Priscilla "Cilla" Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows bestherself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:
- How she dealt with being bald until she was five
- How she overcame her struggles with reading
- How family traditions with her Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins and her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye, are so different
Debut author Susan Tan has written a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2017
2017 Asian Pacific American Library Association Honor Book
About the Author
Susan has also written Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic.
Dana Wulfekotte is a children’s book author, illustrator, and animator. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Queens with her boyfriend and two rabbits (whom she now regrets not naming Supernova and Sparkledust).
Dana's artwork can be seen in books like The Remember Balloons, Rabbit & Possum & Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is A Classic.
Read an Excerpt
Future Author Extraordinaire
By Susan Tan, Dana Wulfekotte
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2017 Susan Tan
All rights reserved.
FAMILIES AND THE FORCES OF DARKNESS
I'll start by introducing my family, since lots of my stories have them in it (also they're pretty great). There's me (who you know), and my mom and dad. Then there are my mom's parents, my Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins. They live in a big house with black shutters, on top of a tall hill that's fun to roll down. I see them most Saturday mornings for brunch, and Thursdays when Grandpa Jenkins picks me up from school because my parents have to work late. I like Thursdays. Grandpa Jenkins takes me to the park, and sometimes we get hot fudge sundaes. But we don't tell my parents, or Grandma Jenkins.
My dad's parents, my Nai Nai and Ye Ye, also live very close to us. They live in an apartment in a tall brick building, and I see them every Wednesday, which is the night my parents go out to dinner. On Wednesdays, my Nai Nai picks me up from school, and we go shopping in Chinatown. I love Chinatown. There are so many good smells and new foods there, and my Nai Nai's friends always pat my cheek and give me candy. Plus, the grocery store owner keeps a jar at the counter with two tiny turtles inside, who I've named Green Eggs and Ham, and who I'll take home as pets someday, I've decided.
I love my family just the way they are now, with no new baby to get in the way.
In fact, when I told my mom this morning at breakfast that I was writing my book, I said that not wanting a new baby was going to be a BIG theme. And themes are things that happen again and again, like when you put your fingers through the small holes in the fence outside and they get stuck. Then your mom has to use soap to get them out, and she says, "Why did you do that? This happens every time!" Which means if something's a theme, it happens A LOT.
My mom liked the idea of my book so much that she giggled and said that she couldn't wait to read the story of my life. She didn't giggle when I told her about its theme, though, and put her arm around my shoulders and said, "Cilla, sweetheart, I know it's a lot to get used to. If there's anything you want to talk about, I'm always here."
This was convenient, because I actually did want to talk about something, which was, "Could we please get Choco-Rex cereal instead of just cornflakes?" (Because our no-sugary cereal rule is silly, and Choco-Rex has marshmallows shaped like dinosaurs AND turns regular milk into chocolate milk inside the bowl.) My mom didn't say yes, but she didn't say no either. She just blinked and looked kind of confused, so I think there's hope.
But back to my family. Having my grandparents so close is GREAT, because it means I have six people to take care of me and play with me and hear my stories all the time. Plus I get six of everything, like birthday gifts and cookies and hugs when I scrape myself. Of course, I also have six people who won't hesitate to say, "Priscilla Lee-Jenkins, what are you doing, Young Lady?!" and recently, six people saying, "So, are you excited to be a big sister?" (The answer is NO.)
But it also means that, in very, very difficult situations, I have six members of my family to help me.
Like when I had to deal with the Forces of Darkness, which, when I was little, I was sure lived in my closet.
See, I don't like closets. I'm not afraid of them anymore, now that I'm eight and a half. But on nights like tonight, when I'm lying in bed writing because I can't fall asleep and the dark is sometimes scary, I have to admit that I still think they're Highly Suspicious. Why build a small room just for your clothes? Why hang your clothes up when they're so much easier to find in piles on your floor? This is just asking for trouble. If you build a small, dark room and then put a door in front of it, whatever it's hiding isn't going to be very nice.
Looking at my closet door, it's easy to remember how scared I felt when I was little. Because when my parents said good night and the light turned off, I knew there were monsters in my closet, waiting. I imagined big, slimy monsters, with tails and horns and smelly feet. I imagined tiny monsters, no higher than my socks. And I'd call for my mom and dad, because even small monsters are scary.
My mom would say, "Cilla, there are no such things as monsters," and my dad would open the closet and say, "See? Monster free. Feel better now?"
But the answer was no, because everyone knows that monsters learn to hide themselves when they're in monster school.
My parents would kiss me on the cheek and leave. I'd lie, waiting, and then something would rustle, or I'd imagine something had rustled, or was about to rustle.
So I'd call my parents and begin the whole thing all over again. Night after night. And nothing they could say or do would make me feel any better. Which is when my grandparents got involved.
"Monsters in the closet?" my Grandma Jenkins said, putting her hands on her hips and frowning. "Nonsense. You should just let her be," she said, turning to my mom.
But my mom didn't like that idea.
My Nai Nai said, "There are no such things as monsters. Such an imagination." She made a tsking noise and shook her head.
And even my Grandpa Jenkins, who my grandma says will believe anything (which means he's the BEST kind of reader there is), told me, "You know, the monsters are just made up. Like all your other stories. Hey, maybe you could make up a story about your monsters, and imagine that they're friendly. ..."
But this wasn't helpful either, because monsters are Serious Business — you can't just control them with a story. And monsters ARE NOT friendly. These people.
Which is when my Ye Ye invited me to come with him to run errands, which I sometimes do because I like to hear his stories, and because he needs my help picking out new ties (never green, sometimes blue, polka dots always a plus).
But that day, Ye Ye didn't drive us to the tie shop, or the bookstore, or the tailor, or any of the places we usually go. Instead, we went to a big store with frames and mirrors everywhere, and over to a wall filled with metal poster racks.
"So, Cilla," Ye Ye said, looking serious as he flipped through the racks. "You are having trouble with monsters."
"I know, I know." I sighed. "They aren't real, I'm being silly, there's no such thing —"
"Well," Ye Ye interrupted me, but nicely. "I don't know for sure."
"Really?" I looked at him, eyes wide.
"Really." Ye Ye shrugged. "Monsters are tricky. So I have an idea. Just in case there are bad things —"
"Slimy things," I added.
"Smelly things?" he asked.
"Yes," I confirmed. "With big feet."
"Well, just in case there are any slimy, scaly, big-feet monsters, we can do something to fight them. Maybe ..." He flipped through the rack and held up a poster. "This one?"
And there was a picture of a unicorn, big and bright and standing by a purple forest.
"It's beautiful," I gasped.
"Well," Ye Ye said, "we'll get it, and frame it, and it will hang —"
"On my closet door!" I said, finally understanding.
"Then," Ye Ye went on, "if there are monsters, the unicorn will —"
"Fight them off!" I cried.
"Exactly," he said. "Using its magical horn."
"And the powers of the moon," I exclaimed.
"And the stars," he added.
"To send the Forces of Darkness back into the closet!" I finished, triumphantly.
My Ye Ye smiled, mussing my hair. "So smart."
So Ye Ye and I got a sparkly silver frame for the poster. Then we went home and hung my unicorn right smack dab on the closet door (high enough to catch tall monsters, low enough to catch tiny ones — we were expert monster hunters by this point). Then we celebrated with ice cream. Every night after that, when my parents tucked me in and said good night, my unicorn took care of anything that came her way.
And that's the story of how I, Cilla Lee-Jenkins, discovered that I have the best Ye Ye ever. One who understands the power of unicorns, and also, the importance of taking action when dealing with the Forces of Darkness, even if they're probably not there.
And even though, every once in a loooooong while, I still ask my dad to check the closet before I go to sleep, you'll be pleased to know that I don't believe in monsters anymore.
But I definitely believe in unicorns.CHAPTER 2
BABIES, BALDNESS, AND OTHER STRUGGLES
I saw a picture of the baby today. It's black and white, and looks like a bunch of dark circles smooshed together. I've decided to call it "The Blob."
My parents were excited to show me the picture, and to tell me that it's a girl. I don't know why they think this will make a difference. (Though it does help with name ideas. Maybe "The Sister from the Black Lagoon.") My mom kept telling me that she wishes she'd had a sister instead of just older brothers, and my dad kept saying that he has a little sister too, who is my Auntie Eva. But that's TOTALLY different, because Auntie Eva is nice and tells funny jokes and can drive and takes me bowling when she comes to visit, and the new baby isn't going to do any of those things. So I don't know why they thought that would help.
They also kept saying things like, "Do you want me to tell you about it?" and "Want to take a closer look?" even though I kept saying "no" because the picture was boring, plus I don't care.
My Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins came over in the morning to see the picture and brought coffee cake to celebrate, and then my Nai Nai and Ye Ye came over in the afternoon and brought red bean cupcakes and almond cookies, because now that she's having a baby my mom wants to eat almond cookies ALL THE TIME. This is mostly great because when she eats almond cookies, I eat them too. Though they used to be my favorite and are now also The Blob's favorite, apparently. Which doesn't seem fair.
After everyone left, my mom put the picture of The Blob on the refrigerator in case anyone wants to take a closer look later (which is ridiculous, because who wants to look at that?). Also, we don't need anything else on the refrigerator — it's already decorated with the picture I drew in class last week. I call it Dragons Dancing in Tiaras, and my dad said it's "certainly original" and "one of my most creative works of art yet."
While my mom hung the photo, my dad sat on the couch with me and said, "Cilla Lee-Jenkins, your mom and I are so proud of the way you've been helping us get ready for the baby. I know you're going to be a great big sister."
And even though I knew I was supposed to say, "Thank you, Daddy, I can't wait!" what I really wanted to say was "But it's a giant blob and why is it shaped so funny and is that what it's going to look like when it comes out of Mom's stomach? Because that's gross."
So I didn't say anything. I just put my head on my dad's shoulder, and he put his arm around me and cuddled, which is always nice. He said he was excited to read my book, and he asked if I wanted to talk about anything, and I think that my case for Choco-Rex cereal is getting better, because when I finished he said, "Oh, Cilla, there's never a dull moment." Which means I did an excellent job with my argument, because boring is the WORST thing to be.
Now my mom's napping, because The Blob makes her tired ALL THE TIME. My dad's putting The Blob's crib together, and even though he said I could keep him company, he's changed his mind and wants me to play by myself for a while. (Apparently it's not helpful when I put a baby sock on my nose and run around pretending to be an elephant.)
But at least he said I could have another red bean cupcake if I promised not to make noise, and sat at the kitchen table while I ate, and tried not to get crumbs everywhere. I'm doing an EXCELLENT job, by the way. I'm putting all my crumbs in a big pile at the corner of the table, so they're not everywhere at all — just in one place.
While I'm here, I thought I'd write more of my bestselling life story. Because even though The Blob doesn't look like much, I need to finish my book and be world-famous before it's born. Just in case.
To be honest, I don't understand why my whole family made such a big deal about the picture. When I first heard about it, I thought I'd at least be able to see the baby's face, and if it looked nice. I even thought it might be waving hello, which I'd like because then I'd know it was excited to meet me and happy to be my sister. But it's just sitting there. Like blobs do.
And if it's not excited to meet me, I don't know why I should be excited to meet it. Plus, even though I tell Alien-Face McGee that girls are better than boys ALL THE TIME, I was actually kind of hoping The Blob would be a boy, because my mom calls me her "special girl," and what if she decides The Blob is special too?
But at least there's ONE thing I can see from the picture of The Blob that I'm happy about (even if the rest of it is very disappointing).
From what I can tell, The Blob has absolutely, positively no hair.
Which is very good news.
* * *
You see, I don't remember much (or anything) about being a baby. But I know there were some things I was very good at. For example, I learned how to talk early on, which isn't surprising from a future bestselling author.
Soon after that, I learned about something called "quiet time" and that it's Not Acceptable to do things like wake your mom up screaming her name in the middle of the night. Which makes her run down the hallway to your room, thinking something's wrong and you're being kidnapped or dying or eaten by a shark, only to find you standing up in your crib, holding on to the bars, and saying, "Mommy, let's talk." My mom was Not Happy the one time this happened. Which I can understand now (though in my defense, I probably did have something interesting to say).
My point is that I was an excellent baby, what my Grandpa Jenkins calls "a great kid" (though sometimes I'm also what he calls "a pill," but we won't go into that).
But there's one thing that wasn't so great about me as a baby, something you can see in all the photos. For all the greatness and talent inside my head, the outside of my head was a mess. As if being named Priscilla Lee-Jenkins wasn't bad enough, when I was little, I was bald. And being bald is a hard way to enter the world.
Being bald means people in the park stop your mom and say things like, "What's his name? He's just precious!"
"You mean the little boy in the green dress?" my mom would answer.
The doctors said I'd grow out of it, but the problem didn't go away. By the time I was almost four, even my grandparents, who think I'm the most beautiful grandchild on Earth, were beginning to notice.
"Does this happen a lot in America?" my Nai Nai asked, looking suspiciously at my mom's hair. "Ay yah!" (This is the Chinese way of saying "My goodness!" or "Oh no!")
"She looks like an old man," my Ye Ye said, rubbing my head.
My Grandma Jenkins started patting my mom's shoulder whenever we came over, and saying things like "Not to worry, dear, she has personality." (But I don't know what that has to do with my hair.)
Of course, I wanted hair. But I was so little that at first, I didn't really notice that I was bald and everyone else wasn't. For a long time, I didn't mind it THAT much.
But then, the summer when I was four, which means my head was still mostly bald with a small patch of fuzz around the edges, my cousin Helen came to visit.
My cousin Helen is my age, which means that my Grandma Jenkins thinks we should play together and be "as thick as thieves." But I don't like playing with Helen because she bosses me around, plus I'm not a thief (I'm a future author extraordinaire).
Helen lives far away, and every summer, her mom and dad send her to spend a whole MONTH with my Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins. While she's here, she goes to a special summer camp for kids who play music (I wanted to go to this camp too, because I'm EXCELLENT at the kazoo, but apparently that doesn't count). When Helen's here, I have to share the playroom, which is usually just for me, and my grandparents always throw her a birthday party with all her friends from the special camp, who make me feel shy.
And as if all of this wasn't bad enough, that summer, Helen had hair so long, it reached below her shoulders.
She wore long, light brown braided pigtails that she held together with matching bows.
When she took the bows and the pigtails out, her hair fell into perfect corkscrew curls.
This was just too much. Bows and pigtails and curls? When you're bald and your mom is trying to tape a bow to your head because it won't stay on, then and only then will you understand the agony of this terrible injustice.
Of course, I didn't blame Helen for having brown curly pigtails. That's not something you can control.
But I did, absolutely, positively, no question about it, blame her for the princess party.
Excerpted from Cilla Lee-Jenkins by Susan Tan, Dana Wulfekotte. Copyright © 2017 Susan Tan. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A (Very Important) Letter from the Author,
1. Families and the Forces of Darkness,
2. Babies, Baldness, and Other Struggles,
3. My Brush with Destiny, or How I Became a Future Author Extraordinaire,
4. Preschool Blues,
5. Kindergarten and Other Tragedies,
6. Kindergarten, Part II. Less of a Struggle, Plus Rocket Ships,
8. First Grade, Reading, and Other Struggles. Also, Aliens,
9. First Grade, Part II. More Aliens, and Halloween,
12. New Things,
15. Priscilla Lee-Jenkins,
Epilogue: Plot Twist,
Glossary: Cilla's Guide to Life and Literary Terms,
About the Authors,