This Quill Is Mightier Than The Sword
This quill is mightier than the sword
By Chen Qing 2007-4-7
A 13-year-old Chinese birdwatcher and book lover in Florida has written a fowl fable, "Swordbird," about between good and evil in an allegorical bird kingdom. Now this tale for birds and people is translated into Chinese in a bilingual edition, writes Chen Qing.
Before Harry Potter's last episode lands in China in July, young fantasy fiction fans have the chance to read "Swordbird," a bilingual fable written by a 13-year-old Chinese girl living in Florida in the United States."
It is dedicated to all who love peace and freedom," says Nancy Fan in the preface to the book about a very different blue jay and red cardinal joining forces to fight a wicked hawk with the help of Swordbird.
One doesn't usually associate ideas of "peace" and "freedom" with a young teen, but Fan says the story arose from her passion and imagination in her love for life and nature. She was on a book tour in Beijing and Shanghai this week.
A lot of research and knowledge about birds makes this a pleasant read for children and adults. Fan's English is quite polished and sophisticated for a 13-year-old.
Fan was born in China in 1993 and moved to the United States with her parents in 2000. Thus began her global life.
"I'm quite used to my life of a global person and I like every place, feeling comfortable and excited," Fan says.
She used to travel to the US Great Lakes region, where she could dig herself into the snow. She has also been to China's tropical Hainan Province with its beautiful beaches and hot weather, so she knows the extremes.
Apart from studying and traveling, reading is the most important thing in her life. "I read all sorts of things, Harry Potter, Newbury Prize-winning books and classics," says Fan. "When I was in the fourth grade, I tried to read Jane Eyre.
"It's unusual for a young person to love reading these days. But Fan is hooked. "Many friends around me are proud of not reading. They are the popular kids. But that's not for me.
"When Fan first went to the US, she watched a lot of cartoons and TV to help her with language. Then began her embrace of words and books.
"My first chapter book was 'Charlotte's Web,' my first long novel was 'Black Beauty'," Fan recalls enthusiastically. "I was so proud to be able to read a thick book like 'Black Beauty' in third grade."
Fan's curiosity and passion for life makes her a straight-A student, who can do everything the teacher asks. It also makes her an expert on birds. She is now living in Florida with her parents and three pet birds.
One of her favorite Chinese authors is Shen Shixi, famous for his animal exploration books, who lives in Yunnan Province.
Fan's mother says she has loved watching birds since childhood. "I think it is natural for a kid to be curious for the world around us," the mother says.
Fan shared her stories with her mother during the one and a half years she was writing "Swordbird."
"To see my daughter doing the things she likes makes me happy too," her mother says. "Every kid has the ability to tell a story, I believe. To write is a good thing. I support her dreams as long as she is a happy, healthy and lively person."
Fan's mother is affected by Fan's love for bird and nature as well. In the small town in Syracuse where the family used to live, they would see a bold hawk perching on the mailbox at the sidewalk, a woodpecker pecking the tree on the way back from school, ducks swimming in the pond. "Learning to appreciate nature around me with my daughter made me happier than ever," her mother says.
Learning from nature makes Fan happy. Writing and expressing herself with her pen also makes her a confident person.
"I was affected by the tragedy of 9/11. A month before the disaster of the World Trade Center in 2001, I was on vacation with my parents there. I felt like I was flying high on top of the building them."
At that time, she was in second grade. "I was affected and touched somehow, knowing so many innocent people died in the tragedy," she recalls.
Three years ago, Fan was old enough to begin writing herself. "It's like a miracle, to put my dreams into reality. Along the way, I add bits and pieces I would never have thought of," Fan says. "Like the evil hawk - I put a traditional costume on him, gave him one blind eye like a pirate, and bad breath."
The story started in her notebook. One day, she turned the page and there was nothing, it was blank. "I realized that the ocean comes from waterdrops, that I could write bit by bit and make a book. It was a challenge for me to write a book with chapters, different from the short stories I used to write."
She was excited by the idea and pursued it all the way until the book was published by Harper Collins. A Chinese-English bilingual edition was published by the People's Literature Publishing House this month.
Fan now is an honorary member of the Florida Audubon Society, a bird and environmental protection association. She adopted a bold eagle under her name in the local chapter.
"Birds have beautiful feathers and interesting voices; they wake you up in the morning; they are cheerful; they can fly in the sky," says Fan who has countless reasons to love birds. She has countless stories about them.
She still remembers the pair of robins that built a nest in the hanging flower basket on her balcony; she remembers their beautiful azure blue eggs. "I was touched by the cheerful little creatures and I made robin one of my main characters."
Fan bought a sword when she was traveling in Hainan in a kung fu store. She practiced to experience what it like to fight with a sword - and used the experience for her book - the birds actually fight with swords.
In the eyes of her peers, Fan is a strange kid, super smart. They are always amazed by the things she comes up with. All the common names of the birds in the book are her friends' names.
"They volunteered to be in my story," Fan says happily. "I was awfully calm sending my manuscript to all the publishers I found on Google. On the day Harper Collins decided to publish the book for me, I fed my pet birds extra bird feed. It was one the happiest days in my life."
This young writer is now working on "Sword Quest," the pre-story of "Swordbird."
Her dream is to teach English language and literature, to share her love for books with kids. She also contributes to environment and animal protection.
A book anybird could love
11-yr-old writes million-dollar book inpired from 9/11 attacks
11-yr-old writes million-dollar book inpired from 9/11 attacks
Beijing, Aug 26:
A fantasy novel about tribes of warring birds, written by an 11-year-old Chinese girl, inspired by the 9/11 terror strikes, is to be published worldwide in English. The young author, Nancy Yi Fan, who lives in Hainan, China's southern-most province, won the deal by simply emailing her manuscript to the Chief Executive of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, at the publisher's New York office.Fan has since been hailed as a prodigy by her editors, who will use her book in a new attempt to establish the firm in China. Her story, Swordbird, is an epic allegory about the struggle for peace and will be printed in China in the new year, China Daily reported on Monday. Those who have read the novel describe it as the product of a mind as imaginative as some of the greatest names in children's writing. Fan wrote the novel in response to learning of the war on terror, and it is described as "an action-packed tale of birds at war," set in the once-peaceful Stone-Run Forest. Born in Beijing in 1993, Fan lived in New York with her parents from the age of seven, graduating "with excellence" from elementary school in 2004. When she was in sixth grade, at the age of 11, she was taught about terrorism and the events of 9/11. That night, Fan explains, she had a startling dream all about birds at war and the next day she started writing Swordbird as a way of trying to convey her worries about violence in the world. She now lives in China, on Hainan Island with her parents and their three pet birds. The girl, now 13, is a compulsive writer and reader who spends most of her time in the library, but loves bird-watching and martial arts. This summer HarperCollins announced it would be publishing a series of Chinese works overseas, as well as bringing out Swordbird in the United States, the UK and China. Bureau Report
Young author speaks about her book and inspiration
Young author speaks about her book and inspirationNancy Yi Fan has written "Swordbird," a New York Times children's best-seller - which she translated on her own into Chinese. She's appeared on Martha Stewart's daytime TV show and toured in several cities, including Miami and Beijing.And Nancy is just 13 years old.Nancy, who lives in Alachua County and attends an area school, stood in front of University of Florida Professor Linda Lamme's International Children's Literature class at UF's Norman Hall on Monday night and spoke about her book and the strategies she used when translating her novel from English to Chinese.Her inspiration for "Swordbird" came from a dream about warring birds, said Nancy, who has a passion for birds.In her book, the cardinals and blue jays must battle an evil hawk and his band of crows and ravens. She said she wants her book to convey a message of peace.Because her novel deals with "timeless" themes "with no cultural boundaries," like peace, freedom, bravery and sacrifice, the translation seemed easier, she said.Feeling rusty on her Chinese, she decided to "practice" by translating her novel, which she hadn't yet submitted in English. Translating a play on words, like an instance in the book when she uses "bananas" to mean the actual fruit and also meaning wacky, proved difficult."Sadly, there never existed a play on words in Chinese using bananas or any other fruit for that matter," she said.Her solution was to use the Chinese word for honey, which sounds similar to the word for crazy.She explained that keeping the exact wording is not important, as long as the main story, which she referred to as the bones and wings, is there.After translating her book, Nancy began to search for publishers and her book landed on the desk of president and CEO of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, who liked the book and published it. Nancy said Friedman gave her wings.Nancy also receives a great deal of support from her parents who videotape her speaking and snap pictures as often as they can.Her father advises parents to "let children grow naturally, and if they have interests, just support them."Nancy credits her love of books to a teacher who "drowned" her in books and encouraged her to draw.She told the class of future educators that it is important for teachers to show that they care.Her first English book was "Green Eggs and Ham," and her love grew from there.She said she proudly carried around, with sore wrists, her first large chapter book, "Black Beauty."Nancy said she aspires to be a writer, a translator and a teacher so that she can teach writing and English to Chinese people.Nancy was born in China, and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 7. She has lived in Alachua County since last fall.She is now working on a prequel, "Quest," which she said will be finished by next year. Despite her books being fantasy, she said she wants there to be a depth within them."I want my book to show that peace is wonderful. I hope that my age shows that nothing is impossible," she said.
KIRI LANICE WALTON
April 17. 2007 6:01AM
Question Time with Nancy Yi Fan
First News (UK)
Question Time with Nancy Yi Fan (April 21, 2007)
The thirteen year old author of Swordbird, Nancy Yi Fan, shares the secrets of her success, reminding us all to have a goal... be determined... and go for it!
Can you tell us about your book "Swordbird"?
Swordbird is about how the cardinals and blue jays of Stone-Run Forest are tricked into becoming enemies by an evil hawk tyrant, Turnatt. He uses crows to enslave the forest birds. But then the heroic bird of peace, Swordbird comes to the rescue and freedom returns to the birds of the forest.
Can you tell us the story of how you got your book published?
I researched names and email addresses of publishers. Once my final draft of SWORDBIRD was finished, I took a deep breath and sent my manuscript. One of the recipients was President Jane Friedman, the CEO of Harper Collins. She sent my email and manuscript to the children's division at Harper Collins. It was an amazing stroke of good fortune.
How did it feel to see your book printed and in the shops?
I was teary and excited. I could scarcely believe it when I held the bound book in my hands for the first time. In fact, I felt as if I were flying in the sky. It was an incredible moment. I will never forget it.
What inspired you to write "Swordbird"?
In Social Studies class we were learning about the American Revolution and terrorist attacks. That night, I had a dream about birds that were fighting each other. When I woke up, I wanted to write about the birds in my dream, why they were fighting, and how they became friends again. I wanted to express the importance of peace and freedom. My story got longer and longer. Before I knew it, I was writing a book.
How has having your book published changed your life?
Well, it hasn't really changed anything. I still love to write and read and draw. However, I know that because of SWORDBIRD, I have lots of new opportunities and adventures waiting for me.
Are any of the characters in your books based on people you know?
Some of the characters are based on my family and friends, and my pet birds of course.
What would you like your readers to think and feel after they've read your book?
Well, I want by book to bring a message about the importance of peace and freedom in the world to readers. I thought that writing a novel about birds was the best way to convey this message. Birds have wings and can go anywhere they want to go. I think birds are the freest and happiest animals in the world. It would be utterly sad if birds lost their freedom to fly.
What advice would you give to young writers?
You should have a goal and be determined. And then, go for it.
What is your favourite subject at school and why?
My favourite subject in school is Language Arts, of course. I have always loved writing stories and poems and reading.
If you could pass a new law, what would it be?
I would pass a law that would help prevent the poaching of wild birds and help protect their habitat. Birds are such celestial creatures. We should preserve them so that new generations could be fascinated by their everlasting magic.
13-year-old author writes of freedom and peace
13-year-old author writes of freedom and peace
February 1, 2007
By Mike Mitchell, Staff Writer
A weekly column on appearances at Anderson's Bookshop in downtown Naperville.
By 11 years old, Nancy Yi Fan had written and published her first book - in her second language, English.
Yi Fan, now 13, will admit that she is an overachiever but insists that she is no different from any other student.
"I really didn't want to tell my classmates about it (the book) because I wanted to learn and be like everyone else in school," said Yi Fan, author of the new children's adventure book "Swordbird."
"At first I thought it was going to be a short story," said Yi Fan, who was born in China and moved to America at age 7.
"But I started to write about the issues of freedom and peace, and I realized that those cannot be expressed in a few words. It takes a long time, and a lot of pages."
Fan said she came up with the idea for the book after a dream about birds quarreling.
Her dream occurred shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In "Swordbird," a sinister hawk turns tribes of cardinals and bluejays against each other. The result is years of senseless war, which puts their forest in jeopardy.
Only a magical bird, known as a swordbird, can restore peace.
Yi Fan said a lot of people told her that her chances of being published weren't good and that she should have more realistic expectations.
Fortunately, children don't limit their expectations.
"They said a lot of stuff about agents ... but I believed in luck. I was stubborn. I searched for e-mail addresses of publishers and began to e-mail them," Yi Fan said.
"A few months later, one of the recipients of my (e-mails), Harper Collins, told me she really liked it.
Yi Fan's dreams had become a reality.
"They informed me that they were going to publish it. It was unbelievable," Yi Fan said. "After a few days, the seriousness just sank in. I realized what was going on. I was a little hyper and I began to celebrate.
"I have pet birds and they were chirping, so I gave them a bunch of birdfeed. ... We were all celebrating."
Young author's got the write stuff
The Naperville SunYoung author's got the write stuff
Teen visits Kennedy to discuss prequel to her best-selling novel
February 6, 2007
By Tim Waldorf Staff Writer
Sure, the kids in Kennedy Junior High School's "Screaming Pens" writing club could be authors when they grow up.
Then again, they could be authors now, as evidenced by the success of 13-year-old novelist Nancy Yi Fan, who visited Kennedy on Monday to discuss her book, "Swordbird," with the Screaming Pens and other students who are fans of her work.
Writing, Nancy said, is now her hobby.
"You know how you play sports just for the playing?" she asked the students. "I guess I write for the writing."
She began writing "Swordbird," a fantasy novel about tribes of warring birds, when she was 11, and finished it a year later. When she completed her manuscript, she simply e-mailed it to Jane Friedman, the executive editor of Harper Collins. Now, "Swordbird" is a New York Times best seller, and Nancy is busy writing her second book, "Quest," the prequel to "Swordbird."
"Talking to you about this, I still can't believe it's a book," Nancy said of "Swordbird."
Birds have been a lifelong passion of Nancy's. The distinct personalities of her own, combined with dreams she'd had about others, inspired her to write "Swordbird," which tells how the cardinals and blue jays - the "woodbird" tribes of Stone-Run Forest - find themselves pitted against each other in a search for precious food supplies - some of which have mysteriously gone missing thanks to the evil hawk, Turnatt, whose capture and enslavement of the woodbirds can only be stopped by legendary heroic bird of peace - the Swordbird.
Nancy, who lived with her parents in China until she was 7, wrote the novel in response to learning of the war on terror.
"The moral of 'Swordbird' is (that) peace is wonderful, freedom is sacred," she said.
Kennedy students were impressed with her work. While Nancy may not be an experienced author, her youth is what worked for them.
"When a kid writes it, they have a direct connection," eighth-grader Safa Dadan said. "They know what it's like to be a kid."
Sixth-grader Alec Dickson agreed.
"She's a kid," he said. "She knows what gets us interested. So she can relate to us and get us hooked to it."
A handful of students that met Nancy already are working on books of their own. Her success is an inspiration to them, they said.
"I really like that she wrote it based on a dream, because that's kind of what I've been doing," Dadan said. "I can relate to that, and it's nice to know that, when you write about a dream, you can finish the story instead of abandoning it."
Contact Tim Waldorf at email@example.com or 630-416-5270.
A young writer - age 13! - turns a vivid dream about warring woodland birds into a bestselling book that delivers a message of peace
St. Petersburg Times
A career takes flight
A young writer - age 13! - turns a vivid dream about warring woodland birds into a bestselling book that delivers a message of peace.
By TAYLOR GLOGOWSKI Published on March 12, 2007
Just weeks after its January release, Nancy Yi Fan's new book, Swordbird, is perched in the Top 10 on the New York Times bestsellers list for children's chapter books.
It's unusual for a first-time author. But what makes it even more of an accomplishment is that Nancy is just 13 years old.
Nancy, an eighth-grader who lives in Gainesville with her parents and three parakeets, moved from China at age 7. She says she immediately fell in love with America and its culture. To improve her English, she began going to the library. Nancy calls the library her hero. "All the books, every one of them, is like a door to a new world," she said.
Before she began writing Swordbird at age 10, Nancy had written many short stories and poems. She got the idea for Swordbird after she had a dream about woodland birds at war and quickly knew that it wasn't going to be just a short story or a poem. "When you write about peace and conflict, it takes many pages," she said.
At first, Nancy thought that Swordbird would be a story to share with family, friends and teachers. It wasn't until she was nearly done with the story that she began researching publishers and sending out manuscripts. In a little less than a week, Nancy got a reply from HarperCollins saying it would like to publish Swordbird.
Jane Friedman, president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishing, liked the idea of Swordbird so much that she sent the manuscript to many people at the publishing house, including Phoebe Yeh, the editorial director of HarperCollins Children's Books. Yeh, who edited Swordbird, says she liked the story because "it was the kind of story line that kids in the middle grades will really enjoy."
Nancy "is a real writer," Yeh said, because of how dedicated she was to writing, more so than most kids her age. Nancy researched the habitats of the birds in her story to ensure that the setting was just right. She even took a swordplay class to help make the sword fights in the story more realistic. Nancy enjoyed those classes so much that she has continued them.
Besides reading and swordplay, Nancy also enjoys drawing animals and listening to bird songs.
Now the young author is at work on a Swordbird prequel. Quest is the working title and it tells the story of how the hero in Swordbird came to be.
Nancy hopes to continue writing, although, she says, she sometimes can't find the words to describe what it's like to write. But she does have words for what she hopes readers get out of Swordbird: that with courage, strength and hope, everyone can overcome evil, like the characters in her book.
Taylor Glogowski, 15, is in 10th grade at Land O'Lakes High School.
By Nancy Yi Fan and Mark Zug (illustrator)
HarperCollins Children's Books, 240 pages, $15.99
It all started with a vivid dream filled with woodland birds at war. That dream has become a novel, Swordbird.
Nancy Yi Fan began the story when she was 10. Now 13, Nancy is seeing her dream of war become a book conveying a message of peace.
In the book, two groups of birds - the Blue Jays and the Cardinals - are at war over stolen goods. Soon, the two groups discover it wasn't their old friends who were stealing from them after all, but a tyrant hawk named Turnatt. Turnatt is building his own fort, the Fortress Glooming, and is having it constructed by enslaved woodland birds.
The main character of the story, a slave bird named Miltin, is a small, fragile bird but his character is strong and he has amazing courage. Miltin and the other slave birds attempt to break free of Fortress Glooming and stop Turnatt from taking over Stone-Run Forest.
The only problem is the woodland birds are far outnumbered by Turnatt and his band of followers. Their only hope for peace is to call forth Swordbird, a majestic white bird who, with the power of his sword, has the ability to stop evil in its tracks and spread peace.
Will Miltin and his fellow woodland birds be able to call Swordbird in time?
The book is an amazing tale filled with adventure, courageous characters and a message the whole world needs to hear: "Peace is wonderful; freedom is sacred."
Nancy Yi Fan uses such imagination and vivid detail in the story that you begin to feel as if you're in the book. Swordbird is perfect for any tween with a good imagination and hopes for a more peaceful world.
Taylor Glogowski, Times X-Team
Area girl a hit novelist at 13
Area girl a hit novelist at 13
By AMY REININK
Sun staff writer
February 18. 2007 6:01AM
Spare time is scarce these days for Nancy Yi Fan.In addition to the typical homework and chaos of middle school, the Alachua County 13-year-old is working on her second novel and promoting her first one, "Swordbird," which debuted late last month at No. 10 on The New York Times best-seller list for children's books.Nancy won the book deal with HarperCollins for her first novel without an agent, by e-mailing her manuscript to the publishing house's slush pile - an accomplishment most adult writers only dream of."This is extremely rare," said Phobe Yeh, an editorial director at HarperCollins Children's Books and Nancy's editor. "I've been in publishing for 20 years, and I've never published a child author who's written a novel before. Kids like to write poems and short stories, but a full-length novel is something different. To be able to stick with the same characters and stay focused during the revision process - it's not something most kids are able to do. So yeah, she's pretty special."It started with a dream.When Nancy was 10 and living in Syracuse, N.Y., she had a vivid dream about birds. The dream echoed many of the things going on in her life at the time, from walks in the woods of upstate New York to the attack on the World Trade Center, which she had visited just before 9-11."Those thoughts all whirled up into a dream about cardinals and blue jays in old-fashioned clothing, fighting, and a magical white bird," Nancy said. "I woke up and turned the dream into a story about peace and freedom."For the next two years, Nancy scribbled her thoughts about the book into a small notebook she carried with her everywhere. She transposed and organized those thoughts at her computer at night.When Nancy had written and rewritten the manuscript into what she describes as an "OK draft" - "writers are perfectionists," Nancy said - she e-mailed it to several publishing executives along with a note introducing herself, including her age.Jane Friedman, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins, was among those executives. Friedman passed the manuscript to HarperCollins' Children's Books, where it fell on Yeh's desk."I certainly knew that she was 12 at the time she sent it in, and I admit that the idea that someone her age could do something like that was quite fascinating to me," Yeh said. "But just evaluating this as a work of writing, it was really, really good. It was exciting, there were interesting characters, there were some very funny bits, it was a great adventure, she had a great good-versus-evil theme, it had a wonderful hero and she had a wonderful way with description. I have to say that I was very, very impressed with the book on many levels."When she started the editing process, Yeh said she was even more impressed."She was a consummate professional," Yeh said. "Oftentimes, I would give her advice on one thing, and she would apply it to everything else she was doing. . . . Later on, we were talking about another part and she said, 'Oh, I had to change that part, because I had that bird on a cliff, but that's not its habitat.' I didn't ask her to do that. This is something that adult authors don't always do."Nancy was born in China, and moved to the United States with her parents when she was 7. She has lived in Alachua County with her parents and three budgies, pet birds that are similar to parakeets, since last fall.Nancy said starting with the day HarperCollins returned her e-mail, the publishing process has been as surreal as the fantasy forest she created in "Swordbird.""It took a few days for the actual impact of it to sink in," Nancy said. "When it finally did, I just ran about, leaping and yelling. My birds chirped along."In early February, Nancy visited bookstores and schools in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Syracuse, N.Y., on a promotional tour that included an appearance on "The Martha Stewart Show." Nancy said she loved talking to other children about the book, and giggled when she described the early flights and exhausting days."It was really cold up there, especially in Chicago," Nancy said. "When I was writing, I felt like my hand just froze in place."Yeh said she first met Nancy in person on the tour - their previous conversations had been via telephone or e-mail. She said the 13-year-old was typically professional and precocious, but also pleasingly childlike."When she was in New York City, we went to the Central Park Zoo, and she got so excited about all the random birds flying around," Yeh said. "She said, 'I can hear a cardinal singing,' and then went and named all the birds. Even though all these cool things were happening - she went on 'The Martha Stewart Show,' she was in Chicago and Washington and New York - I think the highlight for her was seeing all these birds at the Central Park Zoo."Nancy's life won't be quieting down anytime soon. In addition to starting high school next year, she's translating "Swordbird" into her first language for its upcoming release in China, and is working on the first book's prequel, "Quest.""We're hoping - hoping - for winter 2008," Yeh said. "She's working on it now - after she gets her homework done, of course."
Time for KidsWho's NewsNancy Yi Fan, 13, has done a lot for a person her age. When she was 7, she moved from China to the United States. She had to learn English and get used to life in America. It didn't take long. Soon, she was writing a book! Swordbird comes out next month. Nancy spent a year and a half writing it. Some of the characters take after her feathered friends. They "show the cheerful spirit that my pets have," she told TFK.
January 19, 2007 Vol. 12 No. 1
Chinese prodigy sent fantasy manuscript to US publisher by email
Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondentSunday September 24, 2006
A fantasy novel about tribes of warring birds, written by a gifted 11-year-old girl who lives in the southern-most province of China, is to be published worldwide in English.
The young author, Nancy Yi Fan, won the extraordinary opportunity by simply emailing her manuscript to the chief executive of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, at the publisher's New York office.
Fan has since been hailed as a prodigy by her editors who will use her book in a new attempt to establish the firm in China . Her story, Swordbird, is an epic allegory about the struggle for peace and will be printed in this country in the new year. Those who have seen it talk about it as the product of a mind as imaginative as some of the greatest names in children's writing. Fan wrote the novel in response to learning of the war on terror, and it is described as 'an action-packed tale of birds at war', set in the once-peaceful Stone-Run Forest. It tells how local woodbird tribes, the Cardinals and the Blue Jays, find themselves pitted against each other in a search for precious food supplies - some of which have mysteriously gone missing. Fighting breaks out and an evil hawk, Turnatt, turns the tribes against each other as part of a plan to take over the forest. He enslaves captives from surrounding tribes and is forced to build an impregnable fortress in which to confine all the woodbirds.
Born in Beijing in 1993, Fan lived in New York with her parents from the age of seven, graduating 'with excellence' from an elementary school there in 2004. When she was in sixth grade, at the age of 11, she was taught about terrorism and the events of 9/11. That night, she explains, she had a startling dream all about birds at war and the next day she started writing Swordbird in her bedroom as a way of trying to convey her worries about violence in the world. She now lives back in China, on the beautiful Hainan Island with her parents and their three pet birds. The girl, now 13, is a compulsive writer and reader who spends most of her time in the library, but she also loves bird-watching and martial arts.
The hero of Swordbird is an escaped 'slavebird', Miltin, who leads the woodbirds once they learn of Turnatt's strategy. The title refers to a legendarily heroic bird of peace. The Swordbird is the only one who can save the forest, so young birds Aska and Miltin fly off on a dangerous mission to find the Leasone gem. This stone, paired with an ancient song from the 'Old Scripture', will conjure Swordbird's help. The story has been chosen to launch the publishing house's new push into China.
This summer HarperCollins announced it would be publishing a series of Chinese works overseas, as well as bringing out Swordbird in the United States, the UK and China and launching Cidian.cn, an online Collins English-Chinese dictionary.
The publishers also linked up with the Chinese People's Literature Publishing House to collaborate on a scheme for both new and classical works by Chinese authors to be translated and published overseas. Initially, five classic Chinese titles will be published for the English-speaking market.
Commenting on the agreement at the time, Liu Yushan, president of the People's Literature Publishing House, said, 'It is our goal to enable people around the world to appreciate and enjoy works of Chinese literature.'
· Swordbird is published in the UK on 5 February 2007
Novel begun here by fifth-grader lands on children's best-seller list
Novel begun here by fifth-grader lands on children's best-seller list
Friday, February 02, 2007
By Diana LaMattina Staff writer
After awaking from a dream about a giant white bird mediating warring factions of birds in the forest, Nancy Yi Fan began to write.
Writing only after school, on weekends and summer vacation, the then fifth-grader at Onondaga Road Elementary School in Fairmount created an adventure told using personified birds.
The resulting novel, "Swordbird," debuted this week at No. 10 on the New York Times' list for children's best-sellers.
And Fan, now 13, returned to the school where the teachers read a partial rough draft in 2003-2004 and encouraged her love of writing.
"It was the most extraordinary writing I've ever seen out of a 10-year-old," said Judy Allen, who teaches gifted students. "She had an amazing sort of perspective on issues of peace and conflict."
West Genesee School District's parent-teacher associations provided a stipend and expenses for Fan to take a side trip on her national book tour.
The story of how she went from a bright fifth-grader to a published author illustrates a combination of talent, hard work and perhaps a bit of luck that the PTA thinks can be an inspiration to other youngsters.
After returning to China where she had lived until age 7, Fan wrote publishers but was rejected for reasons varying from her being too young to the book not being the sort they wanted.
Her break came in 2005 when she e-mailed Jane Friedman, president of HarperCollins, and included a copy of the finished story.
It was at a time when HarperCollins partnered with People's Literature Publishing House to sell translated classics and novels in China.
Editorial director Phoebe Yeh read the manuscript of the animal-fantasy novel and she said she knew Fan deserved a chance to be published.
"It almost never happens," Yeh said. "It's a novel. Normally, children publish poetry and short stories. It's almost unfathomable."
Yeh and Fan worked via e-mail on revisions during her summer vacation, on weekends and after finishing homework.
"When I got to know her (Fan) better and got to understand how she researched to improve her writing, I felt even more certain (that she deserved to be published)," Yeh said.
To learn more about birds and their ways, Fan would walk in the woods and record their movements. When Fan would have a vision of what the bird-characters would do, she drew it out and then tried to describe it in words.
To write more detailed descriptions of sword fights, Fan signed up with a local coach to learn about sword movements.
"I leaped about, acting what the characters were doing, as quietly as I could," Fan said during her Camillus visit.
The book is being released officially this week in the United States and the 50-plus countries of the British Commonwealth. Fan taped an episode of the Martha Stewart show tentatively set for Feb. 12.
Fan translated the entire text into Chinese, her first language, for its upcoming release in China.
"Her parents thought it would be a good way for her to keep up with her Chinese," Yeh said.
The book, geared for readers between 8 and 12 years old, is a story about a tribe of hawks attacking cardinals and blue jays, who fight back and search for a magic stone that will summon Swordbird to defeat the evil hawk lord.
It's an adventure tale, filled with witty and childlike tricks used to defeat evil. Fan manages to keep the novel kid-friendly while dealing with peace, faith, teamwork and compassion.
She is already working on "Quest," a prequel, which tells of how Wind-Voice became the mythical bird that can help conquer evil and restore peace. It may be out as soon as 2009.
Diana LaMattina can be reached at 470-3130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saga by 13-Year-Old Author Takes Wing
Saga by 13-Year-Old Author Takes Wing
This story originally appeared in Children's Bookshelf on December 14, 2006
by Sally Lodge, Children's Bookshelf -- Publishers Weekly, 12/14/2006
It all began, quite literally, with a dream. When she was 11, Nancy Yi Fan dreamt about two groups of birds in the forest: cardinals and blue jays, struggling for freedom. "When I woke up, I just couldn't help it," she recalls. "I just had to hatch my bird story."
Inspired also by her deep love of birds and by readings and discussions about war in her social studies class, the fifth grader immediately began writing the saga that would become Swordbird. And, after finishing the manuscript, was resourceful enough to find a publisher for her fantasy adventure, due out from HarperCollins in February with a 50,000-copy first printing.
Fan began her novel while living near Syracuse, N.Y., where she and her family moved from their native China when the girl was seven, knowing almost no English. She was aware from the start that hers would be a long creative journey. "I knew this wouldn't be easy to write and that it was going to take a long time, because things like peace or freedom cannot be expressed in just a few words, since they are too deep," she says. "But I was optimistic and I put my best ideas into it. I didn't plan the story. I let it take me where it was going. I sometimes reached a dead end but I was lucky and was able to keep writing."
She reserved at least half an hour each day for writing and would sometimes venture into the bird-filled woods near her home. "I'd carry my binoculars and a notepad with me and write as I trekked," she explains. "I was always thinking about the book and worked on it in all of my spare time."
In addition to observing birds first-hand, the author researched various species' habits and habitats extensively through books and on the Internet, noting that "sometimes I checked out so many books from the library that I had to lug them home in a cart." And, when she decided to have her anthropomorphic bird characters fight with swords, the diligent writer even enrolled in a kung fu class to learn basic sword maneuvers so she could better describe these movements.
Fan also turned to the Internet to find a publisher for Swordbird. When she had completed a first draft, she went on-line and searched out e-mail addresses for publishing executives, including that of HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, whom the author deferentially calls "President Friedman," crediting her with "breathing life into Swordbird." Friedman passed along Fan's intriguing query and script to the children's division, where editorial director Phoebe Yeh became its editor.
"I began reading and knew immediately that this was very good," says Yeh. "I knew that a child had written the book and that was part of what caught my attention, yet the writing was truly top-notch and very imaginative. Other editors [here] also read the book and were very impressed."
By this time, the author and her family had returned to China, so Yeh e-mailed her there and then talked by phone to her and her parents in order to "make sure that they all understood what we would be asking of her, in terms of making revisions, and to find out if they really wanted to pursue this."
Fan describes her first reaction to the news that HarperCollins wanted to publish Swordbird as "very happy but surprisingly calm." But several days later it suddenly sank in and she recalls "running around the house wildly, which made my pet birds squawk. I gave them lots of extra bird feed that day."
Noting that Fan "is particularly gifted at creating characters and their back stories and at creating cliff-hanger endings to chapters—things some writers spend many books and many years learning," Yeh says that her line editing of the novel entailed addressing "pacing, motivation and standard things. Nancy's level of sophistication in her approach to writing was amazing. It is rare to find a child capable of her level of understanding of what you need to do to get it right."
Now 13 and living in Florida, where her father is a doctoral student, Fan will travel to New York City, Chicago and Washington in February to promote Swordbird. "I am excited to go to these big cities and tell people about my book, and I especially look forward to reading passages to others," she says.
Meanwhile, she has completed approximately half of a second novel that HarperCollins will publish: a prequel to Swordbird, tentatively titled Quest. And Fan anticipates more will follow, perhaps along similar plot lines. "I am sure that there will be more books as time goes on and more ideas pop into my head," she muses. "I believe that the forest world has a river of stories that flow without ending."
Out of the Ashes Eighth-grade novelist takes flight
New York Time Magazine
Out of the Ashes
Eighth-grade novelist takes flight.
By Susan Avery
After 9/11, many kids turned their fear and anger about terrorism into painful drawings, intense discussions, and heartbreaking writing. Ten-year-old Nancy Yi Fan went a little further: Her novel, Swordbird, hits bookstores this week. As a new immigrant from China, Nancy had been to the World Trade Center’s observatory early in the summer of 2001. Two years after the attacks, she was still having dreams about war. “I was shocked that a place that felt so solid and majestic was gone,” says Fan, now 13 and a Florida eighth-grader. Her story, about warring feathered factions and a muscular supernatural hero who saves their society, retains a good-versus-evil innocence, coming alive through the vividly depicted warblers and their dialogue—especially surprising given that the young author was still polishing her English at the time. (What’s more, she e-mailed it blind into the slush pile at HarperCollins, without an agent.) Despite her uncanny achievement, she is not a jaded child. “Peace is wonderful, freedom is sacred,” she says. And getting a second book deal is pretty nifty as well: HarperCollins has signed her to write a Swordbird prequel, which could go on sale before she enters high school.
Already Flying High
Already Flying High
For 13-Year-Old Author, 'Swordbird' Is Just the Beginning
Monday, February 5, 2007; Page C12
"I'm as happy as a bird," Nancy Yi Fan fairly chirps when asked how she's doing.
Nancy has plenty of reasons to be happy. Her first book, "Swordbird" -- a tale of how the once-peaceful blue jays and cardinals of Stone-Run Forest have been turned against each other -- has just been published. Last month it made the New York Times' list of best-selling books for children. And Nancy is now touring the country -- with stops in New York City, Chicago and Washington -- to talk about her book. The tour is getting her out of her eighth-grade classes.
Nancy Yi Fan
Family: Lives with her parents in Florida.
Pets: Three birds -- Ambergold, Cyan and Tiger.
Best subject in school: Language arts.
Worst subject:"I really don't have a worst subject." (We believe you, Nancy.)
Person you most admire: E.B. White, "because the three books he wrote for children ['Charlotte's Web,' 'Stuart Little' and 'The Trumpet of the Swan'] are all considered classics."
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Chocolate.
Best birthday present:"My first pet bird. I got him when I was in first grade. I named him Alphabet because I was learning the English alphabet at the time."
That's right: Nancy Yi Fan, best-selling author, is 13.
Nancy, who was born in China in 1993 and came to the United States with her parents when she was 7, has written stories for about as long as she can remember. She has loved birds for even longer.
"My first memories are of birds fluttering all over. My favorite blanket had this bird on it. [Birds] fascinate me. They're so free. With their wings, they are not limited by land or sea," Nancy says with the energy of a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower.
The idea for a novel about battling birds, a hateful hawk and a legendary hero came to her in a dream one night when she was 11.
" 'Swordbird' came from all sorts of different places," she says, "the woods near my home, my deep love of birds, studying about wars in my social studies classes and reading about 9/11 in newspapers and magazines. All of these things got mixed up and turned into a strange dream. . . . When I woke up I turned it into a story because I wanted to express the importance of peace and freedom."
Writing that story became the most important thing in her life. She kept a spiral notebook with her at all times so she could jot down ideas as they came to her.
"I worked on it in every minute of my spare time. . . . Sometimes I'd write on the school bus. When I got home, I'd hurry through my homework. . . . " Nancy pauses, perhaps realizing that what she has just said to a reporter might get her in trouble with her parents and teachers.
"My schoolwork always came first," she adds quickly.
Her parents and teachers turned out to be helpful editors as she worked on her story for more than a year. "My parents just kept smiling at me and saying, 'Keep up the good work.' "
Nancy's friends at school always believed that her book would get published. One day when she printed a version for them to read, "they asked me to sign a printout so they would one day be able to say, 'Look, we have this draft signed by the author,' " Nancy says, giggling as she recounts the story.
So how does it feel to have all the attention of being a published author? It's fun, but there's more work to do, says Nancy, who is already working on her second book, called "Quest."
"I'm definitely going to continue being a writer," she says, but "since I'm Chinese maybe I can translate books, too. And I could be a teacher, to teach other people to write. . . . So I can be a teacher, translator and writer."
-- Tracy Grant
Flight of fantasy
Telegraph Magazine (UK)
Chick lit: Nancy Yi Fan with her pet budgies in the bedroom of her home in Florida. Her evening work schedule is posted on the wall.
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 27/01/2007
Most novelists only dream of landing a global publishing deal at the first attempt. Nancy Yi Fan is 13, Chinese and writes in her second language. Lucie Young meets a literary prodigy and her very ambitious parents.
Americans like to think they have the market cornered in how to raise child geniuses. Educational programmes such as Baby Einstein, Learning Before Birth and the Mozart Effect are all popular with new parents. But the Chinese are equally driven, judging by the success of Nancy Yi Fan. Nancy, 13, is one of the
youngest authors to have a novel published in America – an accomplishment that is all the more extraordinary as English is not her first language. She was born in China and Mandarin is her native tongue.
Nancy, whose first book, Swordbird, comes out in the UK next month, is the latest in a line of Chinese prodigies to conquer the West that has included the 13-year-old chess champion Pu Xiangzhi and the violinist Tang Yun, who at 13 starred in Chen Kaige's 2002 film Together with You.
Over a homecooked dinner of dumplings, tofu, egg and peppers in their hanky-sized apartment in Gainesville, Florida (where the Fans moved from China six months ago), Harvey Fan, 43, explains that it is no accident that his daughter is such a precocious talent. His plans for her greatness began even before she was born. 'Americans really care about their children, but in Beijing they go more crazy,' he says, as the Fans perch around the kitchen table on what appears to be plastic garden furniture.
By law, Chinese parents can have only one child (unless they produce twins) and they do everything in their power to ensure that their child develops to its fullest potential. 'I didn't buy a sofa,' Harvey says, looking at the plastic chairs in the spartan living-room. 'Luxury is not for me. I don't need to lie on a sofa. As long as we have enough money, it is for Nancy to buy books.' Turning to look at his wife, Lora, he continues, 'She is never complaining. My sister criticises me and says, "Why you not buy your wife beautiful clothes? You not so decent. You just wear cheap shirts and T-shirts. Why?" '
Nancy shows no evidence of being a spoilt child. She has little in her bedroom apart from her computer, a collection of moss and four-leaf clovers she gathered from the school playing fields, and a bookcase that holds about 50 books (half in Chinese, half in English). What she does have –in abundance – is confidence.
Sitting on a mattress on the floor, with her hair in a ponytail and glasses that make her look like a cross between Harry Potter's Chinese twin and Velma from Scooby-Doo, Nancy explains how she took two years to write Swordbird, and then did what every writer dreams of – she secured a publisher without even having an agent. 'I'd read a few books about how to get published and it was so complicated,' she says, rolling her eyes. She didn't want to waste money on postage, sending out lots of copies of her manuscript to book editors, so instead she simply e-mailed Swordbird to half a dozen of the most important sounding people at the leading publishing houses.
Jane Friedman, the CEO and president of HarperCollins, who frequently appears near the top of lists of America's most powerful women, receives dozens of emails every day from hopeful authors, but this one caught her eye. 'It was addressed to President Friedman and said it was from a 12-year-old Chinese girl, but it seemed very grown up,' Friedman says. 'I had my doubts that it was real.' Nevertheless she emailed Nancy immediately to let her know she was interested in her book. Within a month, Nancy had a deal.
Swordbird, like most classical children's fiction, involves a crusade of good against evil. In this case, the main protagonists are blue jays, robins and cardinal-birds that eat pies, play the piano, perform plays, dance, sail boats and tip-claw around the trees of the Stone-Run Forest. These small creatures are also expert swordsmen and defend themselves with an impressive array of blades against an evil hawk, Turnatt, who enslaves innocent birds in Fortress Glooming and tries to pit everyone against each other.
Birds are Nancy's passion. In a tiny cage in the living-room are perched Ambergold, Cyan and Tiger, her budgerigars. 'I got my first bird when I was in China. I called him Alphabet because I was learning the English alphabet at the time.' Keeping birds as pets is common in China but mostly among the elderly. 'They keep canaries, singing birds or nightingales in bamboo cages. It takes the place of golf or a newspaper,' she says.
Nancy spent her first seven years in Liaoning in north-east China, and Beijing. Lora and Harvey had already lost twins and didn't want to lose another child, so when Lora became pregnant for the second time she stayed in hospital for nearly a year. Harvey had a karaoke machine and recorded love songs to play to their unborn baby. 'I remember Moon River and Love Story,' Lora giggles. 'My husband said, "Eat all sorts of things so your child will be clever." '
'I said, if you take a lot of minerals, your child will develop a lot faster,' Harvey adds. 'I bought very expensive cherries and lychees. I spent to my limit. I also went out to the villages and bought donkey meat and snake meat. The old generation have a superstition that it is good for the child.'
Before Nancy could walk, Harvey carried her to museums to show her art. He exposed her to different sounds and bought a computer so she could tap on it, even when she didn't know what she was doing. Everyone in his family chipped in. Harvey's 80-year-old father did chores around their house and one day placed an English book under Nancy's sleeping head, perhaps hoping she might learn by osmosis. 'It was a prediction,' Harvey grins.
When Nancy was seven, the Fans moved to America where Harvey had won a visiting scholarship to several universities, including Harvard. During this four-year spell in the US – they returned to China for two years when their visa expired – the Fans made intensive use of the library system. Nancy, who has been twisted up like a pretzel at the table, animatedly jumps in to tell the story. 'My parents rode bicycles and went to the libraries with backpacks. Sometimes we would bring a little shopping cart, which I left near the door. It didn't make any noise, so they didn't say anything, but the librarians' eyes grew very big when they saw it,' she says with a giggle.
In her first year at school in the US, Nancy's reading ability shot from kindergarten level to a year above her classmates. (Nowadays, she boasts, 'I can read a Harry Potter in a day if I have not much other things to do.') Her first short stories were so outstanding that her teacher summoned Harvey to check he wasn't writing them for her. Her parents beam with delight at the very idea.
In the evenings and at weekends, Harvey gave his daughter additional homework. He taught her to keep a diary and set her tasks such as using a particular quote in a story. 'She is under my control at home,' he says proudly. 'At home she can't read any books except classics and the Newbery Medal book list [an annual award in America for the best children's books chosen by librarians].'
On the wall above Nancy's desk is a schedule outlining how she will spend every hour of the evening: 4.30-6.30 homework; 6.30-7.30 meal/rest; 7.30-9.30 Quest. Quest is the name of her second novel, which she says she has nearly finished. It is set 100 years before the time of Swordbird and 'tells how Wind Voice became Swordbird,' a giant dove-like bird of peace with magical powers.
Every night at 10pm, after Nancy finishes her assignments, the family goes jogging. It must be quite a sight. There are barely any pavements in most American towns and Gainesville is no exception. Most people seem to live in apartment complexes arranged around a communal car-park, and the local streets are huge four- and six-lane highways cutting through the heart of town.
Harvey feels that in China parents neglect sports to their detriment. It is not a priority in Chinese schools; the emphasis is solely on study. Harvey says this is partly because the playgrounds are small and crowded, so there is not much room for sport. He prefers the Western model; Nancy took dance classes and did skating and swimming. 'I think she is taller than us because of the swimming,' he says.
The Fans have moved almost 10 times in Nancy's life. Asked if moving makes it hard to keep up with friends, she says soberly, 'My best friends are books. Books are everything. They are my teachers, my friends. They are always there for you, even when we move and go to a temporary home.'
Her favourite hobby is to lie in bed at night and picture the characters from the books that she has read that day and see if she can make the stories come out differently. 'Then when I fall asleep I dream about the stories,' she says. 'If the story is good, it is very hard to change what happens.'
The idea for Swordbird came to her at the age of 10 after one of these bookish dreams. She had just read Gone with the Wind and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (a fictional story about a young apprentice silversmith caught up in the American revolution). 'I was learning about the revolutionary wars in my social studies class and that all got mixed up in my dreams,' she recalls. When she woke up, she realised she had dreamt the makings of a novel about war, peace, friendship and trust. 'For several days, I thought of all the good stuff I had ever thought of and poured it all into the story. I wrote and wrote and wrote, whenever I had spare time. It always occupied a place in my mind.
Nancy jots down ideas in ringbound notebooks that she carries in her jeans pocket. 'I just wildly write out my ideas on a notebook, however stupid. The notebook is about brainstorming gems for the story. Then I go back to the computer and go through it. I think the disadvantage of a computer is I am tempted to change it.'
The first draft of Swordbird took two years to complete. In the first version, she had more than 100 characters. 'It got really tangled up and confusing,' she says, so she snipped the characters down to 40 and tried to streamline the whole thing. She even took up martial arts to help with the battle scenes. 'I thought if I knew how to use a sword, the battle scenes would be more realistic.' The result is the birds fight with everything from rapiers and sabres to scimitars.
Nancy is keen to show off her new-found fighting skills and impressively twirls a huge sword in the living-room and strikes a dramatic pose. Evidently, when she sets her mind on doing something, she doesn't do it by halves.
Kate Jackson, the editor-in-chief of the children's division at HarperCollins, which publishes such modern classics as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and Where the Wild Things Are, thinks Nancy's writing is breathtaking. 'I've never seen the like of it before,' she says. 'I didn't realise when I first read it that it was written by a 12-year-old. She is so accomplished as a writer, goodness knows where she will be when she is 25.'
Of course, Swordbird was by no means perfect when it first arrived at the publishing house. Like most first novels, it needed some fine-tuning. Nancy's editor, Phoebe Yeh, spent six months coaching her how to hone the story and break it into chapters. The result is a book that has, as Friedman says, 'an old-fashioned sense of values, which is what a lot of the great writers have'. Friedman won't let on what HarperCollins paid for the book, but it wasn't six figures, she says. How well do they expect it to sell? 'Not millions. That's only JK Rowling and Lemony Snicket. We would be very happy if it did 50,000.'
A cynic might say that Nancy's book benefited enormously from great timing. Other publishers did turn it down. Some told Nancy she was too young, others told her to approach magazines first or get an agent. Would HarperCollins have been so keen to entertain such a young unknown author if the company wasn't looking for titles to help it break into the vast untapped Chinese market?
Friedman admits that when she received Nancy's email, 'China was on my mind. We were planning to enter the Chinese market so, yes, the idea that she was Chinese was appealing. Nancy's book will be published in China by People's Literature Publishing House, our "partner" in China – there are no official partnerships yet.'
Were the publishers worried at all about the strain all this hothousing, writing and fame might have on such a young mind? 'At the beginning, I might have worried,' Jackson says. 'But this is her passion, this is what she loves. She seems very peaceful with it. She is a very calm person, even with all the things going on in her life. Now I've no worries about it. She is old beyond her years.'
Nancy seems unaffected by all the fuss. She is a sweet, sensitive, highly articulate teenage girl whose plans for the future are to continue writing stories and to go to a leading university such as Harvard. 'They have a very nice atmosphere which I find very pacifying,' she says. For now she is happily putting the finishing touches to her second novel and dabbling in fashion design. She is wearing a T-shirt she designed featuring a bird and a verse by the poet Emily Dickinson: 'Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune without the words/And never stops at all.'
Asked if she has any tips for young writers, she says simply that the best way to learn is by reading the best books. 'Read them over and over until you seem to memorise the rhythm and the words. Then, when you write, all the good parts will melt into your style.'