Winnie is the creator of One Dear World – a company specialising in the creation of multicultural dolls for children so they can see themselves in the world around them. She has also written and illustrated a book where the four dolls go on an adventure around London – read my review here.
Watch the video where Winnie and her husband explain why they started this project:
Winnie agreed to be interviewed for my blog – the very first author interview I have hosted. Thank you for being such a lovely interviewee!
Nice to meet you and thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed!
Hello! Nice to meet you too and thank you for having me!
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’m from Hong Kong and came to the U.K. 7-8 years ago to study. I had worked a lot all over China and around Asia as my background was in engineering. I then started to think about what I wanted to do in rest of career – I wanted to see the world.
Hong Kong is great international city but majority of people are Chinese and many foreigners working there don’t really interact with the locals – not like in London where different cultures are more integrated.
I came to study in Warwick in 2010 – Masters in Business, then decided to stay in U.K. after degree – because I wanted to explore more of the culture. I made lots of friends from around the world at university and learned more about cultural diversity.
I worked in the U.K. for another 2 years, then met my husband Rafael (Half French, half Greek). Our son Alexander was born 3 years ago.
Once we had a child, I realised that we were two families joining together, not just two people. As we started to get to know each other’s families better I learned a lot about various cultures e.g. Greece, Vietnam, Madagascar. In particular, spending Christmas with my husband’s family in Paris made me see just how different our family celebrations were as his parents each have a distinct cultural background whereas my family are all Chinese.
We have lots of different cultures in one family which made me realise that we could be family with anyone in the world – everyone is just one step away from being a family.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
First of all, my experience with our multicultural family. Then, my daily life in London inspired the book. There is so much cultural diversity in London. For example, in South Kensington there are French restaurants, cafes and a language centre. Travel just a few stops on the underground and it is a completely different atmosphere, for example, Turkish restaurants with everyone sitting outside. I found this diversity really interesting and I wanted to share it with a broader audience.
Did the idea for the book or the idea for the dolls come first?
The dolls came first – we ran a crowdfunding campaign last year after trying to find multicultural dolls for our son. We were able to find some online – after all, you can find anything online! – but I don’t think there is enough representation of multiracial dolls in high street toystores.
In particular, with soft dolls – plastic dolls are available but I was really looking for the soft dolls. I was not only looking for different ethnicities but dolls for boys as well. There is a general stereotype of boys playing with trains and cars rather than dolls but I don’t think toys should have a specific gender. I really want to promote dolls for boys as well as dolls from variety of cultural backgrounds. I think it’s important to give people more choice in the market. For example, my son, Alexander’s favourite is Jun – he likes to have Jun help him tidy up the toys!
Are we likely to see more books in the series?
I am pretty much working on my own at the moment but I have lots of ideas for the future. I am looking into developing more clothes for the dolls, perhaps creating traditional outfits from other countries. I also have another story on mind, set in Paris. More about that later!
Another thing I want to do is create some learning materials to go with the current book.
How would you recommend that your dolls or books are used by parents or teachers?
Teachers, parents and early years educators could provide the dolls to be used independently in pretend play, use to tell stories and to allow children the opportunity to share the experience of the child’s own life with or through the dolls. I think it’s important for children to be able to see themselves in their play materials and their books . Children copy what adults say and do by then speaking to or teaching the dolls. The dolls could be used together with the book, supporting the story by acting it out. They could also use the book or the dolls as triggers for children to create their own stories or introduce cultural background. It would also be good to use the dolls to talk about special festivals or holidays e.g. Chinese New Year. This would help children understand culture and customs in a more engaging way.
I am a real language geek, so I was delighted to see that you had included how to say ‘thank you’ in various languages. Do you plan to include more languages in future?
I would love to include more learning material around languages, but it would depnd on the theme of any future books. Language is, of course, part of the culture and representation of different cultures so would like to include it. In the next book, I am planning it around the theme of self-appreciation as this is really important for children.
Could you recommend any other books for promoting multicultural understanding and empathy?
Ooh, it’s hard to think of titles. I guess that I don’t have one favourite book in mind – we do have a library of English, French and Chinese books at home all of which contain cultural information. We discuss the setting and the culture when reading them with Alexander.
At home, I speak with Alexander in Cantonese and sometimes in Mandarin, when visiting with other parents who speak it. Rafael speaks in French to him, but our whole family language is English. I think it’s really important to talk to child in mother tongue –I chose Cantonese because it’s the most comfortable language in which to communicate with him.
Also, my parents don’t speak great English so Alexander needs Cantonese to connect with his grandparents. It’s the same for husband’s side of the family – he needs French to communicate with his grandparents. He already uses it when visitjng his famil there or when Grandmother comes to visit. At the moment, I would say he has about equal capability in French and Cantonese. I’m not too sure about his English level yet as I speak to him in Cantonese but he will speak it in nursery. I am also planning to practise my French more too so I can keep up with him! I think it’s great for children to be exposed to lots of languages. (I couldn’t agree more!)
Which books do you like to read to your son now?
We’re reading a collection of Chinese books with together now – it’s kind of the equivalent of Oxford Reading Tree in Chinese. It uses simple language and similar sentence structure as well as bright pictures, all of which are great for language development. Alexander tends to change his favourites books over different periods of time so who knows what it will be in the future but, for now, he loves these books.
Quick fire favourites:
Colour – Hard to choose…light blue!
Food – I don’t really have one favourite, but sometimes I miss home-made food made by my Grandma e.g. At Chinese New Year she makes a special cake – it’s like savoury dim sum made with turnip. You steam it, then add some mushrooms or sausages, slice it and fry it to make it crispy. Oh, now I want to eat it, but I guess the only way to get the authentic stuff is to make it myself. Maybe I’ll try to make it for Chinese New Year…
Film – I liked Toy Story when a teenager, especially the songs
Book – When in high school, I loved a Hong Kong Chinese author who said a collection of wu sa (martial arts books) Jin Yong! (I just started reading it! They are being translated and released in English starting from this year) It’s a bit like the Chinese version of Harry Potter! Great fun to read but very long so I had to read it when I was younger and had time to read long things…
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
That’s more or less it! Thank you so much for taking the time to review my book and interview me!
Thank you very much for joining me Winnie. I look forward to seeing more from you and hope we can keep in touch!
Find out more about Winnie’s books and dolls on her website: One Dear World