Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh met back in 2019 at a Washington University in St. Louis campus hotpot party hosted by the Taiwanese Students Organization. The two students soon learned, not surprisingly, they both loved the food, culture and people of Taiwan where they both had family. They also discovered another, more unusual passion — children’s books.
Chang, an economics and strategy student at Olin Business School, will make a beeline to the picture book section of any bookstore she visits. And Yoh, a communication design graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, grew up dreaming that one day she would illustrate children’s books. So when Yoh decided to take a gap year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chang had an idea.
“I was like, ‘Let’s make a children’s book,’” Chang recalled. “I had no idea how the publishing industry worked, but I thought it would be a fun project for us to do together.”
Soon the friends met at a Panera to sketch out their tale of an American girl who moves to Taiwan. A month later, they had an agent. A month after that, they found themselves at the center of a four-way bidding war among the nation’s leading publishing houses. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers won and signed Yoh and Chang to a two-book deal. All in all, the journey from concept to contract took a mere four months — definitely not how the publishing industry typically works.
“My relatives in Taiwan actually thought we got scammed because it all seemed too good to be true,” Chang said. “We were definitely very, very fortunate.”
The result is “This is Not My Home,” a funny but aching story about Lily, who must leave her friends and school in America to help her mother care for her grandmother in Taiwan. Lily does not like her new home — the strange food, the crowded market, the weird toilets — but, in time and with a mother’s love, she finds her place.
“From the start, I wanted to make a book about a girl who is feeling raw and genuine anger,” Yoh said. “We tell the story against the cultural backdrop of Taiwan, a place that is very important to both of us. But any child who has had to move can see themselves in Lily.”
Throughout the creative process, Yoh and Chang received helpful feedback from John Hendrix, a professor and chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Illustration & Visual Culture program, and support from their friends in the Asian community. In addition to serving as executives of the Taiwanese Students Organization, Yoh and Chang also performed at Lunar New Year with the Chinese Yo-yo Club.
In coming weeks, Chang and Yoh will launch a small book tour starting in St. Louis. Readings are scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at Betty’s Books, 10 Summit Ave., and at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at Subterranean Books, 6271 Delmar Blvd.
After that, they will start planning their next book while pursuing very different careers. Yoh’s dream of illustrating children’s books did come true. After graduating in 2022, she moved to San Francisco, where she designs children’s book covers for Chronicle Books. And Chang, who is scheduled to graduate in May, has accepted a job in New York as an innovation analyst for JP Morgan.
“We don’t know what the next book will be, but we’re excited to do it together,” Chang said.