Profile picture of Ruth Chan

Celebrating the Written Word with Ruth Chan

Ruth Chan is the author and illustrator of many books for young children, several of which are featured on First Book’s Marketplace. We sat down to chat with Ruth, a First Book favorite author, to learn more about what inspires her characters, how she develops ideas, and what message of encouragement she wants to share with kids. We were excited for the opportunity as our staff is especially wild about her new book Thank You, Neighbor!. In this supportive celebration of community, Ruth’s wonderfully humorous illustrations radiate positivity, leaving readers with feelings of gratitude, kindness, and friendship.

Educators and parents can use Thank You, Neighbor! to talk about gratitude, reinforce social and emotional skills, discuss mindfulness, talk about community helpers and community businesses, review daily routines, and help kids transition to being in person with their classmates, neighbors, and community helpers. The book encourages readers to slow down and appreciate the human interactions, connections, and services that keep our neighborhoods running and that help us care for one another.

Availability for Ruth Chan’s books on First Book Marketplace is limited, but we encourage eligible Title I educators to check back often. If you are not eligible, but want to grab the book for a friend, family, or sibling, shop on Bookshop.org with 10% of sales directly supporting First Book.

And now, for the good stuff. Sit back and enjoy our exclusive interview with Ruth Chan.

Profile picture of Ruth Chan

Meet the Author

What educator (or other adult) had a significant impact on your life and/or on your development as a writer?

My high school English teacher, Mr. Wilkinson, had such a deep impact on my becoming a writer. He taught me how beautiful language can make your heart feel all sorts of things, and how humorous writing can be just as valuable. He very patiently read through my (sometimes very cringe-worthy) morbid fiction pieces, laughed with me through some Mark Twain-inspired writing, and also encouraged me to become the Editor-in-Chief of our school’s literary magazine.

When I write today, I always think back on how much he respected, celebrated, and reveled in the written word, and I always try to approach writing in that same way.

What message of encouragement do you have for kids right now?

Your story matters! Anyone and everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s something based on your own life, or something you’ve created using your imagination. Everyone’s voice is unique, and every story is valuable and worth telling.

What or who inspired the characters and events in your book?

The book Thank you, Neighbor! was inspired 100% by my neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, and my neighbors. During the pandemic when we couldn’t see friends  or family, I kept asking myself, “What makes me feel safe, connected, and cared for in my 0.2-mile radius?” I realized it was my neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean the people who not only live here, but also the ones who work here, every day, and whom I’ve come to know over the years on my daily walks with my former dog, Feta. Our daily interactions—from simply greeting each other to doing favors for each other—created a sense of much-needed connection for all of us. I wanted to make a book as an ode to our block, and specifically to these neighbors, many of whom are characters in the book.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers see the value of slowing down sometimes and taking the time to interact with our surroundings.  I also hope readers are reminded of how even the smallest gestures and greetings make a huge difference in someone’s day, and how those little moments connect us to each other.

When you’re not writing/illustrating, what do you do for work and/or for fun?

When I’m not writing or illustrating (which feels like all the time sometimes!), my husband and I love surfing. Lots of people don’t know this, but there is surfing here in New York City! We love going early in the morning just as the sun is coming up, and if we’re lucky, we’ll see dolphins and even whales. It’s a great way to ‘get away’, to ground oneself, and to be fully present. Plus, it’s really, really good exercise.

What is the most unusual or surprising way a book idea has come to you?

For The Alpactory: Ready, Pack, Go!, it all came to me through the title! I was thinking about alpacas (because I love alpacas very much), and how the word ‘pack’ goes well with that word. I wanted to make a book called “Alpaca Packs”, but I started combining random words, and at one point had ‘alpaca’, and ‘pack’, and ‘factory’, and next thing I knew, I had “Alpactory”.  And I knew right then and there, I had to write a book about a factory full of alpacas who pack for you!

More from Ruth Chan

If you’re interested in learning more about Ruth, you can visit her website or follow her on social. We recommend Instagram so you can explore and enjoy her illustrations.

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