Maria Wen Adcock, ’94, is passionate about multicultural storytelling.
Adcock wanted to become a children’s book writer since she was a child herself, but she didn’t see “author” as a feasible career option for her, choosing instead to major in communications at the University of Michigan and pursue a corporate career in marketing.
She always knew she wanted to move to the editorial side of the industry but wasn’t sure how to make the change.
So, in 2011, Adcock launched her blog, Bicultural Mama, in a sea of other “mom blogs.” It wasn’t hard to distinguish herself from others, however, as she wrote about her life as a Chinese American woman raising two children in a bicultural family.
Adcock has written about everything from fun Halloween recipes to kid-friendly tourist attractions around the world, but also covered topics like racial bias in DNA testing when she found her Ancestry DNA test results to be far less detailed than her husband’s, who received a comprehensive breakdown of his European descent.
It was through her blog that she got involved with Multicultural Children’s Book Day, a global celebration of multicultural children’s and picture books celebrated at the end of January each year. She’s been a book reviewer since the celebration began but is now a co-host of the event, where a network of authors and reviewers come together to share their favorite stories, recommend books to each other, and celebrate with a virtual party.
But getting her own book published was a long and challenging process.
As Bicultural Mama rose in popularity, Adcock began working on her manuscripts and searching for a literary agent, eventually scoring one by pitching a story on Twitter.
Though she didn’t learn how to get a book published while at U-M, she leaned on her rigorous classroom experiences to get her through the rejections.
“Just learning that tenacity and having to persevere and overcome obstacles, that was huge. In the book author industry, you have to have a lot of perseverance.”
Adcock’s debut book, “It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George,” hit shelves on Jan. 3. In the book, Curious George joins his friend Mei and her family as they prepare for and celebrate Chinese New Year. The story acknowledges the broader Lunar New Year celebrations before focusing on Chinese-specific traditions, from finding red clothes to wear to fireworks and a dragon dance.
It is part of a series of books geared toward the youngest readers that explain holidays, seasons, and kid life events under the Curious George brand, owned by HarperCollins.
With installments about holidays such as Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day, the publisher wanted to expand the series and reached out to literary agents, including Adcock’s. With great samples and lived experience, Adcock was chosen as the perfect author to bring Curious George’s Chinese New Year story to life.
Adcock believes embracing and sharing multicultural stories helps normalize differences, hopefully reducing children’s fear of the unknown and even bullying.
“I’m hoping that children, whether they are Chinese or not, are reading this book and getting a glimpse of the differences in the world and thinking ‘Oh, I have a big dinner with my family too. I celebrate holidays by going to a big parade too,’” she says.
“A lot of people focus on the differences, but what I’ve found is that, across all cultures, there are core similarities. There are core values of family and togetherness and food — let’s look at that commonality.”
Katherine Fiorillo is the editor of Michigan Alum.