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Compestine, Ying Chang 1963–

Compestine, Ying Chang 1963–


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; University of Colorado—Boulder, graduate teacher training certificate, 1990, M.A. (sociology), 1990.


Home—Lafayette, CA. Agent—Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, [email protected] E-mail—[email protected]


Author, public speaker, educator, and television host. Phoenix InfoNews (Chinese-language news broadcaster), host of 20-episode cooking show, 2007; frequent guest on Food Network, Discovery Channel, and Home and Garden Television. Spokesperson for Nes-

tle's Maggi Foods and Celestial Seasonings. Worked as an interpreter for China's Bureau of Seismology; taught sociology for eight years at colleges and universities in U.S. and China. Food editor, Body & Soul magazine.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Front Range Community College, Master Teacher Award, 1991-92; International College at Beijing, Master Teacher Award, 2000; New York Public Library 100 Best Titles for Reading and Sharing designation, Parent's Choice Silver Honor, Cybils Award nomination, and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best designation, all 2007, and American Library Association Notable Children's Book and Best Books for Young Adults designations, and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People designation, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, all 2008, all for Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party.



The Runaway Rice Cake, illustrated by Tungwai Chau, Simon & 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.

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.

D Is for Dragon Dance, illustrated by YongSheng Xuan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

The Real Story of Stone Soup, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch, Dutton (New York, NY), 2007.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party (novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2007.

Boy Dumplings, illustrated by James Yamasaki, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2008.

Menu for Hungry Ghosts (short stories), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2009.

The Singing Wok, Dutton (New York, NY), 2009.


Secrets of Fat-Free Chinese Cooking: Over 120 Low-Calorie and Fat-Free Traditional Chinese Recipes, from Egg Rolls to Almond Cookies, Avery (Garden City Park, NY), 1997.

Cooking with Green Tea, Avery (New York, NY), 2000.

Secrets from a Healthy Asian Kitchen, Avery (New York, NY), 2002.

Cooking with an Asian Accent, Harvard Common Press, 2009.

Contributor to periodicals, including Cooking Light, Eating Well, Self, Men's Health, and Delicious Living.


Ying Chang Compestine, a native of the People's Republic of China, is the author of several cookbooks as well as of picture books for young readers that include The Runaway Rice Cake and The Real Story of Stone Soup. She has also published Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, a critically acclaimed novel based on her own experiences growing up during China's Cultural Revolution.

Compestine was born in Wuhan in 1963, the daughter of two doctors. "Growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a very difficult time in Chinese history, searching for good books to read became a daily struggle," she once told SATA. "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."

After earning a degree in English and American literature, Compestine taught English and worked as an interpreter for the Chinese government. She then relocated to the United States, earning 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. "I can't describe how excited I was the first time I went to a library in America," Compestine once recalled to SATA. "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."

By blending her long-time passion for cultural diversity and her interest in cooking, the author produced her first cookbook in 1997. "When I first came to America, I never dreamt I'd be able to write professionally in my second language, English," Compestine once noted. "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."

Compestine later turned her talents toward writing stories for children. Her first picture book, The Runaway Rice Cake, appeared in 2001. "The Runaway Rice Cake is my childhood New Year fantasy," Compestine once remarked. "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."

The Runaway Rice Cake is reminiscent of the traditional Western folktale about the gingerbread man. Though they have little food, the Chang family is pre-

paring to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a simple holiday meal. However, 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 commented in Booklist that Compestine's story "lacks the cohesiveness of folklore," a Kirkus Reviews critic deemed 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."

Compestine drew on events from her own life for her next picture book. "Growing up with two older brothers, I often had to outsmart them to get more to eat," the author once remarked to SATA. "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." The Story of Chopsticks features the three boys in the Kang family, all of whom 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 shares 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 delicacy. "Food plays an important part in Chinese culture," Compestine told SATA. "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 the tale, the Kang brothers create noodles through their food play. The Kang brothers have been instructed by their mother to make dumplings, yet they end up ruining the dough. To fix their problem, they 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. In an attempt to rid the rice fields of birds, the boys invent a set of colorful "wings" from paper, straw, and feathers. "Compestine's lively, original folktale is filled with action, noise, and humor," noted Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg. In The Story of Paper, the Kangs develop a material that will allow their teacher to send messages home to their parents, away from the prying eyes of the neighbors. Writing in School Library Journal, Laurie Edwards described the work as an "amusing account of the discovery of papermaking."

In D Is for Dragon Dance, an alphabet book, Compestine provides an introduction to the Chinese New Year. The work follows a modern Chinese family as they prepare for the holiday, and it includes a Zodiac chart as well as a recipe for dumplings. "Compestine's text is well researched," observed Rachel G. Payne in School Library Journal. The author also offers her take on a celebrated folktale in The Real Story of Stone Soup. Here a grumpy fisherman who complains loudly about his three hired hands gets his comeuppance when the boys play a trick on him, convincing their employer that they have made a delicious soup using stones from the river. "Tongue-in-cheek humor peppers this original tale," noted School Library Journal reviewer Kirsten Cutler.

In 2007 Compestine published her autobiographical novel Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, "a vivid account of one of the sad follies of history, made rich with details that only an impressionable young witness could supply," according to Marjorie Kehe in the Christian Science Monitor. Set in Wuhan during the early 1970s, the work centers on nine-year-old Ling, an excellent student who enjoys a comfortable life until political turmoil threatens her safety. The members of Ling's family are soon declared enemies of the state and her father, a surgeon, is imprisoned. "Ling's childhood experiences are similar to my own," Compestine remarked in an interview on the Henry Holt and Company Web site. "I was about Ling's age when my family got caught up in the events of the Cultural Revolution. Ling's personality is a lot like mine. Many of her emotions and reactions to events draw on my own experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and her way of thinking reflects the way I saw the world as a child."

Along with several awards, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party garnered strong reviews. Writing in Kliatt, Claire Rosser stated that the author provides "a realistic picture of what that period of history meant to individuals caught in the political nightmare." A critic in Kirkus Reviews described the novel as "a tale of survival; lyrical yet gripping, accessible and memorable," and School Library Journal reviewer Patricia D. Lothrop observed that the author's portrayal of Ling's complicated relationships with her parents "humanize[s] her and help[s] readers empathize with her plight."

"I enjoy losing myself in my stories where I relive my childhood fantasies," Compestine once told SATA. "As a young girl, I lacked the patience for sewing, needle-

work, 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."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 1, 2001, Linda Perkins, review of The Runaway Rice Cake, p. 1055; January 1, 2002, p. 863; April 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Story of Kites, p. 1476; February 1, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of D Is for Dragon Dance, p. 51; January 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of The Real Story of Stone Soup, p. 113; August, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, p. 64.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2007, Hope Morrison, review of The Real Story of Stone Soup, p. 325.

Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 2007, Marjorie Kehe, "When Politics Bring Childhood to an End," review of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2000, review of The Runaway 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; December 15, 2005, review of D Is for Dragon Dance, p. 1320; July 15, 2007, review of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party.

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; November, 2003, Laurie Edwards, review of The Story of Paper, p. 90; March, 2006, Rachel G. Payne, review of D Is for Dragon Dance, p. 185; January, 2007, Kirsten Cutler, review of The Real Story of Stone Soup, p. 90; August, 2007, Patricia D. Lothrop, review of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, p. 112.


Children's Book Council Web site, (February 1, 2008), "Meet the Author: Ying Chang Compestine."

Henry Holt and Company Web site, (February 1, 2008), "Ying Chang Compestine."

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators: Northern California Region Web site, (February 1, 2008), "Ying Chang Compestine."

Ying Chang Compestine Web site, (February 1, 2008).

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