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.
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