Published February 22, 2022

Sylvia Liu, author of Manatee’s Best Friend, grew up with books and daydreams in Caracas, Venezuela. Once an environmental attorney protecting the oceans, she now spins stories for children, inspired by high tech, ghost crabs, and strong girls.

Get to know Sylvia in this Q&A and then see her at the Festival in March discussing her work in a FREE virtual event, Dreaming up the World: Middle-Grade Fiction on March 17 at 2 PM ET.


What motivated you to become an author? 

After I left my first job as an environmental attorney to stay at home with my young children, I decided to pursue a career in children’s illustration. That effort led to writing picture books. Eventually, I realized I enjoyed writing novels for older kids, which is how I ended up writing middle-grade books. 

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

I’ve always been an avid reader, so my creative influences stem from all genres and age groups. Some favorite classic middle-grade stories are the Chronicles of Prydain and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. More recent classics include When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Kate DiCamillo’s books. And there are so many more middle-grade authors who are brilliant storytellers, like Tae Keller’s When You Trap a Tiger, Kate Albus’s A Place to Hang the Moon, Alysa Wishingrad’s The Verdigris Pawn, Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, and Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies, to name a few. 

What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?

My favorite part about writing Manatee’s Best Friend was going to Crystal River, Florida to research manatees. I was lucky enough to snorkel with manatees and had an incredible up-close-and-personal experience with them. I also met students and community members of the town and was able to immerse myself briefly in the environment to help bring it to life.

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

I’m always inspired by nature and the ocean, so most of my books have environmental themes woven into them, even when they aren’t the main issue of the book. My forthcoming middle-grade science fiction, Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation, is set thirty years in the future in a world that is impacted by climate change. Although the central mystery of the book revolves around a scientific and technological conspiracy, the environment plays a part.

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers? 

After reading Manatee’s Best Friend, I hope readers will feel empowered to raise their voices to fight for what they believe in and not be daunted by the fact that they might still be young.

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

In addition to the middle-grade books I mentioned above, I would recommend this year’s Newbery Award winner, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barbra Higuera, an older book that won the National Book Award, The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, and The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a Chinese myth-inspired fantasy and developing other potential ideas for future books.

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With generous support from Michelle and David Baldacci

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