We’ve been fortunate enough to make a short interview with the 2020 APALA Picture Book Award winner Teresa Robeson 何顥思, author of Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom. In this book, illustrated by Rebecca Huang, Robeson tells the fascinating story of Wu Chien Shiung 吴健雄, the Chinese physicist whose work on beta decay (the Wu experiment) was instrumental in the research on parity violation that led to a Nobel Prize in Physics for Lee Tsung-Dao 李政道 and Yang Chen-Ning 杨政宁 in 1957. In spite of this (and all her other contributions to physics) Wu is not well known among those outside of her field, so Queen of Physics is a welcome reminder of this remarkable woman. Robeson has also written Two Bicycles in Beijing, which is officially out April 1st of this year.
We asked her a few questions!
So far you’ve published two books: Queen of Physics and Two Bicycles in Beijing. They’re both fairly recent – in fact, I think the latter hasn’t been formally published yet. How come you decided to start writing for children?
I began writing for children back in the early 1990s. I’ve always loved to write, and my parents encouraged this interest. But I loved science more, so I didn’t study creative writing at university. When my husband was in graduate school and I was stuck at a very boring job, I decided to flex those writing muscles again. I took a course offered by The Institute of Children’s Literature around 1990. When I was finished with the course, I sent out one of the stories I’d written for an assignment to a couple of different magazines. Ladybug, a well-known and well-respected children’s literary magazine, wanted to buy it! I sold a number of other pieces to them and their sister publication, Babybug, for a few years but then raising kids took up much of my time. I let writing lapse until 2010 when I decided I needed to get back to it. And here we are…
Did you have to do a lot of research before writing Queen of Physics? Were you able to speak to people who had actually known Wu Chien Shiung?
I read everything I could find on, and also written by, C.S. Wu before I wrote the picture book. Unfortunately, I could not get anyone in her still surviving family to talk to me, but I was able to communicate with Sharon Burtsch McGrayne who had interviewed Wu personally.
I see from your website that you’re interested in Star Trek, the first moon landing and science. Can we look forward to more science fiction-type of stories by you in the future?
My science fiction works have mostly been for adults. Some of them were in anthologies published by the Minnows Literary Group where all the proceeds were donated to Doctors Without Borders. One of my sci-fi short stories for teens won second place in a contest sponsored by Children’s Writer Magazine, but I don’t have any kids sci-fi books published yet.
Could you tell us a bit more about Two Bicycles in Beijing? Why did you choose a Chinese setting, for instance?
Two Bicycles in Beijing was inspired by a family trip to China back in 2013. My parents really wanted to take my family — specifically my kids and husband who had never been — to visit my ancestral homeland. I last went to China in 1987 with my parents and sister. My husband is white American, and our children are of mixed-heritage. My parents wanted them to get to know more about their Chinese background. Sadly, my mom passed away in 2010 before she could go with us, but my dad was determined to take us. It was a wonderful trip and made me want to share the amazing sights of the capital city with the rest of the world.
What is your own relationship with books and reading? Did you read a lot as a child and could you perhaps tell us about some memorable books from that time?
In Hong Kong, where I was born and lived until I was 8 years old, we start kindergarten at the age of 4. That was when I learned to read. My parents bought me this wonderful magazine called 《兒童樂園》 (Children’s Playground) for years. I had my nose buried in those issues all the time. After we moved to Canada, I started reading books in English. You could never find me or my sister without a book or magazine. Whenever we had to attend any functions with our parents, we would bring a book to read. The first book I read after learning English was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I still get waves of warm nostalgia when I see that book. Little Women was the first novel I read, so that one also holds a special place in my heart. I buy more books than I can possibly read these days. And I usually am in the middle of about 6-10 of them, juggling paper books with e-books and audiobooks.
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, text: Teresa Robeson, illustrations: Rebecca Huang. Sterling Children’s Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781454932208
Two Bicycles in Beijing, text: Teresa Robeson, illustrations: Junyi Wu. Albert Whitman & Co, 2020. ISBN: 9780807507643
Visit Teresa Robeson’s website: http://teresarobeson.com