Michael Yam, the host of NFL Total Access on NFL Network, has now ventured into the world of children’s books with his first-ever creation, “Fried Rice and Marinara.”
This heartwarming tale revolves around Mikey Yam, a character just like Michael, who cherishes both his Chinese and Italian heritage. Michael wrote this story to show young readers that it’s okay to have a diverse background and to be proud of who they are.
Drawing inspiration from his own life, Michael wanted to share the joy of embracing different cultures with children. In “Fried Rice and Marinara”, he uses the magic of food to bring the story to life and spark curiosity about diverse backgrounds. Through this delightful book, Michael hopes to encourage kids to learn about their own heritage and appreciate the uniqueness of others.
As a first-time children’s book author and illustrator, Michael faced some challenges, but his passion for storytelling and connecting with young readers drove him forward.
Read through as we learn more about Michael and how he aims to inspire all children to feel confident in their identities with his book “Fried Rice and Marinara”, through an interview with Asian Hustle Network.
BREAKING BARRIERS WITH “FRIED RICE AND MARINARA”
During the course of my career, I have been fortunate enough to speak to students about a path in broadcasting. I have always been disheartened by the lack of Asian representation in media classes. Aside from cultural factors, I believe the lack of widespread representation at high levels of sportscasting is a major reason why Asian American students are picking other career paths.
Strengthening the pipeline is one of the ways I think this changes. If young kids can see themselves in stories, I think it can spark an interest in storytelling.
MIKEY YAM AS A MULTIETHNIC LEAD CHARACTER
As a kid, I didn’t think anything of the different cultures. I always knew I was Chinese and Italian, but as I got older, I realized that my friends didn’t have to think about or balance multiple cultural experiences that were very different.
Part of the reason I wanted to write “Fried Rice and Marinara” was to have young readers see a multiethnic character in a lead role. I also wanted to spark the thought that families with diverse backgrounds are normal.
At times in my childhood, I thought I had to “pick a side”, which is weird to think about now. I really want young kids to be able to embrace their heritage and be proud of their background. I know for my family, food was a backdrop to everything we did. I wanted to use cuisine as a vehicle to bring the story to life.
NAVIGATING BOTH SIDES OF HIS HERITAGE
First and foremost, it’s about embracing both cultures. I think many people focus on the differences between ethnicities, but we would all be in a better place if we gravitated to what’s the same.
Both my Chinese and Italian sides value family and the joy that comes from spending time with each other. I have fond memories of BBQs as a kid and my birthday parties having both Italian and Chinese food.
CHALLENGES HE FACED IN THE WRITING PROCESS
I’ve spent my career telling the stories of athletes. I’m comfortable in that realm, but with “Fried Rice and Mariana”, it’s the first time I tried to connect with a young audience in a medium I’ve never worked in.
I have always loved having fun with my nieces and nephews, telling them crazy stories at home. I tried to imagine telling them this story as if we were in person. No, I can’t rhyme on the fly like in the book, but it’s about the tone.
I always love asking kids questions to see where their mind goes. If you notice at the back of the book, there is a page that gives kids an opportunity to write their funky food combinations with the ability to draw them, too. It’s really important to me that the experience with the book doesn’t end when they’re finished reading it.
WHAT HE HOPES FOR READERS TO TAKE FROM HIS BOOK
I want young Asian readers to be able to see themselves as a main character in a story.
According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin (2022) you are nearly as likely (39% BIPOC/37% Animal/Object) to see a children’s story about an animal or object than you are to see a story depicting a character from a diverse background. I see that as a problem.
I want all children to be exposed to various cultures. The child who doesn’t often get to see characters who look like them will hopefully feel confident and have more self-worth. My hope is other children will be exposed to other cultures and develop an appreciation for experiences different from their own.
CONNECT WITH MIKE YAM