Student Success Stories: Teresa Robeson Wins the APALA Award

I'm back with a second interview with Teresa Robeson to talk about her APALA Award and her second picture book. If you'd like to read the first interview, you can find it here

I'm giving away a copy of Teresa's award-winning debut picture book, Queen of Physics, and her second picture book, Two Bicycles in Beijing, at the end of this post. 

I hadn't read Queen of Physics at the time of our first interview, so I want to take a minute now to talk about it. Physics was my favorite subject in high school, and I felt like the book did a great job of tackling it in an age-appropriate way. The emotional punch, though, hits you through the way that Wu Chien Shiung overcame adversity and prejudice to succeed in a field she was passionate about. That moved me to tears. I'm grateful that this book is out there for kids to experience.

Myrna: You are our first student to win an American Library Association award, and we are so excited for you. Can you just share the experience, please? How did you find out? How did you react? Has winning the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (for picture books) had an impact on you and The Queen of Physics?

Teresa: My illustrator and I received an email from our publisher congratulating us on the win a couple of weeks before the news went public. We were not to share with anyone until the official announcement, but I figured it was okay to tell my agent and husband. So I forwarded the email to them and then went to exercise. I was happy the book won an award, but I didn’t process that it was such a big deal until I checked my phone after exercising and saw that I had received some screaming texts and voicemail from my agent, who could not believe I had dropped a big award news bomb on her via email instead of calling her so that we could scream together.

So far, winning the award hasn’t impacted me too much, except that I was actually asked to sign books at the ALA meeting in Chicago for both the publishers of my first and second book. Oh, and the library in my town bought two more copies of Queen of Physics to bring the grand total to three! Yay?

Myrna: Haha! I suspect your library wasn’t the only one ordering extra copies. I love Rebecca Huang’s illustrations for The Queen of Physics. Have the two of you talked about how the award sticker complements her cover? 

Teresa: That’s a good question! But, sadly, no … Rebecca’s been busy with moving and settling into a new home, and we’ve not communicated much.

Myrna: Did you get your own box of shiny stickers? 

Teresa: No! I was wondering how it all worked. When Queen of Physics became a NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book, I had to get my own stickers from NCTE (here I want to give a shout-out my good friend Marcie Atkins without whose help I probably wouldn’t have been able to procure the seals). I don’t know if I should contact ALA to get the award seals. I’ve been busy with a number of other things and haven’t even thought to check yet. I suppose I will ask at the ALA meeting in June, if we can travel at that point. 

Myrna: Okay, serious question: Do you have any marketing and/or networking advice for our readers? 

Teresa: My advice is to be true to yourself and do whatever makes you comfortable. Everyone told me I needed to have a launch party and a blog tour for my debut book, but the idea of an IRL party stressed me out no end. When I finally decided to do what felt right for me—that is, not have a launch party—I felt so much better and actually enjoyed my book’s release day. I also didn’t line up a blog tour; I agreed to be interviewed for the blogs of a handful of friends, and I was happy with my decision. Choose what feels right to you.

As for networking, being a part of communities like Storyteller Academy, 12×12, Inked Voices and SCBWI gave me a sense of camaraderie, and I learned from the wisdom of writers who know more than I do.

Myrna: Great advice! Your second book was supposed to release on April 1, but Amazon started shipping it early. Was that a good surprise or a bad surprise? 

Teresa: For me, the only bad surprises in this business are ones that don’t lead to a sale (like not getting past the acquisitions meeting or having a well-known publication give you a terrible review), so I was absolutely fine with having the book shipped out early! Friends who received the book early gave me shout-outs on social media, which created some buzz for the book.

Myrna: Can you tell us about what led you to write Two Bicycles in Beijing

Teresa: I was inspired by a family trip to China in 2013. We went to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, and Hong Kong to see the sights and visit relatives. My kids and husband had never been to that part of the world before, and it was fun seeing it through their eyes. My last visit there was 25 years ago, so it was almost like the first time for me, too. The sights and sounds lingered with me, and one day in 2018, the friendship story popped into my head, and things fell into place. 

Myrna: What are your hopes for this one?

Teresa: I would love for Chinese-American kids to learn a little bit about an important city of their cultural heritage and to see characters on the pages who look like them. I would also love for non-Chinese people to savor the beauty that is Beijing through this book and maybe plant a desire for them to visit there one day.

Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Teresa: My general writing advice is to write from the heart. I’m interested in many different topics, but the stories that have sold are the ones nearest and dearest to my heart: stories featuring my culture and my passions. The right editor will respond best to stories that only you can tell.

Myrna: Oh, I agree! What’s next for you?

Teresa: I have a science picture book out on submission right now, along with a picture book biography. My agent pulled a manuscript out of submission when we submitted the science one, but I still have hopes that the semi-retired story will be picked up because it is also a story from my culture (with immense significance to all Chinese) that has deep meaning for me. While those are making the rounds, I’m working on a middle grade biography project, and also a middle grade contemporary novel.

Myrna: I'm excited to read Bicycles in Beijing and all of your future projects. Where can readers find you on the Internet?

Teresa: I can be found at the following sites:

Myrna: Where can we buy your books? 

Teresa: My website has links to Indiebound, B&N, and Amazon for ordering and preordering my books. http://teresarobeson.com/my-books

Myrna: Thank you, Teresa! 

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away both of  Teresa's picture books. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Teresa in the comments by midnight on March 21. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student to enter. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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89 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Teresa Robeson Wins the APALA Award”

  1. Oh, I would LOVE both of these wonderful book. First, I want to say, Both of these book covers are gorgeous. They each beautifully convey the spirit of the Chinese people and culture.

    I learned I’m supposed to call my agent not text/email when I win a big award. 😁
    “I was happy the book won an award, but I didn’t process that it was such a big deal until I checked my phone after exercising and saw that I had received some screaming texts and voicemail from my agent, who could not believe I had dropped a big award news bomb on her via email instead of calling her so that we could scream together.”

    I also learned that it is wise to stay true to yourself in life and in your creativity.

    1. I would love these books last year I ran a girls stem group where we learned via picture books about these great woman and then did a stem activity ! Adding culture too is a bonus!

  2. I had no idea you might have to put the stickers on yourself. Do you go to the store yourself and ask to put them on? I think many people will buy faster if they see that ward. Get the stickers!

    Even though I’m a member of SA, SCBWI, and was in 12×12 for 3 years, I don’t really know about Inked Voices, so running to check that out now. I think that was good advice to not let yourself stress out doing what others say to do. It’s easy to get off kilter doing this kind of work, and getting this far is amazing. But maybe ask others to help out to make some things easier. Next time I think you can invite friends to make a party for you, and just show up!

    1. You don’t have to put them on yourself, Bonnie, unless you have a bunch of books at home that you want to put stickers on.

    2. Partly what Myrna said, Bonnie, and partly it depends on your publisher and the award. My publisher did not deem the Orbis Pictus bronze a big enough award, for example, to put the stickers on books for me. So I have actually left some at my indie bookstore to put on any future stock they get.

    1. Sorry! I don’t know what makes some comments need approval, while others post immediately. It’s posted now.

  3. Thank you, Teresa, for sharing your insights! And thank you, Myrna, for always asking great questions and giving me something to look forward to in my email inbox! I loved what you said about writing stories only you can tell. I’m ruminating on that this morning. Also so excited to pick up copies of these books – especially Queen of Physics! My mom is a science teacher, so that subject is near and dear to my heart! Thanks again!

  4. I feel that encouraging our children to embrace and explore their cultural heritage is important. It was great to see another author who feels the same way and has experienced success as a result.

  5. Thank you. This was such a blessing to read. For me, my emotions are everywhere. With the loss of my father, my best friend, and a school friend, all right behind each other, and trying to encourage family, friends, and strangers that we are going to be okay through the Coronavirus, yours was a much needed read. I thank you again. 💜

    1. Oh, Kristi, I am so sad for you. I’m glad that this has helped raise your spirits a bit. As long as we have hope and perseverance, we will make it through the bad times. x

  6. These look delightful! I am a science teacher and especially love teaching about the history of science. I also love learning about other places and cultures – there is not a lot available on science that is not Western science, so I will definitely look out for these. I also love bicycle riding with friends (I have a Dutch friend who is my most frequent cycling partner), so I’d love to read that book, too! The illustrations are so very engaging – wonderful!

    I learned that it’s ok to do what feels right for you. Timely advice right now when there is so much pressure to learn a whole host of new skills in a hurry. Book creation, and learning to live in the new world into which we have all been thrust, are marathons, not sprints, and the sane, sustainable response is to do what we can and not worry about the things we can’t.

    1. Heather, I think you put it better than I did! 🙂 I’m tickled to see your comment about cycling with a Dutch friend because I have a funny story about bicycling through parts of the Netherlands. And hooray for science teachers!

  7. I love your passion for telling stories that are gateways for Chinese-American kids to explore their cultural heritage and see characters who look like them.

  8. Debbie Meneses

    How very exciting. The illustrations are so inviting too. Congratulations, Teresa!

    From, Debbie Whitaker-Meneses

  9. Jacqueline Nicolini

    What a wonderful post to wake up to this morning, Myrna! Thank you for sharing this insightful interview with Teresa! And kindly for this generous offer. I love her work and the covers , too, make me want to open the books and see more!

    I greatly appreciate Teresa’s point that,
    “agents are often more interested in writers who approach them with an offer from a publisher. Try not to sign contracts with a publisher until you have an agent.” Thank you for that tidbit of information!

    Best wishes to you both!

  10. This was beautiful – it’s nice to see the subtle way books such as this one, can make a big impact on young readers. Actually, readers of all ages will be inspired !

  11. MELISSA TWO CROW

    I appreciate that Teresa seems like such a normal, humble, fun person. As a former cultural interpreter and a fledgling writer, I agree with her, too, that culturally-based and culturally-related stories are important to both those within a given culture and to those who are not. I’m so glad that her informative books are meeting with such success! They look like fun and gentle introductions to fascinating places and people! I have been interested in china since I was a child and would love to win these books, too. They would be great for my niece, nephews, and grandchildren.

    1. I would love to hear more about what being a cultural interpreter is like, Melissa! It sounds like a very important job. My husband would debate the “normal person” part…LOL!

  12. Sean McLaughlin

    These are interesting books. I am not of Asian descent but I have many Asian friends and I enjoy hanging with them. It is interesting to see another perspective on a common subject, and these books are a different mindset. I’d love to read them.

    1. I also love reading stories featuring other cultures, Sean! When we first immigrated to North America, I devoured books from Louisa May Alcott, Maude Hart Lovelace, and Beverly Cleary because they showed me cultures I was not familiar with – that of white Americans from the past and present. 🙂

  13. Noelle D Knight

    I loved the reminder she gave to stay true to your heart. If you write about what you know and what is important to you it will be more natural and authentic and hopefully have more success. Thanks!

  14. I read this book when it first came out with my munchkin and MIL. I also used it as a mentor text on a NF PB I was writing. It’s so incredibly well written and covers a lot of information in a very easy to understand way! Thank you for writing it Teresa.

    1. Sharon, most publishers pick the illustrators. The art director matches your story with the illustrator whose style they think best suits the feel of your manuscript. This is why the advice is for authors to never submit stories with art (unless, of course, the author is also a trained illustrator). Often, as it the case with my books, the author and illustrator don’t even communicate with each other during the process.

  15. I just wanted to congratulate Teresa Robeson on the APALA Award. As an elementary librarian and a member of Storyteller’s Academy, I am so excited for you and for Storyteller’s Academy. Your courage to make a difference is incredible. What further moves me is your humbleness. Wow, what a true inspiration.

    Can’t wait to purchase both of these books and display them in my library, so I can tell my students she took the same courses I am taking.

  16. Carmela McCain Simmons

    Teresa, Thank you for sharing your success with books written from your heart. As I read Queen of Physics I was quite moved by her struggle against prejudice and injustice. I was livid as I read she received no credit while others received awards for work which she had done. A story worth telling and you did it masterfully. Your heart was showing!

    1. You are so kind, Carmela! I was really moved by her strength and determination to succeed in her field. I thought others might be inspired by her, too. It’s gratifying to hear that they are!

  17. Both these books sound great! I first visited Beijing about 14 years ago when my twins were 2yo. Lots of bikes then, but we saw them noticeably dwindle over a mere ten year period. Illustrations look beautiful.

    1. The illustrations are fabulous, aren’t they, Pauline? I’m embarrassed to say that when I was first in Beijing in 1987, I don’t remember the bicycles there (and I was 23, so I should have remembered…LOL!), but in 2013, there were plenty of bikes (as shown by my photo above).

  18. I love Teresa’s advice about writing the stories nearest and dearest to your heart. I think the reason these tend to sell better is because the authenticity and the emotional connection comes through in the story. Also wanted to add from an author/illustrator perspective, there’s a LOT of time and work that goes into illustrating a 32+ page picture book, so you better love it.

    But in any case, I thoroughly enjoyed learning new things in Queen of Physics. The story was a testament not only to Wu Chien Shiung’s strength, but also her parents in encouraging her to reach her full potential. Very much looking forward to Two Bicycles in Beijing.

  19. Thanks Teresa, for sharing that your stories are near and dear to your heart. This is the emotional connection that readers can relate to. Congratulations on your books! I look forward to reading them.

  20. Rachael Schweigert

    Congratulations Teresa! Thank you for your advice. I am always looking for more books about women in science, and this cover stole my heart. I am now doing virtual read alouds to my elementary students every week, and I am putting this book on my list!

  21. Lynn Marie Ward

    I learned that I’m on the right track by writing what is closest to my heart, and to not feel pressure to market in a specific way (IRL/online). I love that Teresa was inspired by a trip to Beijing and wanted to share her passion with children. I have a friend who adopted two little ones from China and I will be telling her about these beautiful books!

  22. I like what Teresa said about writing from the heart! I also learned that she had the option of not having a launch party.

  23. Marilyn Cullen-Reavill

    Very inspiring. Working from one’s heart always seems right in the end. I felt relieved when she said you don’t have to do everything everyone says to market your book and it is better not to do the things that really stress you out.
    I loved this interview. Great job both of you.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn! Your family will also be happier if you’re less stressed, which is another reason for not doing something even if it seems like “everyone else is doing it.”

  24. I enjoyed reading that her family trip to Beijing inspired her second book – and that it kind of marinated for 5 years before she thought to write about it.

  25. I love Teresa’s advice about finding a story that only you can write. It seems like success in the children’s book world is all about voice, and it is important for all of us (whether or not we publish a book) to find our own voice and share our unique perspective with the world. Listening to and cultivating the voice of others is equally important and will help us strengthen our own.

  26. Loved reading this interview and Teresa’s reminder to stay true to who we are – in the stories we write from the heart, but also in what we expect of ourselves for career actions/social media. I’m learning about marketing for my debut book, and it’s so overwhelming to think I have to do it all! I really appreciated the reminder to do what feels right and jives with who *I* am. Thank you, Myrna and Teresa! And congrats on the beautiful books!!

    1. Thank you, Shar! I have a dear, vivacious friend who threw the most amazing and magical launch party with that was like a scene out of a movie…I loved looking at her photos, but the thought of doing anything remotely resembling that just made me kind of sick to the stomach. So, it was wonderful that my friend celebrated in a way that suits her outgoing personality and I celebrated in a way that suits mine (just another day at home with my family and some bubbly 😉 ). I hope you will find the perfect way to celebrate your debut that makes you happy! And congratulations!!

  27. I love reading stories of women in science and this looks so joyful! Tho I’m wondering /hoping that someone with a young girl in their household should win! Tho I’d love to read them!

  28. I love her autheticity to her culture and her personality. I have learned from her that a great story can sell itself, and you don’t have to change who you are as a writer to get your story read! It is ok to say no.

  29. Congratulations, Teresa! I didn’t know about authors needing their own stickers, and I appreciate the advice to “do what is comfortable,” and not feel pressured to do a book launch party.

    1. Thank you, Lana! It depends on the publisher and the award as to whether an author puts on their own sticker. I’m willing to bet that those who win the Caldecott or a Pulitzer would get the stickers put on for them by the publisher. I don’t know about the APALA award though. And now I might not get to find out since the ALA conference will likely be canceled this year.

  30. Lisa Riddiough

    I really appreciate Teresa’s advice about marketing. It’s good to know that not everyone has a launch party and blog tour! Thanks for this wonderful interview!!

  31. Sharon Castillo

    Teresa’s advice hit home of following what feels comfortable for you. It’s always good to not do something out of pressure from others because it’s you who will be doing the work and not them. You know yourself so following your heart is always best. A big congratulations to Teresa and hope I get to win her book.

  32. Hello,
    I have an eight-year-old daughter who loves stem! I would like a copy of these books. Thank you for offering insight into your creative process Teresa. I found it helpful!

  33. I am so inspired by her love of her culture and how she writes to cultivate that within her culture and out of it. Thank you to Teresa for her inspiration and love and passion for teaching others, using her books. I also didn’t know you had to purchase your own stickers when your books win an award.

    1. Aww, thank you, Alberta! The good news is that NCTE has changed its policy and now you don’t have to buy the stickers. They sent me a bunch for free. Not sure what will happen with the APALA stickers though.

  34. I love that the stories you’ve sold are the ones nearest and dearest to your heart. Others truly do respond to those stories the most. I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Totally enjoyed the interview! These two books are awesome, especially for girls! The writing and illustrations are truly exceptional and give us a wonderful touch of the Chinese culture and people. Thanks for an outstanding contribution to the world of books!

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