A collaboration between the Lincoln Academy Library and the English Department culminated in a memorable event on Thursday October 2, when 9th graders in Pre AP English joined other Books and Brunch participants to meet bestselling author Jean Kwok via Skype.

Students read and discussed Kwok’s popular novel Girl In Translation as part of their summer reading for freshman honors English.  LA Librarian Cathi Howell set up a virtual “meet the author” as part of the library’s Books and Brunch program,
which is generally open to voluntary participation, but for this special program was a class requirement.

About 55 participants, including students, teachers, and community members gathered in chairs in the LA Library, facing a screen where Jean Kwok Skyped in from Amsterdam.

Kwok started her presentation with a slideshow.  Because Girl in Translation is semi-autobiographical, Kwok showed pictures of her life as a child growing up in New York City’s Chinatown, and told students which aspects of the book are based on her own life and which are fictionalized. While Kwok changed her age and family makeup and added plot points to the novel, details about the hardships of emigrating from Hong Kong, working in a Chinatown clothing factory after school every day, and living in poverty in an unheated apartment are all true. Also true is Kwok’s story of incredible academic success which led to full scholarships to both high school and college.

Freshman Honors English teacher Patti Sims was thrilled with the event. “This worked! We will definitely do it again next year. One of my goals for summer reading is to form a deeper connection with an author, and to access deeper thinking. This experience makes for a richer discussion.”

“I knew the students would enjoy the book,” said Howell, who chooses books for the Books and Brunch program. “But I had no idea how engaging Jean Kwok would be until this afternoon. She really made it fun!”

Throughout her presentation Kwok was personable, articulate, and funny.  It was clear that students really connected with her. After her slide presentation, she answered student questions, and time ran out well before the questions did.

In response to a question about how to become a better writer, Kwok had this advice: “First, write all the time; write for practice, but don’t forget to share your writing with other people. It is important to have an audience. Second, read everything you can. Reading will make you a better writer. Third, write what you are truly passionate about. The process of writing is hard, and it will be too easy to give up on a project if you don’t choose something you truly care about. I wanted to write about the immigrant experience–my experience–which is so common, but also incredibly courageous. So many people do this: they leave their homes and they suffer in a new place, and they do it all for the next generation.”

Because food is an integral part of the Books and Brunch tradition, after the discussion with Jean Kwok, participants were treated to Chinese food prepared by Travis Benner and his staff in the LA kitchen.

Students loved the event, and their only complaint was that the Skype session was too short. “We should have planned to stay after school, or to go two periods,” said ninth grader Tommy Thelander. “One class wasn’t nearly long enough to ask all our questions.”

Classmate Sam Laemmle agreed that the presentation was totally worthwhile and too short. “Getting to know the author made the book feel real. It seemed like fiction when I first read it, but seeing her and hearing her stories made me realize that a lot of it really happened.”

“That was amazing beyond all compare!” gushed junior Elaine FitzPatrick, who participates regularly in Books and Brunch. “I loved that!”

“She’s really awesome and I want to be her new best friend,” said freshman Hannah Davis about Jean Kwok. “I’m going to follow her on Twitter.”

– Jenny Mayher


Want to join the fun at the LA Library’s Books and Brunch? The program is free and open to the public. Pick up a copy of the book each month, and join other participants for the discussion on the dates below:

Schedule for the 2014-15 Academic year:

The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau: October 29, 2014 1st & 2nd Lunch (11:15 to 12:15)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: November 19, 2014 11:15 to 12:15

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick January 14, 2015 11:15 to 12:15

In Darkness by Nick Lake February 11, 2015 11:15 to 12:15

Cinnamon & Gunpowder by Eli Brown March 25 11:15 to 12:15

Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait May 6, 2015 11:15 to 12:15