The Story I'll Tell

By Nancy Tupper Ling
Illustrations by Jessica Lanan

1. The Story I'll Tell is a wonderful book for bedtime. Did you have a favorite bedtime story and/or lullaby when you were young?

I loved bedtime because it was filled with stories. One of my first memories is going to the library with my mom, and choosing enough books to fill our book bag. Often I would select my bedtime story from one of these, but my favorite was a book that I still own. It’s a tiny book called Amy’s Long Night by Nancy Garber. I was in awe of little Amy who was allowed to stay up all night for her birthday. Ironically, I fell asleep every time this story was read to me.

One of my favorite songs was one that my grandmother passed onto my mom. When my mom sang it at night she would change the “goodbye” to “goodnight.”

“There’s a birdie comes flying just as fast as can be in his arms is a letter from your mother to me

Let me open the letter that has come through the sky Dearest child how I love you. From your mother, goodbye.”

2. You mention that you were inspired to write The Story I'll Tell from your family’s own diverse background as well as the experiences of friends who have adopted children from around the world. What resources did you use while researching for The Story I'll Tell?

Oh boy. You said the magic word to a librarian’s ears. Resources! I’ll try to control myself. Of course, people are often our best resource, so that’s where I began. The idea for The Story I’ll Tell came to me like a gift. This rarely happens, but it didn’t take me long to write my initial manuscript. That said, I still wanted to make sure the story rang true to adoptive families. I made a point of listening anew to my friends’ adoptive stories. It was clear that each story was both universal and unique. I wanted to capture that dichotomy in some way.

I also read other picture books that portrayed adoption. Some of those stories were: Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story by Yumi Heo; My Mei Mei by Ed Young, and one of my all time favorites, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis. Ironically, at the same time, I began writing a middle grade story about a young girl in a Russian orphanage. Two mid-grade books about adoption that I admire are The Girl in the Mirror by Meg Kearney and Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock.

3. LEE & LOW BOOKS just recently teamed up with Simmons College to provide a scholarship for students of color to enroll in the Simmons College prestigious Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. Why do you think it’s important to have more people of color working in children’s book publishing?

I’m thrilled to hear this news for two reasons. The first is I received my Masters in Library Science from Simmons College and I know that their Children’s Literature program is very impressive. The second reason is, well, look around, our world is colorful. We need many voices to reflect this diversity.

I try to think about this in the reverse. When I married my husband, I not only fell in love with him, but much of his food and his culture. I’m very content eating a steamed fish or dim sum dumplings. I’m fascinated by Chinese folk tales of phoenix and dragons. Still, when I walk on the streets of Chinatown or Hong Kong as a Caucasian, it is apparent I look different. I never fit in completely. While I’ve come to understand a fair amount of Cantonese language, eventually I miss my native tongue after being away from it for a while.

My own children are part of America’s growing multicultural landscape. When I write my stories, I have them and other biracial children in mind. That said, each child needs to find books that call to them from the shelf. Don’t we all want to fall into a book that reaches us and draws us in? Yes, there are amazing books written by authors of color, but there are many more that need to be told. Eager readers are awaiting these voices, voices that speak to them.

4. This story features a boy adopted from China. What consideration did you give to the specific challenges that come with being adopted internationally or transracially?

Actually, I think the person who addresses these challenges best is Jessica Lanan, my illustrator. So much is portrayed through her illustrations . The adopted child’s parents and grandparents are a mixture of cultures as we see on the final page. While the blending of cultures include challenges from outside of the family, the reader sees the love that they all bring to this welcomed child through Lanan’s depictions.

I also alluded to these challenges in one of the last lines of the story when I wrote: “When we brought you home in dawn’s early light, you cried for things lost and new.” That’s to say, the child’s transition is not an easy one. Whether one month, three months or one year’s old, the child that comes into a new home will feel a sense of loss for all that he/she left behind.

5. Though this story is partly fantasy, each tale includes a grain of truth. How do you think fantasy can help us talk about and understand complicated or tough issues?

Have you ever had a hard time understanding a concept until someone uses an analogy or a metaphor? Then it suddenly becomes clear? I think a good story works the same way. There are big truths out in the world like loneliness and bravery and love that are best presented through stories. I could have written a non-fiction book about adoption but my hope was that through a narrator’s lyrical voice and her fantastical stories the truth of adoption would be captured in a more memorable way for the reader.

Certainly, when a young child being adopted internationally, there are a lot of heavy issues such as poverty, government policies, and special needs. The only reason my friend was able to adopt her son from China was because his parent/s didn’t want a child with a disability. Otherwise, a boy is rarely given up for adoption in China. Are these things a parent should talk about with her child? My hope is that The Story I’ll Tell, this work of fiction, will create a conversation between adoptive parents and their child, or teachers and their students. My job is to capture the reader’s heart first, and that may lead to so much more.

6. Your mother and English teachers encouraged you and influenced you into becoming a writer. How would you encourage a child who doesn’t have interest in reading or writing to get more interested in reading and writing?

So often my librarian and author roles cross paths. As an Outreach Librarian, I deliver books to several senior citizens in their eighties who didn’t become good readers until much later in life. Why? They never found anything that reached them. Or they were forced to read books that didn’t hold their interest. Then one day, boom! They discover Mary Higgins Clark or Jeannette Walls or Billy Collins. Someone who speaks to them, and they are hooked. It’s the same with young readers. Thankfully, though, we have so many more choices today. Graphic novels are great for boys and girls who have a hard time with reading books in a traditional format. I often ask kids what subjects they like. Believe it or not, sometimes it helps to start a reader off with non-fiction. One of my favorite tools is the online catalog because it draws comparisons for the reader. So if you liked The Diary of the Wimpy Kid, the catalog might suggest Dork Diaries as your next option. These are all techniques I’ve learned from my fabulous children’s librarians! And they are, of course, any child’s best resource (back to resources again. Sorry, I can’t help myself).

Also check out an interview with The Little Crooked Cottage and Nancy Tupper Ling.

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades K - 4

Reading Level:

Grades 3 - 3


Adoption, Asian/Asian American Interest, Beginning Concepts, Biracial/Multiracial Interest, Childhood Experiences and Memories, Cultural Diversity, Families, China, Dreams & Aspirations, Identity/Self Esteem/Confidence, Mothers, Multiethnic interest


Adoption Collection , Mother's Day Collection, English Fiction Grades PreK-2, Family Diversity , Chinese Culture Collection, Asian/Asian American English Collection Grades PreK-2, Pedro Noguera Diverse Collection Grades PreK-2, Positive Relationships Collection, Diverse Background English Collection Grades PreK-2

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