Compestine, Ying Chang 1963-
COMPESTINE, Ying Chang 1963-
PERSONAL: Born March 8, 1963, in Wuhan, People's Republic of China; daughter of Chang Sin Liu (a surgeon) and Xiong Xi Guang (a doctor of Chinese medicine); married Greg M. Compestine (a software engineer), March 5, 1990; children: Vinson Ming Da. Education: Central China Normal University, B.A. (English and American literature), 1984; CDR Associates Certified Mediator, 1988; University of Colorado—Boulder, graduate teacher training certificate, 1990, M.A. (sociology), 1990; Asian/Pacific Center for Human Development, victim's assistant training, 1990.
CAREER: Teacher and author of cookbooks and children's literature. Former English teacher and government interpreter in China. Spokesperson for Nestlé's Maggi brand "Taste of Asia."
AWARDS, HONORS: Front Range Community College, Master Teacher Award, 1991-92; International College at Beijing, Master Teacher Award, 2000.
Secrets of Fat-free Chinese Cooking, Avery (Garden City Park, NY), 1997.
Cooking with Green Tea, Avery (New York, NY), 2000.
The Runaway Rice Cake, illustrated by Tungwai Chau, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
The Story of Chopsticks, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.
The Story of Noodles, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.
Secrets from a Healthy Asian Kitchen, Avery (New York, NY), 2002.
The Story of Kites, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
The Story of Paper, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A middle-grade book of historical fiction based on growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution; A Culinary Journey along the Yangtze River, "simple, healthy recipes from region around the Yangtze River along with personal stories and observations that tie together culture, history, and traditions."
SIDELIGHTS: Ying Chang Compestine was born in Wuhan, a city in the People's Republic of China. After earning a degree in English and American literature, she taught English and worked as an interpreter for the Chinese government. After relocating to the United States, Ying earned a master's degree in sociology from the University of Colorado—Boulder. She taught sociology for eight years at colleges and universities in both the United States and China.
By blending her long-time passion for cultural diversity and her interest in cooking, Ying turned her talents toward writing stories for children and cookbooks for adults. Her first picture book, The Runaway Rice Cake, is reminiscent of the traditional Western folktale about the gingerbread man. Though they have little food, the Chang family is preparing to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a simple holiday meal. But, as Momma Chang begins to serve the family a single rice cake, the cake springs to life, jumps off the table, and runs away. The rice cake runs through town, laughing and taunting animals and people, until it encounters a starving old woman. The Chang family allows her to eat the entire cake, even though it is their only one, and they are rewarded upon their return home with a feast sent by the Kitchen God. While Linda Perkins of Booklist felt that this story "lacks the cohesiveness of folklore," a Kirkus Reviews critic called it an "original and upbeat Chinese New Year tale." School Library Journal writer Tina Hudak called The Runaway Rice Cake "a tale of tenderness and sharing."
The Story of Chopsticks features the three boys in the Kang family who adore eating. The youngest brother, Kuai, however, is always hungry. If he tries to grab food straight from the fire, the youngest brother burns his hands. If Kuai waits for the food to cool, his brothers eat it all before he gets any. Finally, the boy's ingenuity leads him to grab two sticks from the woodpile, using them to lift the hot food out of the fire before anyone else has a chance to eat it. All of family's friends and neighbors are soon using the new utensils. An author's note gives facts about the true history of chopsticks and how to use them. Margaret A. Chang of School Library Journal noted that this "story is rooted in Chinese culture and offers American readers an authentic glimpse of its traditions," while a critic for Kirkus Reviews believed that Compestine "concocts a delicious blend of fact and fiction."
The Kang brothers return in The Story of Noodles, which explains the origin of this favorite Chinese food. This time, the boys have been instructed by their mother to make dumplings. They end up ruining the dough and in an attempt to fix their problem, make strips instead of dumplings. There are author's notes about Chinese eating and manners in this "appetizingly funny story," as described by a Kirkus Reviews critic.
The Kang brothers are again featured in The Story of Kites, which explains the origin of kites. As the author described the book, "The boys are tired of working in the rice fields, protecting the harvest form the birds. They try everything—they bang pots, blow whistles, and wave their arms. If only they could fly, they'd drive those birds away forever! Then the boys get an idea: if they made wings, they could fly! Using paper, straw, and feathers, the boys try to launch themselves into the sky from the hilltop above the rice fields. Ker-splash! Kerplop! Kersploosh! What else can the Kang boys come up with to keep those naughty birds away from their rice?"
Compestine told CA: "Growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a very difficult time in Chinese history, searching for good books to read became a daily struggle. The Red Guard took books from our homes and burned them in the streets. For many years, we were only allowed to read the Little Red Book (Mao quotations) and political newspapers.
"The best times in my childhood were when I got hold of non-political books that survived the book burning. At that time, a true measure of friendship was not in exchanging toys at each other's birthday party but in sharing 'underground' books. It took a lot of trust and courage! If the authorities found out, it could result in our parents being jailed, or the whole family being sent to live a harsh life in the countryside.
"I often had to wait days for my turn, and once I got a book, I had to finish it quickly because others were waiting. Many of the books had pages missing, usually at the beginning or the end of the story, for it had passed through so many eager hands. That was when I started my own creative writing. I wrote my own beginnings and endings to complete the books and passed them along to the next child in line. Sometimes I received other children's completions. We spent hours arguing over who had the most believable additions. It was not unusual for one book to have six or eight different versions.
"One day when I was eight years old, the teacher sent for my mother. I was so nervous because I thought I had failed a test. But the teacher explained that a magazine wanted to publish an article I had written and the editor of the magazine wanted to meet me. The editor presented me with a hardcover notebook as an award. I brought that notebook with me from China and I've kept it close by in my office for all of these years.
"I can't describe how excited I was the first time I went to a library in America. The books were so beautiful and complete. I just loved the feel of them! I realized that I would never have to finish any of these books! If I wanted to continue my writing, I'd have to write my own books. Often I wonder if all that practice filling out those incomplete books in China helped me become a writer today.
"When I first came to America, I never dreamt I'd be able to write professionally in my second language, English. I used to be so uneasy about writing even a simple note, let alone a book! I worried about spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. In some ways, writing in English helps me face that fear. I discovered that by making mistakes, I could learn and become a better writer. I challenged myself to write a cookbook in English and sold my first book in less than two months.
"After I lost my parents several years ago, I started writing children's stories that reminded me of life in China. It helped me cope with my loss. Just as importantly, it keeps me close to the country I love. The Runaway Rice Cake is my childhood New Year fantasy. It's about sharing, compassion, and celebrating the Chinese New Year. The story tells how the Changs (my Chinese family name) are rewarded for their kindness. As a child, when the New Year was approaching, I always wished we could have all the dishes the Chang family enjoyed at the end of my story, and that my brothers and I could have new clothes for New Year's Day. But those wishes rarely came true. So in this story, I let the Chang boys get everything I wished for.
"Growing up with two older brothers, I often had to outsmart them to get more to eat. That led to the idea behind The Story of Chopsticks. After I saw how my young son, Vinson, learned to use chopsticks, I knew I had to write the story.
"Food plays an important part in Chinese culture. Perhaps that's why I have always had a passion for food, and why I began my writing career with cookbooks for adults. It may also explain why food is an important element in my children's stories. I have so many fond memories linking food with life in China. For years, my brothers and I played a game eating noodles in different ways. We ate slowly and waited until our parents left the table, then started our game. Since I was the youngest, I was seldom blamed when we were caught. Not surprisingly, after I showed my son, Vinson, different ways to eat noodles, he invented his own 'cutting the grass,' one of the methods the boys use in The Story of Noodles. In this story, the brothers invent noodles through their food play.
"I enjoy losing myself in my stories where I relive my childhood fantasies. As a young girl, I lacked the patience for sewing, needlework, and fan dancing—things girls were expected to do in China at that time. I preferred playing with boys! I allow my boy characters to do all the naughty things I wish I could have done. In the end, my boys are always rewarded for their creativity and inventiveness.
"Beyond writing, one of my greatest pleasures is being with children. They ask the most fascinating questions. I love visiting schools and sharing my stories about growing up in China, along with my joys and struggles writing in a second language. I hope my books will help bridge the two countries I love, America and China.
"My typical workday begins with tai chi sword, a kind of Chinese exercise. Then, after a long walk, I sit down to write. Walking helps me structure my writing. And writing makes me so hungry that I have to go to the kitchen, cook, and eat."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2001, Linda Perkins, review of The Runaway Rice Cake, p. 1055; January 1, 2002, p. 863.
Childhood Education, spring, 2002, p. 173.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2000, review of TheRunaway Rice Cake, p. 1613; October 1, 2001, review of The Story of Chopsticks, p. 1420; October 1, 2002, review of The Story of Noodles, p. 1464.
Natural Health, August, 2002, p. 90.
Publishers Weekly, January 8, 2001, p. 66.
School Library Journal, February, 2001, Tina Hudak, review of The Runaway Rice Cake, p. 93; December, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Story of Chopsticks, p. 97.
Ying Chang Compestine Web Site,http://www.csd.net/~yingc (November 20, 2002).