an enormous amount of research for this project. In particular, I was struck by her ability to add emotional details that made you imagine what Mamie and her family would have felt – as opposed to telling only an educational story that focuses mostly on the events of what happened.

On a personal note, like Mamie, I am also the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her parents’ determination to give her and her siblings an education reminded me of my own grandparents and parents. They collectively endured war, famine, poverty, and crossed an entire ocean to give me and my brother the educational opportunities they didn’t have.

BM: Can you tell us about the process of illustrating the cover?

MJC: Although I communicated directly with Jan for the illustration process, creating the cover was definitely a collaborative process between me, Jan Gerardi (my art director), Phoebe, Traci, and the rest of the team at Crown. I started with a few rough sketches of different ideas for the cover.

Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School sketch #1
Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School sketch #2
Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School sketch #3

The team decided that these didn’t convey the sense of “fight” or determination as strongly as we wanted. As such, I created a few more sketches that portrayed this concept better.

We landed on the last sketch but wanted to revise it to show the school from a different angle. We also wanted to show the teacher welcoming the other white students into the schoolhouse.

For the cover and the rest of the book, historical accuracy was super important as this was based on a true story. Traci generously provided a robust document with photos and references from that time period. I used these reference images to design the schoolhouse and the surrounding landscape of hills and grass behind it.

After the sketch was approved, I put flat colors on the cover.

I finished by adding shadow and light, and the publisher laid out the type.

BM: What do you love most about how the cover turned out?

MJC: I love that Mamie’s determined and hopeful expression is front and center. I also love all the historical details such as the clothing, the architecture of the schoolhouse, and even the landscape. All of these surrounding details help bring Mamie’s world in 1800s San Francisco to life.

BM: Do you have other books coming up?

MJC: I have two other picture books I illustrated releasing in 2024: STAY ANGRY LITTLE GIRL, inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” (Macmillan), and GOODNIGHT SOUNDS (Bloomsbury). I’m also illustrating two more picture books in 2025: 100 DAYS by Kimberly Lee (Macmillan) and MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT PRIDE by Kyle Lukoff (PRH).

And even though they’re not out for a while, I’m also excited about my author-illustrator debut picture book–CELEBRATING DONG ZHI (Bloomsbury), and my debut graphic novel, SOMEWHERE IN THE GRAY (Macmillan)!

Illustrator’s Bio

Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. She aspires to illustrate diverse, empowering stories her younger self would have loved.

When she’s not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or binge-watching spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, Threads, and Bluesky.

Where to Purchase Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School

Mamie Tape Fights to Go to School is ideal for readers ages 4-8 years. It would make a great gift for a child at home or a classroom and library at school. Find the book at Amazon and other retailers across the country both online and in-store.

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