Chatting with Nancy Tupper Ling about Double Happiness (+ a giveaway!)

Today I’m doubly pleased to welcome poet and author Nancy Tupper Ling, who’s here to tell us all about her new book Double Happiness (Chronicle Books, 2015), a heartwarming story about a family moving from San Francisco to the East Coast.

Beautifully told through a series of lyrical poems in the alternating voices of Gracie and her little brother Jake, Double Happiness deftly captures the mixed emotions of leaving loved ones behind, traveling across country, and seeing one’s new home and surroundings for the first time.

It is especially hard saying goodbye to Nai Nai (Grandmother), Auntie Su and Uncle Woo. To help ease the transition, Nai Nai gives each of the children a special box, suggesting they fill it with four treasures “leading from this home to your new.” She explains that when she was young she had her own “happiness box,” which enabled her to keep special memories close.

Jake is as much excited, adventurous, and playful as Gracie is apprehensive, reflective, and sad. The treasures they add to their boxes (panda, marble, lucky penny, leaf, snake) mark specific moments in their journey with attendant feelings and impressions.

Both Gracie’s and Jake’s voices ring true, and the poems seamlessly keep the engaging storyline moving forward. Alina Chau incorporates cultural elements (Chinese calligraphy, Jake’s mystical dragon, first dinner) in her charming soft watercolor illustrations, illuminating this gentle gem of a story that will surely resonate with young readers.

In Chinese tradition, “double happiness” is usually associated with weddings, but Nancy’s story artfully extends the concept: two homes, two coasts, two cultures, two boxes, the old and the new, two children, a dragon and a phoenix, two halves of a perfect whole coming full circle in the blessed harmony of family.

I know you’ll enjoy learning more about how and why Nancy wrote this book. And yes, she’s sharing a favorite recipe! Enjoy!

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Booksigning at The Blue Bunny in Dedham, MA

What sparked the idea for this story about a family moving from the west coast to the east coast?

That’s a long and windy story in itself. Initially I didn’t write a story about a move. Surprise, surprise! That’s what revision does to us, right? Lots of revision (see photo of my Double Happiness binder). At first the manuscript was called The Double Happiness Box, and it was about two siblings (Gracie and Jake) who were stuck at home on a rainy day. They were bored and their dad was busy trying to fix a leak in the ceiling. To keep them occupied, he tells them to discover treasures around the house and put them in their “double happiness” boxes.

Nancy’s Double Happiness binder

Several editors felt drawn to the story, but they commented that it needed “more movement or action.” So I thought “Maybe these editors are onto something, Why not include a REAL move?” That was the turning point. To add to that, my in-laws live in San Francisco (Golden Gate, Eucalyptus trees, Muni trains). When my children were younger, they had a hard time their leaving family on one coast to return home to the other, so far away. That same sentiment is the inspiration for Double Happiness.

Why did you decide to tell this story in a series of poems rather than in prose? What was the most challenging part of doing that?

Often my ideas for children’s stories begin as poems. Weird, I know! Not surprisingly, the idea for Double Happiness started the same way, with a poem about a rainy day and extremely bored children.

Before becoming a children’s author, I was a poet. That’s strange for me to say now because when I was young I swore I would never become a poet like my mother, Jean Tupper. Poetry was “Mom’s thing;” short stories were mine. Whoops! Never say never. My Senior year of high school, I won the Haggis Baggis Poetry Prize (don’t ask) and that was the beginning of my new love. My mom helped me to become a better poet.

All that’s to say, in my mind I see a picture book as poem with a plot. I tend to write lyrically first, which causes problems in the plot department. So keeping the story line moving through each poem was tricky. Along the way, Double Happiness was rejected by several publishers because the book would be too hard to illustrate. Thankfully my editor, Tamra Tuller, at Chronicle Books thought outside of the box (pun intended).

I love how the characters’ personalities come through so vividly in the poems. Are Gracie and Jake based on real people?

They are like the yin and yang of Chinese tradition—opposites that make a whole. My own girls are very similar to Gracie and Jake. I have one who finds change difficult (like Gracie) and one who is willing to take on any adventure (like Jake). I tend to lean toward Gracie’s personality myself. I would be very sentimental about what I was leaving behind.

Where did the idea for the happiness boxes come from? Do you keep any special objects on or near your writing desk for inspiration?

Double happiness boxes are often given as favors at Chinese-American weddings to symbolize the joy of this special occasion. Usually they include images of the phoenix and dragon, for power and wisdom. I liked the idea of children gathering treasures in these happy boxes. The grandmother (Nai Nai) in Double Happiness is based on my husband’s grandmother, who hid her favorite treasures in a box during World War II. After I had written and revised my story, I happened into an antique shop in Ipswich, Massachusetts. When I rounded the corner, there was a black box with the phoenix and dragon etched on the top. I bought it—after all, writers need a bit of hope through all the rejection. These objects definitely inspired me and kept me going.

Dragon and phoenix motif on Nancy’s DH antique box.

There are 24 poems in this book. How many poems did you actually write for this project? Please share a poem that didn’t make the cut and explain why.

Because the story was so different originally, the poems were different as well. One of the original treasures that Gracie found around her home was a leih sih, a Chinese red envelope filled with money, which Gracie received on her birthday. That didn’t make it into the final version. And that reminds me, originally the Chinese words were Cantonese, but I made the decision to switch to Mandarin because it’s more universal.

Also, the poem that began it all was called Rain:



All day, rain.

Yesterday, too.

It’s glassy and light

like bean threads

splashing down

the window pane.


Jake and I roll

our bodies inside rugs—

tight, like spring rolls.

We eat Mr. Lee’s cherries;

our tips and fingers

turn purply-red.


We color napkins

with the pits—see

my cherry tree?

See Jake’s scribble?


When we’re through,

we watch more rain.

Really. We know

there’s nothing left to do.



Do you have any tips for those wanting to write stories-in-verse?

It sure helps to study poetry and read poetry and write poetry. I know, that probably sounds a little snarky. I have a lot to learn too, but I get frustrated when authors decide to write a story-in-verse because it’s the “thing to do.” Yet they’ve never written a poem before   DON’T DO IT PEOPLE! (Smiley face goes here, to ease the tension). It’s not easy. I have to remind myself not to shirk the poetry for the plot. The story needs to move forward but each line of poetry is important, too. A poet actually thinks about end-stops and enjambments, whether there’s a pause or push at the end of each line. Some of my favorite authors who are masters of stories-in-verse are Karen Hesse, Sharon Creech, and Nikki Grimes.



Can you give us an idea of what your poetry school visits are like?

Fun, I hope! I love visiting one classroom at a time and creating poetry with the students. To have those personal interactions are great (like when the kid tells you his dog ate his best poem). Usually I’ll read from one of my books first, ask a few questions related to the story and then work on a group poem that they can keep after I leave.

What do you like best about Alina Chau’s illustrations? Do you have a favorite?

Alina is genius! There’s a lot packed into each poem, and yet Alina’s illustrations capture the essence of each poem. One of my favorite pieces is the “Goodbye” page. Using soft colors and traditional and simplified Chinese characters, Alina portrays this bittersweet scene beautifully for the reader. Sigh! An author can’t ask for anything more!

I love the poem “Dinner” (no surprise). 🙂 Who does most of the cooking in your house, and could you please share a favorite Chinese recipe with us?

Yum! Yes, let’s talk food. My husband is a more intuitive cook, but I’ve learned so much from him. I can make a pretty mean stir-fry and noodle pancake now. That said, I’m the one who makes most of the dinners in our home (moan-groan) because he’s the last to get home at night. We get hungry. This means my girls have grown up with homemade mac ‘n cheese as well as beef lo mein.

My husband never uses measurements for his cooking, but here’s our attempt to put a Black Bean Salmon recipe together for everyone to try:

  • 2 salmon filets
  • 2 T fermented black beans
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 T sugara
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 T canola oil

Crush and mass ingredients from black beans through the oil. Slather the mixture on top of the salmon filets. We don’t have a steamer, so we use a roasting pan. We fill the pan with an inch of water, then place the salmon on a deep, heat-resistant plate which rests on top of two ramekins. Cover and allow to the fish to steam for 20 minutes. Voila!

Dim Sum is Nancy’s favorite adopted food culture.

Thanks so much, Nancy!

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written by Nancy Tupper Ling
illustrated by Alina Chau
published by Chronicle Books, August 2015
Story-in-Verse for ages 5-8, 48 pp.
***Starred Review*** from Kirkus


For a chance to win a brand new copy of DOUBLE HAPPINESS, please leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite Chinese dish is no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, September 9, 2015. You may also enter by sending an email with “HAPPINESS” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced September 18. Good Luck!

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  • Nancy Tupper Ling’s Official Website (click here to read more about the “double happiness” symbol and how it applies to her story).
  • Alina Chau’s Official Website
  • To celebrate the release of the book, Nancy and Alina are giving away 7 pieces of Alina’s art (3 original pencil sketches, 4 color prints)! One winner will be randomly selected each day during China’s Golden Week (October 1 – October 7, 2015). All pieces will be signed by both the author and the illustrator. Visit Curious City DPW for all the details and entry form.

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Please send your snail mail address so we can get the book out to you pronto :).

Thanks, Everyone, for entering. Loved hearing about your favorite Beatles songs.

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poetry fridayLa La Lovely Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Take her some dim sum and check out the full menu of poetic goodies on today’s menu. Have a fabulous Labor Day Weekend!



*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrations © 2015 Alina Chau, published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


61 thoughts on “Chatting with Nancy Tupper Ling about Double Happiness (+ a giveaway!)

  1. Double Happiness sounds like a packable treat for all the moving & shaking families out there. Appreciations for introducing me to a new poet/p.b. author & illustrator. They are a double delight.

    In addition to the lovely poems & artwork shared, I especially like seeing the thick process binder & reading how this story traveled in the journey to publication.

    My favorite dish is not from our kitchen but from our beloved local longtime Mandarin & Szechuan cuisine leader, Bamboo House & it is Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce. Yum!

    Appreciations for a fabulous post.


    1. Mmmm, I love eggplant!

      That binder is something else, isn’t it? Wow, really proof positive about how a manuscript evolves through many drafts and the importance of trusting the revision process.


  2. A beautiful book! I would have especially loved it as a child ( as we moved a lot..)
    I love steamed salmon with ginger and vegetables- but will have to try this recipe too!


  3. If I allowed myself to buy yet more books, I would have an enormous children’s book section, thanks to you, Jama, who find the most wonderful books! Thank you! And my favorite Chinese dish is Happy Family!


  4. Oh so appealing – the poems and illustrations just dance beautifully together! Thank you Nancy and Jama for this wonderful Friday delight. My favorite Chinese dish is dun dun noodles with shredded chicken from Mary Chung’s in Cambridge. Spicy! Peanuts! Slurp!


  5. Great post, Jama and Nancy. My daughter just received a gift of a double happiness pendant, so I’m looking forward to telling her about this book. Thank for the recipe, too! I know what we’ll be having for dinner tonight.

    It’s so hard to choose a favorite Chinese food specialty, but I am partial to chicken lo mein.


  6. Oh, I forgot to mention my favorite Chinese dish … my husband, who is Filipino American, makes a yummy stir-fry rice. It has a little of whatever’s at hand, including broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms. Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d love a copy of Nancy’s book! I lived in Shanghai for a year and a half and that’s where I discovered my deep love for xiao long bao (soup dumplings). LOVE them. Crave them. And until Din Tai Fung opened a branch in Orange County there was no way for me to get decent ones in the States. Now I’m hungry….


    1. I’ve heard about soup dumplings, but NEVER tried them. Ack! They sound SO good. Haven’t heard of any place around here that makes them.


  8. The book brings me to the memory of my son and family moving far. I wish I had had the idea of a happiness box for my grandson then, Nancy. What a beautiful book and idea. I chuckled at the children rolling themselves up in rugs because my own kids have done that, too-silly things on a rainy day. Thanks for a lovely post Jama, glad to know about this new book, and poetry too! My favorite food is kung pao chicken. There is a restaurant near that makes it so tasty!


  9. What a sweet book! I was one of those kids who moved LOTS, and I sort of did have a Double Happiness box, though I didn’t know to call it that! It’s a wooden cigar box with these removable trays that created what I thought of as secret compartments — I still have it, in fact. I’m so interested in Nancy’s journey to poetry as the daughter of a poet… no pressure! 🙂 What a wonderful thing to have in common with a parent. I also appreciate the any incarnations the story took before it became a project a publisher wanted to buy. Good message for those of us who love our stories but haven’t found that editor yet… be willing to change and add and allow a story to unfold and become what it was always meant to be. Thanks to both! xo


    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Irene. I also found Nancy’s explanation about how her story evolved interesting. Says a lot about remaining open minded and not being too “precious” about one’s work.


  10. Thank you for letting us know about this beautiful book, Jama, and for the great Q&A with Nancy! It sounds wonderful and I love the artwork!


  11. Your post is “Double Happiness” – learning about this book and the interesting interview with Nancy Tupper Ling. I love her idea of “a picture book as poem with a plot”!
    Hmm, you’ve posed a tough question, Jama, asking for a favorite Chinese dish…there are so many. Right now I am on a chicken Egg Foo Young jag. Yum! =)


  12. I would love a copy of your book for the library. I teach the kids about Chinese New Year and have them try and pick up different objects with chop sticks. I love fried and steamed dumplings.


  13. I work in the town that sees a lot of people transferring due to employment, I think Double Happiness will be a good addition to the collection.

    I like Sichuan dry-fried green beans. Yum. I like all kinds of green beans, if truth be known. When I was growing up, my grandmother and aunt made the best green beans. I hate to say this, but I think they were boiled with lard.


  14. Double Happiness sounds like a charmer. I enjoyed hearing about how the book developed and changed–and what didn’t make it into the book, too.

    I make lots of vegetable/tofu stirfrys, but I’m not sure they qualify as Chinese dishes. But the blackbean salmon sounds terrific.


  15. Wonderful post – with beautiful photos and interesting questions. It was fascinating to read of Linda’s process to get the book to finished. Thanks for digging up these interesting books, guests and recipes for us, Jama!


  16. I’m sure Nancy’s advice about how to improve as a poet is correct. “Double Happiness” is a charming title. I don’t know what my favorite dish is. Something with mango, maybe?


  17. How exciting to win a book from Alphabet Soup– thanks Jama! And thank you for introducing us to Nancy’s DOUBLE HAPPINESS too. I had the honor of contributing to Nancy’s other book sitting on the table at her signing, TOASTS. We discovered at the time we had similar interests, but I’m delighted to get to know her better in this interview. Such a sweet story– honey chicken sweet. (Which is not my favorite, but my daughter’s.) I especially loved “Train”– both the poem and the artwork. And the “bean threads/ splashing down” in “Rain.”


    1. Yes, I remember your mentioning the TOASTS book on your blog before. Small world!

      Honey chicken? Yes, please.

      I think we all need to get happiness boxes big enough to put Nancy’s book in. 🙂


  18. 1. I USED to have a favorite – I love egg rolls. Now I cannot have gluten, so I have to chose carefully from those items with no wheat or soy sauce! (unhappy face : {
    2. This book is on my “must have” list now, as a gift to our friends who have just adopted an older boy from China. I think he would enjoy hearing and seeing the Mandarin. He may not understand any of the English yet, but he’s just started school and I think that will be coming along quite quickly now.
    3. I think I will actually put in on my “must have” list twice. I don’t think I can just give one away and not have one for myself!

    Thanks, Jama, for this highlight. And thanks, Nancy, for sharing your wonderful book! And you are right, Alina’s illustrations are genius! Love the Train poem and picture!


    1. I hear you on the gluten thing. I have to watch my wheat and soy intake too somewhat — very difficult when you love Asian food.

      The book does sound perfect for your friends’ son! Not only because of the Mandarin but because of his having to adjust to a major relocation and transition. I like the idea of your treating yourself to a copy too :)!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gluten avoidance is a must for me, unfortunately.
        Yes, I was going to mention the relocation theme as being another reason this book would be good for him. It is such a huge transition he is facing in many different ways. But such an amazing thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  19. So disappointed (yet fully understanding!) that this giveaway is only open to US residents. There are so many reasons why I’d love to see a copy of this book. Another fabulous interview, Jama. Thank-you Nancy for all your tempting little morsels. I’ll have to watch and see if it makes its way to Australia!


  20. Thank you for sharing this wonderful stroy in verse. The illustrations are delicious. My favorite food- dumplings- any kind.


  21. What a fulsome treat this post is! Thanks to both of you for sharing. Love seeing Nancy’s notebook! And that art is swoon-worthy for sure.
    Hmmm…. Veggie egg rolls, s’il vous plait?


  22. I have had such fun reading these posts! Thank you so much, Jama. And now I’m hoping that lunch time comes soon, since I’m very hungry! A big congrats to Michelle for winning a copy of Double Happiness, too. Best!


    1. It was fun reading your answers and learning more about the backstory of this book. Thanks again — do you and your husband do take-out orders of Chinese food? Feel free to deliver to my house anytime. 🙂


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