Published March 3, 2022

On March 3, as part of the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book, Cherie Fu (Little Messy Marcy Su) discussed her picture book in a virtual presentation for school groups across Virginia.

Watch the video of this event and read the transcript below:

About the Book

A pitch-perfect rhyming text about messiness that any child and parent can relate to—featuring a unique Chinese-American, intergenerational twist.

Marcy Su couldn’t help make messes, track mud on the floors, and get stains on her dresses.

But Marcy’s Mama has had enough! Waipo and Waigong are visiting today, and Marcy’s room is a disgrace. What will her grandparents think? Not to worry—Marcy knows just what to do! From doing the laundry to getting herself dressed, little Marcy Su will certainly go above and beyond than what Mama asked.

Cherie Fu’s playful humor and bouncy rhythms, set against Julie Kwon’s expressive illustrations, perfectly captures how a plucky daughter’s exuberance and a tired mom come together amidst the beautiful chaos that surrounds them.

Sponsors

Virginia Festival of the Book staff, volunteers, partners, and attendees appreciate all of our sponsors. It is their crucial support, along with individual donors, that allows us to present the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book almost completely free of charge. We appreciate the generous commitment from our Premier Sponsor, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and these major sponsors: Michelle and David Baldacci, Dominion Energy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Transcript

SARAH LAWSON: Welcome to the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book, presenting a School Visit with Cherie Fu. I’m Sarah Lawson, Associate Director of the Virginia Center for the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities. Thanks for joining us. A couple notes before we begin. Please share your questions for the author using the Q&A tab on Zoom, and we will get to as many questions as possible at the end of the event. This event has optional closed captioning, which you can turn on and customize at any time with the Transcript tab at the bottom of your window. If you’d like to rewatch this event later, it will be available along with other videos from Festival speakers at VaBook.org/watch.

Now I’m pleased to introduce today’s featured author. Cherie Fu, author of Little Messy Marcy Su, is the mother two audacious little girls. Inspired by childhood’s wondrous humor and optimism, she began imagining stories that reflected her own family’s cultural experience. She lives in Austin with her messy husband and messier daughters. Welcome, Cherie.

CHERIE FU: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

SARAH LAWSON: Thanks for joining us. So Little Messy Marcy Su is a high-pitched, rhyming text about messiness that any child and parent can relate to, featuring a unique Chinese American intergenerational twist. Cherie’s playful humor and bouncy rhythms set against Julie Kwon’s expressive illustrations perfectly captures how a plucky daughter’s exuberance and a tired mom come together amidst the beautiful chaos that surrounds them.

Cherie, take it away.

CHERIE FU: Thank you so much, Sarah. Thank you for the introduction. I am so happy to be part of the Virginia Festival of the Book and to share my picture book with you today. So as Sarah mentioned, I’m from Austin, Texas, and I live in Austin, Texas, with my husband and my two daughters. And Austin is the capital of Texas, but I used to live in Washington, D.C., which is the capital of the United States, and my family moved during the pandemic.

So, we had a lot of friends and family in D.C., so it was very hard to move. And in particular, my mother-in-law and father-in-law—my husband’s parents—they live in a town outside Charlottesville, Virginia, called Crozet. And so, we spent a lot of time there for the holidays and in general. And we’ve gone peach picking and gone to the restaurants and shops there and visited the university there. So, I’m very familiar with that area. In fact, I will be in Crozet in just a couple of weeks to visit them. So, I’ll be in Virginia very soon.

So, I also just wanted to share a little bit about my daughters. I have two kids. They’re five and seven. And you may be around their ages. The seven-year-old just lost her two front teeth, and I’m told that it’s very typical to lose your bottom two teeth and then your top two teeth, which is what happened to my daughter.

And my younger daughter is in preschool, and she’s learning to read. So that may be what some of you are going through now. And her favorite thing to do is she likes to stand on the arm of our living room sofa, and she launches herself onto the cushions, which she thinks is really fun but I think is really scary because I think she’s going to get hurt.

So, I wrote this book Little Messy Marcy Su that I’m going to read to you now. And I think of the main character as being about the same age as my daughters, but I actually wrote the story a few years ago. So, while the story is not about my daughters, which people ask a lot, it’s actually—I see a lot of their spirit in Marcy Su and vice versa.

So, I’m going to share my screen so that I can share the book with you. Okay, I think you should all be able to see my screen now, but please ping me if you don’t. All right.

Little Messy Marcy Su, written by Cherie Fu and illustrated by Julie Kwon. I wanted to mention a little bit about Julie Kwon. She is an amazing illustrator, and she has illustrated two other books: Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field by Angela Ahn and The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung. She’s fantastic.

Marcy Su couldn’t help but make messes,

track mud on the floors and get stains on her dresses.

She always had bruises and scrapes on her knees

from running fast races and climbing tall trees.

Early one Sunday, on a bug-hunting scout,

Marcy jumped up when she heard her mom shout—

“Messy Marcy, your room is a sty!

Why can’t you clean? Oh, why, Marcy, WHY?

“Wàipó and Wàigōng are coming today.

Just look at this mess! What will they say?

They’ll think you were raised by wolves in the wild.

Or worse, that you’re spoiled—an ill-behaved child.

“You ask why I call you my Xiǎoluànluàn?

It could be the dirt that’s caked onto your hands.

Get yourself dressed; no mud stains allowed.

Please pick up your things and make Mama proud.”

Well, Marcy Su never did shrink from a task.

She thought, “I’ll do more than my mama had asked.

I’ll start out by running the washing machine.

Mama will say, ‘Your clothes! Hǎo gānjìng!’”

So, Marcy ripped out all the family’s attire

and polka-dot sheets from the washer and dryer.

The hallway looked like the machines had exploded,

but Marcy was déyì, her own clothes now loaded.

Next, Marcy merrily skipped down the hall

to grab Mama’s vacuum plugged into the wall.

She fluttered about, getting fuzz off the floor,

unaware of the chaos raging outside her door—

The twice-tangled cord knocked over the lamp.

Down went the huāpíng with Mama’s new plant!

The framed family portrait plunged straight to the ground

with a deafening BANG and a shattering sound!

Clueless to all the mayhem she’d wrought,

“I need a quick bath!” was Marcy’s next thought.

She filled up the tub for a warm, soapy scrub.

She splished and she splashed, singing “Rub-a-dub-dub.”

Speeding to dress herself, Marcy was beaming.

Her ribbons pulled tight. But the faucet? Still streaming!

The bubbles were flowing, spilling onto the floor,

soaking the mat as they crept toward the door.

Just then, the zàoyīn prompted Mama to check…

And she gasped when she saw that

HER HOME WAS A WRECK!

Who was to blame? Oh, Mama knew who—

“MARCY SU! MARCY SU!

WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU DO?!”

“I stacked all my books—

I can reach the top shelf!

“Did you notice I washed

all my laundry myself?

“I picked up my toys,

so, no one will fall.

“I vacuumed the rug.

There are no crumbs at all!

“Don’t I look nice? I got myself dressed.

Don’t say it. I know. You are truly impressed!”

Mama Su stared, speechless with shock,

unsure what to do as she glanced at the clock.

Just at that moment, the front doorbell chimed,

as Wàipó and Wàigōng arrived right on time.

Wàipó exclaimed, “Dàole! Hello!

The house is a mess! Āiyā! Oh no!

“Marcy, bǎobèi, your room is pristine.

You must have worked the whole morning to clean!

“But the rest of the house—it looks like a zoo!

Why can’t the others be more like you?”

The end.

So, thank you for listening to my book. I’d like to talk a little bit more about the elements of the story with you, and I’d like for this to be interactive. So, I hope the teachers will be able to type in some answers and thoughts that your classes have.

So, the first thing. I’d love to talk a little bit about foreign languages. As you heard in the story, Marcy speaks some Chinese, and she mixes it in when she’s thinking and talking. So, I would love if you can put in the chat—ask your students if they speak any foreign languages. And I’d love to see the range of languages that we have represented in the classes.

In the meantime, I’ll talk a little bit about how I learned Chinese. So, my parents were immigrants to the United States from Taiwan, and they spoke to me and my sister in Chinese when we were growing up. And we only spoke Chinese when we were very young, but once we got to the school, we mostly spoke English with our classmates and teachers. So, when we were older kids, we ended up speaking what I call Chinglish to my parents, which is a mix of Chinese and English. So sometimes I would say mostly Chinese sentences, but I wouldn’t have the vocabulary in Chinese to say some things, so then I would switch to English. Or sometimes I would be speaking English, and I would feel like I didn’t have exactly the right word, and the Chinese word would express it better. So, then I would switch to Chinese. So, it was very much a mix.

And maybe some of you do this. I went to Chinese school on Sundays when I was growing up in New Jersey. So, for two hours on Sundays, we would drive out to Chinese school, and I loved it because I had so many friends there, and it was a very warm and welcoming community.

When I got older, I didn’t want to go as much because I really wanted to focus on my regular school, and my Chinese got worse and worse because I stopped practicing, and I just stopped speaking it as much. So, I really regretted it when I got to college, and in college I took more advanced Chinese lessons.

So, when I wrote Little Messy Marcy Su, it was really important for me to include Chinese words to share that aspect of feeling like you’re a part of both cultures—of multiple cultures.

So, let’s take a look at the chat and see the foreign languages that people speak. Okay, I see a lot here. Okay, I’m scrolling all the way up. It looks like we have Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Polish, Arabic. That’s a lot. A lot of Spanish speakers here. We have a lot of Spanish speakers in Texas also. Actually, at my kids’ school they teach Spanish as well. Spanish and Korean. Spanish. I see lots of Spanish. And Chinese and Korean. Stony Point Elementary has Russian, French, and Spanish. Italian and French. Spanish. English, Spanish. Spanish, French, and Arabic. This is such a wonderful range. I love to see this. It’s so important to learn [indiscernible] language as well. Spanish, Arabic. I think it’s so wonderful to learn other languages, and it makes traveling so much fun. So, I’m glad to see that there’s so much. Wow, that’s great.

Okay, so I do want to talk a little bit about pronouncing Chinese words. So, I speak Mandarin Chinese, but there are so many dialects in Chinese. So, in Chinese the intonation or the way you say a word—it’s not just the sound of the word but the tone—is really important. So, the different tones you use will be a totally different meaning in Chinese. In English, you can say a word with different tones, and it still means the same thing. So, if I say me, me, me, me—it all means the same thing. It means me.

In Chinese, the intonation changes the meaning of the word. So, there’s a high tone, which is like if you were to do—and I’ll share my screen again because this is in the back of my book. There is high tone, which is a little bit like if you were in the doctor’s office—I like to think of it this way—and you say “ah” because it’s kind of a higher tone.

And then there’s second tone, which is like a rising tone, and it’s like if you were to ask a question. So, it’s like, “Yes?” Instead of “Yes,” it’s “Yes?”

A third tone is called like a low tone, and it’s a little bit hard to describe because it sounds just like very normal speaking. But it’s like the second “yo” in “yo-yo.” Like your voice goes down and dips a little bit.

And then there’s fourth tone, which is like “No!” It’s very forceful, and it sounds like your voice is going down.

And the fifth tone is neutral.

So, like to give a little bit of an example, which is like the word Chi in Chinese. So, if you use the first tone, like “Chi.” Like, “Ah, Chi.” That means chicken. And if you say, “Chi,” which is like a rising second tone, that means like really urgent and rushed. And if you say “Chi” it means like very crowded or squeezed. And if you say Chi, it means like you’re mailing something. So, the same word can mean so many different things based on the intonation that you used.

So, Chinese can be very difficult to learn when you come from a more Latin-based language, but it’s a very rich language and very robust. And I would like to review some of the Chinese words from the story, and I’ll demonstrate the intonation a little bit here.

So, the Chinese words included Wàipó, and this means your maternal grandmother, which is your mother’s mother. And there’s Wàigōng, which is your mother’s father. And in Chinese, you refer to your mom’s parents with different words, Wàipó, Wàigōng or Popo, Gong Gong, versus your dad’s parents, which I call Nainai and Gong Gong. And it’s kind of interesting that some languages will separate it that way, and it’s not like that in English. Although you may have different nicknames for your grandparents on different sides.

So, in the story, Marcy’s mom calls her Xiǎoluànluàn, which just means “little messy messy.” And this is not like a typical nickname. And I just made this one up. But parents always either make up nicknames for their kids, or they may call them things that are already typical nicknames. So, in Chinese bǎobèi, which was also in this story, means like “sweetheart” or “my little precious one.” And that’s very common. And also, there’s a nickname Xiǎochòudàn, which actually means “little smelly egg.” Little stinky egg. But it’s a very common nickname for parents to call their Xiǎochòudàn. And my sister calls her daughter Bing Bing, which means cookie.

So, this is another part where I’d like you guys to comment. I’d love to hear the nicknames that you have for your family members, for your grandparents, or your parents. A lot of us call our parents Mom or Dad or Mommy or Daddy. Or your grandparents you might call them Grandma or Grandpa. But I’d love to hear any kind of other nicknames. Like some people go by Nana, and sometimes it’s Ne-Ne. Sometimes it’s based on the language you’re in. So, I’d love to see what nicknames you have for your family members.

Or if there are nicknames that you have. So not everybody goes by their name on their birth certificate. Sometimes they go by other nicknames because that’s all somebody in their family could pronounce when they were younger or something. So, if there are nicknames that you guys have, I’d love to hear it too.

So, you can put those in the chat, and I’ll go through the rest of the Chinese words. So hǎo gānjìng means “very clean.”

Déyì means like you’re pretty proud of yourself. Marcy was like really proud of herself for doing something.

Huāpíng means “flower vase.”

Zàoyīn means “noise.” So, this is when the mom heard something in the house, and she turned away from what she was doing to pay attention to all that noise.

And dàole means “I’ve made it.” Like I’ve arrived.

And āiyā is like what you say when you’re surprised. And actually, sometimes it can be good or bad. It’s just an expression of shock. And it’s very, very common. If you forget something, you’ll be like, “Āiyā!” Or if something good happens, like “Āiyā!” Like what a pleasant surprise. It’s like, wow, I didn’t know that was going to happen. So, it actually is a little bit like, “Wow!” It has that universal—like you can use it in a lot of different scenarios.

I’ll stop sharing this now, and I hope that I can see some nicknames. Oh, wow, so many. Okay, so I’m scrolling here to look at the nicknames. And let’s see. Okay. I see Scarletti Spaghetti. I love that. Vi-vi or Vee-vee. Sweet Pea. That’s really cute. Juju, Soso, Nana, Papa, Chip, Mama, Yaya. Oh, I’ve heard a lot of yayas before for grandparents. Bean. I see Lucy Lu, Maya Papaya. We do lots of rhyming nicknames in my household too. Has. Ro-ro. My sister as a Ro-ro in her family. Yo-yo. Eve. Mavie Mave. Tabwe, Lee Lee. Nana, Clara Bear. We have a lot of bears in my family too. We have lots of bear nicknames. Nerd. Lojee or Logee. Chi-chi, grandma, grandpa.

Okay, there’s more in the Q&A. Stinkweed, Junebug, Lovey, Peanuts. Oh, Sumanee. Hannah Banana. Oh, I love Hannah Banana. Hannah Bear. Wow, these are so wonderful. Papa. Cheo. Mommy, Grandma. Ladybug. Wow, you have lots of varied nicknames that I hadn’t heard before. Maddie. I know sometimes Maddie can be short for Madelyn. Chi-chi, No-nee. No-nee, Papi. Oh, that’s wonderful.

Thank you for sharing those. I love that. I love that so much. Nana. Okay, great.

Okay, so what I wanted to do is also to talk a little bit about Marcy’s room in Little Messy Marcy Su. So, for me, one of the reasons it’s so important to keep things clean is to help our brains keep track of where things are. So, we can play a little memory game. One of my favorite pictures in Little Messy Marcy Su is the picture of her room when it’s really messy. And I think that the illustrator Julie Kwon—she did such an amazing job illustrating it with like a lot of color and detail.

So, I’ll give everyone—what we’ll do is—it’s so hard to process things when things are messy, right? So, I want to give everyone a few seconds to study Marcy’s room. And I want you to pay attention to all the details that you can. Pay attention to what’s on the walls and what’s on the floors—everything. And then maybe we’ll do a little bit of a quiz and see what you guys can remember.

So, I’m going to share my screen one more time. Okay. So, I think that you should all be able to see this screen now. Okay. I’m going to give you guys about thirty seconds to really study the room. I’m going to time it. Thirty seconds to really pay attention. So, try to remember everything. It’s so hard when a room is messy. So, I’ll give you a few seconds to study it. Pay attention to what’s on the walls, the colors, the details that she has in her room. All right, five more seconds.

Okay, that’s thirty seconds. Okay, it is really hard when it’s messy to pay attention to all those details, right? Okay, so let’s play a little game, and I’ll have the teachers put this in the chat. Tell me, based on the things in Marcy’s room, what do you think are some of Marcy’s hobbies? What do you think are things that she likes to do?

She likes to make messes. She does, yes. She likes to play with her pet. I totally agree. Her dog is with her all the time. She loves painting. Yes. I saw those too. She has paint brushes. She was playing with mud outside. And she likes dress-up too. I agree. She had the witch’s hat, right? She likes to eat pizza. I like pizza too. I think everyone likes pizza.

She likes space. You guys picked upon that, right? There was a box there that had a rocket ship and said “NASA” on it. She does like to play in the mud for sure. Wow, you guys remember a lot of these details. Collect unicorn toys, yes. She actually has—all right, you guys are doing a much better job than I did the first time I tried to remember everything. So yes, all these things. She likes stuffies, toys—totally. You know, I counted. She has six stuffies in that room.

Puzzles, paint, playing with birds, pretend. These are great. You guys did a really good job. Puzzles, toys, playing with her dog. She’s really crafty. You guys did a wonderful job. So, you remembered everything in the picture a lot better than I did the first time. Good job, guys.

So, at this point, I wanted to make sure we leave a few minutes for any questions that you guys have. And Sarah, I don’t know if you want to go through them.

SARAH LAWSON: Yes. Thank you so much, Cherie. This has been so amazing. There are still so many good things coming in from the chat. And I hope you all add your questions to the Q&A or the chat so we can ask Cheri as many of them as we can. We have one so far from Rowan in second grade, who asks how long did it take you to write the book?

CHERIE FU: It’s so hard to say because it was a period over maybe just one or two months probably. Or maybe even more than that. But it would be like any time you have a project that you really want to tackle that feels like a big project, you kind of have to do it in smaller pieces. So, I would say it probably took maybe more than two months to write the initial draft. And so, after you write the initial draft—and this is I think with all writers. You spend so much time writing it the first time, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m done, and I don’t need to change a thing.”

And then you share it with other people, and they have wonderful, helpful feedback. And I would say that the initial part didn’t take as long, but it was the revising that took a much longer period of time. And that was getting feedback from family and feedback from my agent. So, after that, it was actually like—from beginning to end, it was closer to like probably eight months of when I first started writing to when we felt like we had a complete product.

SARAH LAWSON: How was it working with an illustrator? What did that relationship look like?

CHERIE FU: It’s really interesting because the way it works in a lot of publishing houses is that you don’t know the illustrator before you work with them. And you submit just the words if you’re not an illustrator. You submit just the words, and the art director at the publishing house—they select the illustrator based on a style. But they gave me a few options, and when I saw Julie Kwon’s, I thought it was so, so amazing and kind of was exactly what I would’ve imagined for the story.

And since then, I’ve met her, and she is wonderful, and she’s so artistic. And she was really open to feedback as we were going along also. Like the very first draft I think didn’t have a dog. And you notice that the dog was not included in any of the text. And the first time I got the pictures back, I was like, you know what, I was picturing a dog there. And everyone felt the same way, so we added a dog, which totally goes with the story. And of course, it’s right beside her in making a mess too. So, it really is an interesting process of what they can bring to the story that wasn’t necessarily there to begin with.

SARAH LAWSON: That’s awesome. Okay, we have some other questions. Evelyn in second grade wants to know, is this your first book?

CHERIE FU: Yes. This is my first book, and it was such an exciting process. I think that I want to keep writing books and have been trying to spend time during the pandemic doing that, but it’s a little bit challenging. But I’m so excited to have written something and feel really lucky to have it out there in the world.

SARAH LAWSON: Excellent. There’s a couple questions I’m going to try to combine. So, someone asked what gave you the idea to write this particular book and kind of what inspired you to want to write generally?

CHERIE FU: I had been writing a few things, and it was having children, and I think there was this one day that my daughter was just like saying, “I want Mommy. I want Mommy.” And she did it in a way that was very sing-songy, and it sounded like—I kind of like made a rhyme out of it, and then I started writing it down. So, I started writing that way. It was really having kids and like, at the time, I was just reading so many books to my kids too that I feel like it was a combination of those factors.

And this particular story is kind of inspired by children in general. I love how helpful kids are when you ask them to do something. And I think what’s like kind of wonderful about it and magical but is also a little tricky is how, you know, because they’re learning they don’t necessarily get it right the first time. But I love that, and I think it’s like so wonderful to have kids try. So, this book was a little bit about that—having kids try to do things themselves even if it’s not perfect.

SARAH LAWSON: Awesome. All right, we are sadly right at time, but we have time for one more question. And someone asked, do you have advice for anyone out there who is hoping to write a book as well?

CHERIE FU: Yeah. I think you can get inspiration from anything anywhere around you. The one thing that I read that I think was really, really helpful is that it’s really easy to criticize and talk about how something’s bad, and it’s really easy to write something bad. So, the advice was to just write something bad and then criticize it yourself until it’s good. Because it’s really easy to criticize, right? And it’s really easy to write something bad. So, you put those things together, and at least you have a starting point. And I think that’s the most important thing—is to put pen to paper with a good starting point.

SARAH LAWSON: That is excellent advice. Cheri, thank you so much. I’m so sorry that it is time for us to wrap things up.

CHERIE FU: Thank you so much for having me.

SARAH LAWSON: Yeah, thank you. And thank you to everyone who has tuned in. You all have been wonderful in the Q&A and on the chat. We have been so thrilled to have you here. Thank you again, Cheri. Everyone, you can visit VaBook.org to explore the full schedule of upcoming Virginia Festival of the Book events and also learn more about Cheri’s upcoming event in the Festival later this month. And we hope to see you again soon. Thank you. Thank you, all.

CHERIE FU: Thank you, everyone, for joining and for listening. Bye.

SARAH LAWSON: Bye.

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