This was the Tweet posted by Christine Whan as part of a seemingly ordinary “picture book pitch” contest that regularly happens for children's book authors on Twitter.
What Whan, a currently enrolled student in the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Children’s Book Writing Program
, didn’t anticipate was that her Tweet would fast forward her path to becoming a published children’s book author before she even finished her program on how
to become a children’s book author.
“I honestly wasn't expecting it. I didn't have a sense of how realistic that was. I mean, it's a Twitter contest. I was just doing it for practice,” said Whan.
Yet that Tweet garnered interest from publishers and agents alike. She soon found herself sending out manuscripts and negotiating her first book deal.
"It all happened so quickly, and in a way that I wasn't expecting. I'm just really thankful," said Whan.
Yet this Tweet didn’t come out of the blue. Through the Children’s Book Writing Program
Whan had been writing her book, learning about the industry, and honing her craft for years before posting the fateful Tweet.
What was Whan’s journey to get to this place? What did she learn in the program and how did it benefit her along the way?
Her journey is both honest and inspiring. Perhaps it will convince you to act on your writing aspirations and bring your ideas to life!
The First Steps of a Children’s Book Author
For Whan, this journey began in 2019. It was shortly after her first daughter was born and she was looking for a creative outlet.
“I just had a baby and I was feeling creative,” said Whan. “I used to write poetry as a child. I was into Shel Silverstein and Ogden Nash. So I decided maybe I'll try to write books.”
Christine had a background in education and experience as a children’s pastor, so writing and coming up with ways to communicate with children wasn't new to her. But there was a learning curve nonetheless.
Whan shared that one of the most valuable aspects of the program was the exchange of feedback that happened among participants.
“To quickly hear what people thought was good about a story or not-so-good has really helped me to grow as a writer,” said Christine. “Especially since it happened in a really safe place where it's clear we're all students looking to learn.”
She also shared many of the eye-opening practical aspects of children's book writing she learned in the program, such as doing research for nonfiction children's books, how to storyboard out a book like a screenplay, and creating a story that both children and parents would enjoy.
The different classes and exercises helped awaken her creative spirit and grow as a writer in new and important ways.
“I grew to appreciate the challenge of it all,” said Whan. “I think as a writer I'm not so much a ‘words’ based writer. I have an idea first and then I'm trying to flesh out the idea as I write. And so the different writing assignments were really helpful for me to learn.”
A Book is Born
The genesis of the book Whan would go on to write came from an in-class writing prompt by program instructor Marcie Colleen
"Her class was really wonderful for me because she constantly had writing prompts, which is helpful for a person like me who doesn't even know where to start sometimes,” said Whan. “The prompt was to write a story about a list. I ended up writing a story about a grocery list for Thanksgiving.”
Mirroring her own multicultural family dynamic, Whan drew inspiration from her daughter's life experience.
The story explores the perspective of a young girl in a multicultural family as she expects both sets of grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner, the Korean grandparents from her mother’s side and the Caucasian grandparents from her father’s side.
"I was thinking about my daughter's experience of culture, family, and what the holidays might mean to her,” said Whan.
Shopping list in hand, the young girl from the story joins her mother as they pick up ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner from both American and Korean-style supermarkets.
“In the American market, they're getting things like turkey and cranberries. In the Korean market it's all about fish and an assortment of Korean fruit,” said Whan. “They're also preparing a whole different set of dishes for a Korean equivalent to Thanksgiving called Chuseok.”
Later the grandparents arrive and the young girl gets to observe and experience as the grandparents try food from different cultures and share traditions.
“When the night ends, the young girl realizes she started the day with these two lists and these two families that she thought were coming to her home. But now she realizes that at this table it's not two different families, but one family,” said Whan.
“For me, it was a dedication to anybody experiencing two cultures, being grateful, and valuing all parts of their family,” said Whan. “That's my hope in writing it.”
The story has extra meaning for Whan too.
“For me to write the story of this idyllic Thanksgiving meal with both families is a little bit vulnerable,” said Whan. “On a personal level, both my parents have passed away. So the grandparents on my side are in the story, but they're not here in real life. So this is my imagining of how my mom would have been and how my dad would have been with my children if they had been around. It was emotional to write those parts because I had to imagine what it would be like if they were here. When I'm much more vulnerable, I feel like a different kind of writing comes out.”
The Unexpected Journey to Publication
While the Thanksgiving story Whan wrote stands out for its touching and personal nature, it’s also one of many drafts that she was working on as part of her path to becoming a published author.
Concurrent with the classes she was taking through the Children’s Book Writing Program
, Whan was also doing what she could to connect with other authors and learn about the industry.
“I learned through people in class that Twitter is a really good place for new authors in the kid-lit community to connect,” she said. “It's where agents connect with authors, and publishers connect with agents and authors. It's where everything happens.”
Without thinking much of it, Whan participated in a Twitter hashtag competition called ‘#pbpitch,’ short for “picture book pitch.”
“You put your pitch out there and if a publisher or an agent ‘likes’ it, that's an invitation for you to send your manuscript to them,” said Whan.
Whan’s pitch was:
“What does Thanksgiving dinner look like when both sides of the family come together? When a girl helps Mom buy ingredients at the American and Korean markets, she has a newfound love for her family's two distinct cultures. #POC #PBPitch #PB”
The Tweet received almost immediate recognition with multiple agents and publishers expressing interest.
“I had no idea what to do,” said Whan. “I learned that they're asking for my manuscript and all these other things I had to do. That happened last November, when I was still in the class.”
One of the ironies for Whan was that she was drawn to the Children’s Book Writing Program partly because the final class was about getting published. Her initial plan was to wait until the coursework was finished, then pursue publication. Yet there she was, getting that opportunity before even finishing the course.
Reflecting on the Impact of the Program and Future Aspirations
When asked about additional takeaways, the value of the program, and thoughts for the future, Whan has many ideas to share.
“I'm mostly thankful that there's a place for a story like mine and stories that are written for kids like mine," said Whan. "I'm super thankful for that.”
When asked if she thought the story would have ever seen the light of day without the Children’s Book Writing Program
, she had a very emphatic answer.
“No, not at all,” said Whan.
“I reached out to Marcie Colleen,” she continued. “I was like, ‘I'm getting published. It's all because of you.’ It was because she had given me that prompt that it brought the story out of me and created the book that's getting published. I don’t think it would have happened otherwise.”
As for her future plans, in many ways, Whan is still figuring it out.
“I'm still kind of processing who I am as a writer because it all still feels so new,” she said. “I think for me I like intergenerational stories. I like grandfathers talking to grandsons. I have another story I'm writing that’s processing cultural differences and multicultural heritage. Those are the kinds of things that I care about and that’s what naturally comes out when I write.”
Christine's book “Two List Thanksgiving” (working title) is scheduled to be published in Fall 2025 by Beaming Books: https://www.beamingbooks.com/
If you’re interested in exploring what it would mean to become a published Children's Book author yourself, the Division of Extended Studies Children’s Book Writing Program
is a great place to start. To learn more about Christine Whan and follow her journey, connect with her on Twitter