Christina Soontornvat loved to read and tell stories when she was younger, but had never dreamed of becoming an author. Now, she has 13 books published for kids, including A Wish In The Dark, which won the Newberry Honor.
“Honestly? I still pinch myself,” she wrote when asked about how it felt to win the most prestigious childrens’ book award. Soontornvat talks about diversity in literature, her writing style, and her experience with the kidlit community below!
Question: What inspired you to write your novel A Wish In The Dark?
Answer: The book is a loose twist on my favorite book when I was a teenager: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (also my favorite musical!). I wanted to write a book that explored some big, big questions: What’s the difference between law and justice? How do we decide what’s right and wrong? Are people naturally good or naturally wicked? The magical world in A Wish in the Dark is inspired by Bangkok, Thailand, where my dad grew up before he immigrated to the US. It is a truly magical city and felt like the perfect setting for a story like this.
Q: What diverse books do you recommend for kids my age (12) and why?
A: All of them, haha! Seriously there are just so many incredible books out there that it is so hard to choose! But my daughters and I are reading Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston, and it’s so much fun and we feel like it needs to be a movie. I love the memoir Free Lunch by Rex Ogle, because it breaks your heart but also reminds you how courageous kids can be. I really loved the historical fiction, Show me a Sign by Ann Clare Lezotte because it made history truly come to life. And one of my favorite authors is Yamile Saied Méndez because she can literally write anything: funny, literary, serious, sweet. She can do it all!
Q: Summarize your writing style in three words.
A: Expect a twist.
Q: What is it like to be part of the kidlit community, and be surrounded by people who love to write just like you?
A: Gosh, it is just the BEST thing ever. The people who write for children are really good, really kind, super generous people. Especially when I was just starting out, I was so impressed at how many authors would reach out willing to help me, give advice, or boost my books in some way. Writing is usually a very solitary pursuit – we sit alone at our desks for much of the time! But there is no way I could keep growing as an author without having such a supportive group of people to lean on.
Q: How does it feel to have won the John Newberry Honor?
A: Honestly? I still pinch myself. I never dreamed that I would win one Honor, let alone two in the same year for very different books. To have my books be recognized at this level is the most incredible honor. I am so humbled to be in the company of the authors who have come before. It’s just incredible!