How many people do you know who publish a book when they’re a junior in high school?  I’m guessing not very many but I’m here to introduce you to one.  Her name is Jenny Jiang and she’s currently a 17 year old senior at Beaverton’s Sunset High School. The book she wrote is a children’s picture book called Just Like Flowers and it can be purchased from Amazon.

I met Jiang at the Author’s Fair hosted by the main branch of the Beaverton Library.  She was at the end of a row in a room taking her place among the many local authors who showed up to present their works to the public. 

“The author fair was really fun,” she told me, “So many people were interested in my work.  I enjoyed signing books and meeting other local authors too..”

She first came up with the idea for her book  in December of 2020. She was setting up a zoom event about storytelling for the kids at Jacob Wismer Elementary. As she was rounding up picture books to share with them, she noticed a real lack of diversity in the content of book after book. “I did some research,” she says, “and I discovered that 75% of picture books feature caucasian characters or animals.  Only about 25% of picture books included people of color in them.”

Northwest Author Book Fair
Northwest Author’s book fair at the main branch of the Beaverton Library

She really started to think there was a problem and it was a problem she, herself, might be able to solve.  Right away she began to research self publishing options, which have increased tremendously in recent years. When she discovered that self publishing was a real possibility she says she had to ask herself, ‘why should I wait for someone else to create a book that explains diversity to kids if I can do it myself?’

“As someone who loves art and really loves writing and also loves hanging out with little kids, I thought that this entire project of making a picture book and then publishing it seemed like the perfect project to me,” Jaing says.

By March she was beginning to realize just how big a project her idea really was but, she reassured herself, the world was in lockdown and she had plenty of time to think through all the details.  “This was during the springtime and there were so many flowers out and I would see them when I took walks.  I thought about how many flowers there are and you find them in so many places, gardens, bouquets and it occurred to me that they are very similar to humans in that there is so much diversity,” she says.

Once she had the metaphor for her idea it literally blossomed. She began to realize how useful the comparison between different flowers and different humans really was.  “In my book I focus on seeing a flower almost as if it were a human being,” she says,”Flowers have different colored petals and different shapes and sizes and how similar that is to humans and how we take on different ethnicities, body shapes and heights.”

Jiang wrote all the words and drew all the pictures in her book.  It turns out the words came easily but the illustrating was hard.  The whole process of creating the book took about nine months and 80% of that effort was in the illustrations.  “It was very demanding,” she says, “I have to zoom in and work on all the details.  I really wanted it to look professional and detailed so I worked really hard on that part.”

Just Like Flowers Book
Just Like Flowers is available on Amazon

And, as the months dragged on, Jiang there were moments when she felt discouraged.  “Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t being productive,” she recalls, “I would be working on the illustrations for a page for hours and I felt like I just wasn’t getting anything done.  There were moments I was really tempted to delete the app and pretend that none of this had ever happened.”

But she persevered.  As the spring turned into summer and summer headed towards fall she began to see the project come together.  She asked seven or eight of her friends to peer edit the book to make sure she was explaining her message in a way that kids would understand.

The book first appeared in print in September of 2021.  The last three weeks were a flurry of back and forth with Amazon, receiving proofs, returning corrections, until finally they sent her copies of her actual book.  

“I learned so much,” she says, “I learned to keep working on your passions and dreams no matter what.  When I first started this book I didn’t tell anyone about it.  I was super scared that I wasn’t going to finish it. What really kept me going was thinking about the children’s smiles at our Zoom event.  I felt the warmth of knowing that at the end of this entire journey I would be able to show these amazing kids a lesson that I really cared about.  And that’s what kept me going until I actually finished.”

If you’d like to see Jenny Jiang reading from her book Just Like Flowers go here and scroll down the page to the author information.