Friday, April 27, 2007

This Quill Is Mightier Than The Sword

This quill is mightier than the sword
By Chen Qing 2007-4-7
Shanghai Daily

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.