Lu Lee-Kombe on appealing to kids when designing content for children’s books

Lucia is Taiwanese-Canadian, and has lived & travelled extensively in East Asia and East Africa. With a love for writing and traveling, she documents her life stories on her blog, along with her thoughts on family and cultural diversity. She is also an author, with fiction as her main genre, and while her personal favourite is historical fiction, she loves to explore different themes in work. She has published two novels under L.L. Kombe, Freeing Shadows being her first historical fiction, and Take Me to the Deepest Blue, a modern day mermaid story. Her newfound passion is writing and illustrating her own children’s books! You can follow her on Instagram here.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): Can you tell us about the ideation process when you create children’s books?

Lucia Lee-Kombe (LK): I’ve always enjoyed reading stories, since I was young. It’s kind of a nightly ritual where I have to tell Emma, my daughter, a story before she sleeps. From there, I just decided that I probably should write a book using the character that she’s familiar with. I wanted to write books that Emma had a part in creating. 

I’m currently telling her stories based off a character that my father created for Emma’s bedtime stories. I’ve tried different plots with her, so she’s like my little guinea pig. I would tell stories revolving around the same idea or concept, but in slightly different variations. I’d see which one she remembers the most or which one makes her excited. Then I’d refine it before doing a sketch of the character on paper. I usually do it when she’s around as well because she’ll make suggestions like, “Oh he needs a big horn!” or “He is scary, you know.” It becomes a bonding session for us.

Lucia at her book signing for Freeing Shadows, a historical fiction set in WWII France. Photo courtesy of Lucia.

Kr: How did you determine the way you want to shape and mold this character? 

LK: That’s a really good question. Somebody once told me when you write a children’s book, the main character must be someone that the kid can identify with. It has to be relatable. So when Emma was three, I wrote a story about a monster who didn’t like to share. It was kind of goofy and silly. I guess at every stage of her life, my books signpost my daughter’s growth. That’s how I create the character. When my book got published and was about to arrive, Emma was like, “When is he coming in!” She was so excited when she saw the book in its physical form. 

Kr: What do you have in the pipeline for your upcoming books?

LK: I’m currently working on a series of children’s books, with a main character inspired by my daughter. I don’t see many books on interracial families, so having someone she can relate to is important. After I joined different social media communities, I realized that there are actually quite a lot of “blasian” families, and we are all wanting more books on cultural diversity. I’m hoping to create books that have to do with the different food, music, and language culture she will encounter as a Tanzanian and Taiwanese Canadian girl.

Another fun theme to do would be her going on a safari with us. I’m pretty sure this will be very unique.

Kr: What’s the hardest part in developing childrens’ stories? Share with us something that others may not know. 

I think one of the hardest parts is coming up with a character who is unique and relatable. Because when children read books, they like to see someone they can identify with, whether it be appearance or some kind of internal struggle. So crafting a character that would appeal to the kids, and at the same time, keeping it interesting is the challenge for me.

Emma having breakfast with Edd, a resident giraffe at the Giraffe Manor in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Lucia.

Kr: From your experience in developing content, do you see any differences in the way that children are reading and absorbing content today? Do kids still like to read from books, or are they learning more from their phones or a Kindle?

From my own observation, children still prefer reading from hard copy books. That feeling of holding a book and flipping the pages – I think that’s something which cannot be experienced from holding a Kindle or an e-book. I understand that in this day and age, a tablet can hold a child’s attention in its unique, interactive ways, and I also let Emma have her “screen” time to play educational games every once in a while. But to sit down together with her, with a book in hand, and that sensation of turning to the next page is quite irreplaceable. Physical books are probably still the most popular form. 

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