In a time when the world seemed to close its doors, Los Angeles native and talented writer Kesia Eng found her inspiration for her delightful children’s book titled “Baby Bao at Dim Sum.”
Kesia shares with Asian Hustle Network her motivation and experiences behind this captivating story that captures the essence of family bonds and the rich cultural heritage of East Asian cuisine.
Growing up, Kesia cherished her visits to dim sum restaurants with her family. The savory aroma, the clinking of chopsticks, and the joy of feasting on delicious food became the backdrop of countless treasured memories.
Dim sum not only brought her family together but also offered a window into her Chinese heritage, teaching her the values of respect, care, and love for others. Ultimately, these shaped her identity and inspired her to write this book.
The pandemic threatened to rob younger generations of the invaluable experiences Kesia cherished, making her determined to pass on the cultural significance of dim sum to kids and share it with others.
In her debut children’s book, “Baby Bao at Dim Sum,” Kesia beautifully weaves a tale that explores the importance of family, selflessness, and the joy of bonding over a delicious meal. This book serves as a tool for parents and children to read together, sparking meaningful conversations about the values embedded in East Asian culture.
Join us as we delve into the story behind “Baby Bao at Dim Sum” through an exclusive interview with Kesia Eng.
KESIA’S INSPIRATION FOR WRITING “BABY BAO AT DIM SUM”
As with most recent creative endeavors, the idea for the book sprouted during the pandemic. Everything was closed. Schools were shut down. Sports games were canceled. Even my favorite Target store started closing at 8 p.m. The world truly was ending. But the most devastating thing? My beloved dim sum restaurants have stopped indoor dining.
I know it didn’t seem significant. There’s plenty of other food. Plus, we can still get takeout. But I grew up coming to these restaurants with my family. Going there was a real treat as a kid – taking in the savory aroma that fills the air, hearing the excited chatter and clinking of chopsticks all around you, and of course, feasting on all the varieties of delicious food. Every time I came back from college for the weekend, my parents would take me to eat dim sum – it was a huge part of our everyday life.
Most importantly, dim sum helped me better understand and appreciate my parents and our Chinese culture. I think I can speak for many American kids who have immigrant parents: There aren’t a lot of things in common between our upbringing and theirs. But food is our shared connection. Food isn’t just something you eat. When you look closely, the experience of dim sum is filled with the values of East Asian culture:
- pouring tea for the oldest person at the table first, and your own cup last
- serving food to others before yourself
- keeping an eye on everyone’s cup so you can refill it for them
- fighting to pay for the check (and never backing down, even if you have to chase down the waiter and force your Visa card into their hands)
- and so on
All of the above embody community-oriented respect, care, and love for others. It’s how my parents showed how deeply they loved our family, even through the mundane act of eating at a restaurant. When my mom saves the biggest and best dumpling for me, or when my dad reaches across the table to fill my teacup first, I know it’s because they love me. And it’s a way for me to show my love in return – pouring their tea first, giving the best dim sum piece to them, (and yes, now that I’m a post-grad adult, literally fighting to pay that check). It’s not just nostalgia – dim sum is an essential part of my heritage, shaping how I’ve grown up, who I am, and who I want to become.
With COVID, it seemed like the pandemic would take these valuable moments away from younger generations. To be honest, it made me sad because I didn’t want them to grow up without having that experience, and thus a practical understanding of their cultural background. It’s a learning moment I want to pass on to kids and share with other people too.
“BABY BAO IS ME”
Part of the reason why I chose to focus on the theme of family and selflessness is in reaction to a lot of Asian American stories today that center on the difficult relationships that kids have with their immigrant parents.
I think the current popular narrative sometimes pushes this idea of hyperindividualism; that it’s all about the self and what the self wants. I totally understand the heart behind where that narrative/story comes from but sometimes it can demonize our parents for being hateful because they don’t agree with everything we say or do what we expect. Granted, nobody is perfect. But I think it’s important to have empathy towards our parents who grew up in a different environment than we did. We can try to put ourselves in their shoes, imagine the upbringing they had, the hardships they went through, etc.
And to be honest, I wrote it because of my own revelation. Baby Bao is me. I wrote Baby Bao as myself because I definitely was not a self-sacrificial loving kid growing up. It wasn’t until college that I realized I had taken their love and care for granted. I think it’s easy for us to be selfish and maybe not consider what our parents would appreciate or how they care for us. They do love us, but maybe it isn’t expressed in the exact fashion we expect it to be.
FULL CREATIVE CONTROL AS A SELF-PUBLISHER
I knew the route of traditional publishing was long and a bit arduous. I felt like there were many gatekeepers and I didn’t want the flow/speed of my project to be hindered because of it.
It kinda goes like this: after you do your due diligence on finding the appropriate literary agent, you have to keep cold-emailing them about your manuscript, hoping they’d want to support you and your book. And finally landing a literary agent could range from a few months to a few years. They’re the best resource to connect you to a traditional publisher who would get your book published.
But why wait for someone to give me the green light when I could just get my book out directly to the audience? I like to think I have an entrepreneurial spirit , because when I really believe in something, I don’t want to wait for someone to give me approval to do it. I just want to go for it. So I decided to self-publish my idea.
I think what’s truly unique about this book is that the illustrations are not 2D animated artwork that’s common in picture books. I can’t draw to save my life and I didn’t have enough funds to hire an illustrator, so I brainstormed ways to figure out how I was going to make the visual part of the story come to life.
While rummaging through my bookshelf, I found an old book my parents bought when I was young, that taught simple Chinese words. The front cover looked so interesting to me – it was a claymation of a girl. That basically spawned the idea of using claymation/”stop-motion” as the illustrations of the book.
I made all the sets, characters, and mini items by hand with lots of construction paper, cardboard, and other materials. I then taught myself product lighting, photography, and photo editing. I also run all the social media accounts. And this is in addition to writing the story myself, so it was truly a one-woman production.
WHAT KESIA HOPES THAT READERS WILL TAKE AWAY
If I can narrow it down to just 3 takeaways I hope parents and children get out of this book, it’s that (1) family is important (2) loving others often requires self-sacrifice but is definitely worth it and (3) dim sum is an avenue we can use to love and cherish our families more!
I wanted parents and their children to think deeply about the message together. And that desire played a huge part in why I decided to deliver that through the form of a children’s book. I think the nature of children’s books often necessitates parent-child bonding because parents often read to their kids who aren’t strong independent readers yet.
So the book, “Baby Bao at Dim Sum” is a great opportunity for parents to bond with their cute kiddos just by reading it together. It also leads parents to talk through the story more with their children by mentioning the cultural values of it, going over the universal value of family, and asking them insightful questions about what they learned or what they noticed.
DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
I’m seeing a lot of great Asian American children’s books recently and I envision “Baby Bao at Dim Sum” adding depth to the representation of the Asian American experience in children’s literature.
The book shows that parents and/or family relatives ought to be given importance as well.
Additionally, the book does a great job showing and not just telling how the cultural values common in East Asian culture (community-oriented respect, care, and love for others) are embedded into the subtle actions (pouring tea for the oldest person at the table first and your own cup last, serving food to others before yourself, and keeping an eye on everyone’s cup so you can refill it for them) during a traditional Chinese meal.
Representation is showing the authentic experience of something, and I think showing chicken feet, regardless of people’s initial reaction to it, is an important unfiltered experience of dim sum. So I made it a mission for myself to include the chicken feet dish in my children’s book (right on the first page) because it’s an iconic Chinese cultural food. I think just because it’s different from what most people outside of the culture may see, it doesn’t make it weird or gross. Walk into a dim sum restaurant and you see it on the tables of so many diners.
I hope the story is an easy and welcoming way for people unfamiliar with East Asian culture, to learn about it and get a glimpse of what really goes on during an authentic Chinese meal of dim sum. Additionally, I think it’s a perfect book for East Asian families to personally connect with those experiences and pass them down to younger generations.
It really warms my heart to see so many parents message me that their little ones love the book, want to read it every night with them, or want to eat dim sum because of it. Seeing those comments and messages never gets old!
I drafted several storylines for the next potential “Baby Bao” adventure, and have whittled it down to two options. I can’t reveal when this project is going to be done just yet, but it’s in the works! Many of my readers have expressed that they’d love to see more of Baby Bao, so I’m happy to continue working on more stories with him as the protagonist.
In terms of other work, I’m actually in the process of finalizing a manuscript for my next writing project: a satirical poetry book about early adulthood! I enjoy comedy and I enjoy satire, so of course, I had to try writing with that flair. The book is a witty take on young adult life and pokes fun at relatable moments we experience in careers, friendships, and love. Final touches are being added. Release date TBA but aiming for before this fall season.
Readers can expect that I’ll be pursuing different writing projects because I want to build upon my writing skills and flex my creative muscle. I think I have a knack for knowing my audience well and crafting stories that are relatable to all of us on a human level. So I’m really excited to continue exploring various story ideas and styles of writing to see what I’m the best at and produce work that my readers would love.
CONNECT WITH KESIA / BABY BAO AT DIM SUM
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