CREATING JIN JIN WAS A LABOR of love and self-discovery for Brooklyn Heights resident GRACE CHANG. In Jin Jin the Dragon, Chang’s first children’s book, the young golden dragon seeks to answer the question, ‘What am I?’ Toward the end of the writing process, Chang realized she had once tried to answer that very question.
“Now, looking back, the book is almost like a mirror to myself,” she says. “The more I look at it like that, the more I see it.”
In Beijing, Chang was the daughter of a famous illusionist, and she herself became the ringmaster and star illusionist of an internationally acclaimed Chinese circus. She felt clear and secure in her identity, but that evaporated when she moved to the States for school. Without confidence, with the language hurdle as her “biggest demon,” she says she “almost felt like a second class citizen.” Chang slowly discovered that she simply needed to find new outlets for her gifts, and learn English.
“If you are a diamond in the rough no one knows you are a diamond,” Chang says — something her mother used to tell her. “Only you can brush off the rough, and one day the diamond will shine.”
That process started when Chang was asked to perform her illusionist skills in a school talent show, and was surprised to be treated like a celebrity afterward. “OK, I can be special,” she thought. Then she started cooking Kung Pao chicken for dinner parties, and reaching out in other ways that were unique to her among her friends. Slowly her confidence returned.
Chang eventually became a spokesperson for a Chinese adoption agency. That commitment is still a large part of her life, and she estimates that she has helped place two thousand Chinese babies in the U.S.
Chang didn’t initially intend to write a children’s book. She wanted to write a novel about her family, but was accidentally enrolled in a children’s writing course when trying to sign up for a novel writing course.
“The director encouraged me to stay in the class. I guess it changed my life.”
She ultimately turned what was first a bedtime story for her son, Chadd, into Jin Jin the Dragon, calling upon Chinese tradition for the details. When she was young, Chang played with her brother in the courtyards of the Forbidden City, a special place adorned with more than three thousand images of dragons. As opposed to the fire-breathing dragons of Western culture, Chinese dragons symbolize prosperity, protection and primarily, good luck. In short, they are the opposite of destruction.
Chang struggled to find an illustrator who could create the right look for Jin Jin. During this major delay for the book, she realized the perfect answer was her brother, Chong Chang, an artist by trade who had been giving her advice along the way.
“Fifty drafts later,” says the author, “it was right.”
She attributes her persistence — mastering English, perfecting the book to her standards — to her early training. As a performer, she practiced her illusionist tricks for seven years, for often just three minutes on stage. When it came to the writing process she “lived inside a dictionary,” not wanting to make a mistake, looking up every word to see if there might be a better choice.
All ended well, though, and the first printing of 6,000 copies moved in one month. The book is back ordered and has been rushed to a second printing.
Just as Jin Jin’s friends helped the dragon to discover he is more than the nine animals he is made of, and that he has a special gift, Chang has merged her dual cultures into a prosperous life. When not touring for the book or working on various projects, she can be found in the Heights with her husband and son working on their new home. Word is that Jin Jin II is on the way.
ESTEEMED BROOKLYN CARTOONISTS CLIFF CHIANG, DASH SHAW and JULIA WERTZ will be showing off their 2D creations at a reception tonight at Cobble Hill’s Rocketship. This is Chiang’s first gallery show; the former DC Comics assistant editor will be contributing an unpublished eight-page Batman: Black & White story. Wertz is creator of the comic “Fart Party” (Atomic Books) and Shaw is the author of multiple graphic novels and film projects.
The opening reception is at 8 p.m. Adult beverages will be served. It is worth noting that Rocketship (208 Smith St.) made New York magazine’s 2008 list of Best Genre-Specific Bookstores for comics and graphic novels.
Also, at Brooklyn Public Library’s Dweck Center on August 6 at 7 p.m., SCOTT McCLOUD, who has been called “one of the most important cartoonists alive,” “the smartest guy in comics,” and over and again, “groundbreaking,” will discuss his works and ideas about comics.
IN OTHER NEWS:
NEW YORK METHODIST HOSPITAL has a new recruit — ATUL CHOKSHI, M.D., an expert in transradial cardiac catheterization, who will perform a range of procedures to diagnose and treat heart disease at the hospital. While cardiac catheterization is traditionally conducted through the femoral artery in the right groin, Chokshi will be performing an alternate, safer procedure through the radial artery in the wrist.
He was previously director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn. He is also chairman, CEO, and founder of the Krishna Heart Institute, a medical institution devoted to serving disadvantaged patients in Ahmedabad, India.
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GERALD A. SOFF M.D., chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has received the “Elliott Osserman Award for Distinguished Service in Support of Cancer Research” from the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) “in recognition of his three years of service on ICRF’s prestigious Scientific Review Panel.”
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BROOKLYNITE JEWEL REDHEAD claims she was unjustly fired from a Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s school for being pregnant and unmarried in 2001. Her case was dismissed by a federal judge yesterday, reports Gothamist. Redhead was fired from the Linden Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s school because she “violated one of the basic precepts” by having sex before marriage. Redhead was arguing that the school violated state and federal law for discrimination. The judge’s word, according to the NYPost: “Jewel Redhead was supposed to weave religion into all her classes. That made her more like a clergy member than a regular school teacher.” Redhead, still a teacher, still single, plans to appeal.
Army Spec. DEXTER GRANT has graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C. Grant graduated in 1984 from John Dewey High School… MADELYN WHITE of Park Slope received the Bachelor of Arts degree in French and francophone studies/history magna cum laude from Carleton College.