Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you all so much for joining us for another installment of our ongoing interview series. For this interview, we were able to speak with Serena Li, Duck Duck Books®’ founder, and editor-in-chief. Duck Duck Books is an MWBE-certified publisher of multilingual board books and designer of eco goods for children. They create sustainable products that introduce language learning, cultivate emotional intelligence, and instill eco-conscious lifestyles. All Duck Duck Books are printed using plant-based ink on paper sourced from sustainable forests.
Duck Duck Books’ is also the company behind the recent Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, I Am Me!! I Am Me! empowers children to love themselves through their differences. The cross-cultural vintage comic art style, bold colors, and amusing expressions found in I Am Me! help you teach your child awareness and acceptance of race, gender, and emotions. I Am Me! is also 100% written and designed by American People of Color. Want to know more about Serena Li and her award-winning company? Keep reading!
MCA: Hi Serena, thank you so much for joining us again, and congratulations on yet another Mom’s Choice Award! I Am Me! is such a special book that makes the perfect addition to every little reader’s library. Can we start the interview off by finding out a bit about yourself?
Serena: My name is Serena Li, Duck Duck Books®’ founder, and editor-in-chief. I was born in Guangzhou, raised in Houston, and spent much of my adult life in Seattle. I have long been involved in Equity & Inclusion efforts, in both the public sector and the corporate world.
After my little Sophia was born, I was struggling with the new world of parenting as a working mom trying her best to raise a trilingual child. As a recent survivor of postpartum depression, I bonded with my daughter via books and quality time, but when I had a hard time finding meaningful bilingual books for young children with cross-cultural values that I wanted to pass on, I found a new passion and purpose.
Now I use Duck Duck Books® as a platform to further the causes of diversity, multiculturalism, giving back, and spreading a love of languages. In my free time, Sophia and I are talking, sing—and of course, read—in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. I currently live with my husband Chris, daughter Sophia, and golden retriever JoJo in Edmonds, WA.
MCA: We love Duck Duck Books®‘ mission of furthering the causes of diversity, and multiculturalism, giving back and spreading a love of languages! Your company is doing such important work that is truly making a difference. Speaking of your company, can you tell us more about your path to becoming a writer and founder?
Serena: In our household, Sophie loves to read. It’s our sacred quality time every night. Many young parents would agree with me, there is so much benefit to a bedtime reading routine. It’s a routine that’s built-in for many new families already.
For me also, there’s something really special about a physical book or something written down. In my recent interview with Seattle Times, they asked me what was the best gift I’ve ever received. Growing up as an immigrant, my parents didn’t give me material gifts, but they would write me a letter every year with words of encouragement, stories about their life back home, and hope for the future. Verbal affirmation is not a natural part of our family culture, but this was a wonderful way to show their love that’s authentic and meaningful.
So, when I realized there weren’t many books about social-emotional learning, let alone in different languages, I decided to write my own. After surviving postpartum depression, I channeled my energy toward building something good for my child, and hopefully for the world. That’s how Duck Duck Books® was born. I secured my business license when my daughter turned 1 to keep myself accountable and see this to the end. And the business launched a year later.
MCA: Sophie definitely has a rockstar of a mom! What was your inspiration for writing I Am Me! – A Montessori-friendly, multicultural, EQ early learning book for ages 0-5.?
Serena: As a 1.5-generation immigrant who moved to the US as a teenager, I grew up under the pressure to conform. My parents also never discussed homosexuality, people with different abilities, different personalities, or mental health. We have to be “normal,” but who defines “normal?” I believe that children notice differences at a young age, but are only taught to dispel differences. I’m hoping this book can show a variety of adorable differences, and instill confidence to young readers and parents that difference is good and worth celebrating.
MCA: Tell us about some of the lessons that can be found within I Am Me!!
Serena: I Am Me! empowers children to love themselves through their differences. This book will help you teach your child awareness and acceptance of race, gender, and emotions. Many parents send me photos and videos of their children imitating the facial expressions of the real-life multicultural children in the book. Imitating others is the first step of empathy learning!
MCA: I Am Me! is filled with beautiful and vibrant visuals that really help the story come alive! Can you tell us about the process by which they came to be?
Serena: For this book, I envisioned a unique style combining real-life photography and vintage comics. The real-life photography features real children, with real emotions, and real differences. I want the young readers to see themselves in these images. With the powerful, nostalgic, cross-cultural art style of vintage webcomics, which is a favorite among parents like us, I’m hoping to inspire the whole family with this classic style.
I also wanted to break stereotypes. Throughout the book, you’d find multiple instances where stereotypes are knocked out literally.
Abe Wong, a dear friend of mine, was able to bring this vision to life. As a 2nd gen Chinese American father of 3 girls, he eagerly joined me on this journey. Believing in the mission and vision of Duck Duck Books, he hopes to instill confidence in his girls, and every child that comes across this fun and meaningful board book.
MCA: What has the response been like from readers of I Am Me!?
Serena: Our response from parents has been positive! They like the message of diversity, and acceptance, and recognize the importance of multilingual and multicultural books. Here are a few reviews from happy customers:
“I love reading “I Am Me!” to my daughter. The bold colors and illustrations keep her engaged. I love the diversity and real photos of children. Everyone is represented. Most importantly, this book has such an important and empowering message about awareness and acceptance. We have the Chinese and English versions and even though we don’t speak Chinese, I love exposing my daughter to different languages so we read along with the video on the website. We can’t wait to read more Duck Duck Books together!”
“I am constantly searching for bilingual books to read to my son. I loved the book because it was a fun way to start teaching my son about loving our differences in both Spanish and English. The cutest was that he was making all the facial expressions in the book! :)”
“This bilingual book is amazing! I love that this book teaches us to embrace our differences, be they physical or ability-wise. It’s so hard to find books that are in traditional Chinese, English, and pinyin. I love the fact that this book has all three languages! Also, I love that there are videos on YouTube that read the book aloud, especially the Cantonese one because the author reads it in both the formal text and the colloquial way. This really helps me to be able to read it to my baby and make it interesting and interactive! Thank you!”
MCA: It is always so wonderful to receive such a positive response to something we’ve poured our hearts and soul into. With all the success you have seen so far, I have to ask, what is next for Duck Duck Books?
Serena: We are in the process of making more books for children, and continue to make social-emotional learning more accessible for multicultural families. We are also working hard to expand our line of eco-goods – sustainable products for young children and their families.
MCA: That’s amazing! Please be sure to keep us posted on all your new releases!
You can learn more about Serena Li and her award-winning book, I Am Me! by visiting her MCA Shop pages.