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About Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths
Eleven-year-old Danny Chung is fed up of his parents telling him to put down his drawing pencils and pick up a maths book – everyone seems to think he's 'supposed' to be good at maths, but his favourite subject is art and all he wants to do is draw! To make matters worse, Danny is forced to share his bedroom with Nai Nai, his ex-maths-champion grandmother from China ,who he's never even met before. Plus, she doesn't speak a word of English and seems determined to get up to all sorts of mischief!
Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths is a wonderfully charming story about family, fitting in, and being true to yourself. Nai Nai is a truly memorable character, full of energy and a carefree attitude that leads to hilarious moments (much to Danny's embarrassment)! The relationship between Danny and Nai Nai is so sweet and heartwarming; it is an absolute delight to read.
Q&A with Maisie Chan
Why do you think it’s important to see characters like the Chung family represented in children’s books?
This is such a good question. We've heard a lot about mirrors and having diverse and inclusive books for children, yet in 2021 we still have very few books with British Chinese or British East and Southeast Asian characters. Occasionally, you will find a book has one British Chinese character but rarely do you see full-formed, well thought out characters that represent the diaspora. Often British Chinese people are seen as 'other' or 'foreign' even though we've been born here. I wanted to show a loving, hard-working family who have struggles just like anyone else. There are three generations of Danny's family, and also another British Chinese family that are used in the book as a contrast. It's imperative to see humanised British East Asian and Southeast Asian (BESEA) characters in books, especially now as there is a lot of blame and racism abuse being directed towards the BESEA community because of COVID-19 and the fact that it originated in China. Children like Danny are being singled out all over the country and made to feel small. I hope this book can make them feel better about themselves and seen.
Which character do you relate to most in the book?
I probably relate to Danny the most. I used to love drawing when I was younger. More than writing actually! I won my first art competition when I was 5! My picture of Little Red Riding Hood was put on display in my local library and I won £5 which was a lot of money in those days. Often British Chinese people are seen as the model minority who become doctors and lawyers and that's not always true because there are a lot of creatives in the BESEA community but we need more and we need more people like Danny who want to create. Also I met my Chinese grandmother in my late 20s and we have a similar relationship to the one in the book as I couldn't speak Cantonese and my grandmother couldn't speak English that well. I also would see 'cool' people and want to be part of those gangs, but never really was.
What was the most fun thing about writing this book?
Writing the book made me laugh quite a bit! The bowling scene made me laugh out loud (you'll have to see what happens by reading the book!) and also Mrs Cruickshanks and her dialogue made me chuckle. The whole book was a pleasure to write to be honest. That doesn't always happen, but with this book it did and I think you can sense that when you read it. I also enjoyed putting in little snippets of British Chinese culture that readers from that background might understand more than non-Chinese people. And I also liked putting in relevant references for today's primary-aged children such as Pokémon and Blasters which are similar to other toys that kids play with today.
And what was the most difficult or challenging thing about writing the book?
The most difficult thing was writing Nai Nai and her interaction with Danny as she doesn't speak English in the book and she appeared in most of it! So I had to make sure I got her physicality right and created humour through her movements and Danny's reactions to them instead of with dialogue. And I was very conscious of not mocking her for being 'different' to Danny, she's as much a central character as he is. So it was a fine balance to create humour without it being disparaging humour. I didn't want to show anything Chinese to be disgusting or have internalised racism in the book which you might see in other books with similar characters. It was important for me to get it just right and I had other British Chinese writers check the Chinese language, the representation and authenticity.