How a little girl's identity crisis inspired the Pepper Zhang storybook

How a little girl's identity crisis inspired the Pepper Zhang storybook

Jerry Zhang daughters
New York City lawyer Jerry Zhang with his 2 daughters, 4-year-old Madison and 1-year-old Everly.

NEW YORK: When his eldest daughter Madison told him one day that she did not want to be Chinese anymore, New York lawyer Jerry Zhang decided to take matters into his own hands.

“Hearing that from my three-year-old daughter at such a young age, it really hit me hard," said Zhang, a Chinese American. 

During a period when Madison was obsessed with the book characters Madeline and Eloise, she kept asking her father why she was Chinese and they were not - and whether she could also have blonde or red hair like her favourite protaganists.

Zhang tried but he faced a challenge looking for picture books for his daughters with strong Asian characters. 

That was when he decided to try to write the children's book - Pepper Zhang: Artist Extraordinaire. The story is based on the character Pepper Zhang, who he said was meant to be a cool and fun character for Madison to identify with. 

Pepper Zhang storybook
The Pepper Zhang: Artist Extraordinaire book (Photo: Kickstarter)

The book tells the story of Pepper's journey from being a normal toddler to world-famous painter as she learns to express her emotions through painting.

Pepper Zhang 2
A scene from Pepper Zhang: Artist Extraordinaire (Photo: Kickstarter)

The illustrator behind Pepper Zhang, Trisha Hautea, said that she would have loved to see a character more like herself growing up. She wanted to show a fearless, imaginative child and chose to depict "Pepper" riding a red dinosaur.


Zhang added that he was surprised to learn that the lack of Asian characters in children’s books is a global problem.

He noted there are plenty of children's books about Chinese New Year, but found it hard to find books that feature Asian characters engaged in everyday activities.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, who analysed books from Cooperative Children's Book Center for over 30 years, found that just 7 per cent of the books are about Asian children.

Zhang and Hautea have launched a Kickstarter campaign to print and deliver “Pepper Zhang”. So far, they’ve raised more than US$30,000, six times the original goal of US$5,000.

The team is hoping to bring Pepper Zhang to bookstores around the world and have expressed hope that this book will be the first of a series.

Source: FSN/CNA/am