You may know Tanya Lloyd Kyi for her big hit last spring, Mya’s Strategy to Save the World (Penguin Random House), the fictional story of one girl’s quest to (a) get her own phone and (b) win the Nobel Prize. You may also know her amazing ability to capture authentic pre-teen voices that you can’t help but wonder, ‘how are they not real!’ If you didn’t know these things, well you’re in for a treat!
Tanya Kyi began her writing career as a high-school poet, producing pages and pages of terrible poems that only her best friend read. Her love of writing took her to the University of Victoria, where she studied creative writing and English. Tanya’s early jobs were as a small-town newspaper reporter and as a staff writer for the Commonwealth Games. She also worked as an editor and graphic designer before turning to children’s books full-time.
In addition to writing, Tanya likes to bake, read, and play tennis. Her favourite meal is breakfast, her favourite color is blue, and her favourite children’s book is A Wrinkle in Time. Her most recent works are Me and Banksy (Puffin Books), the fictional story of an art-based student campaign against cameras in the classroom and Under Pressure (Kids Can Press), a non-fiction look at the science of stress. Tanya grew up in Creston, BC, but now lives in Vancouver with her husband and two children.
First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get your start as an author? What is your writing process like?
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since fifth grade, when my class wrote stories, designed covers, and bound them (okay, stapled them) to create our own “books.” I didn’t start writing children’s books until after university, but I immediately fell in love. Now, I write both fiction and non-fiction for middle-grade and young-adult readers.
The information books are fun because I get to indulge my curiosity. As soon as I begin to wonder about something – whether it’s stress, DNA, or privacy – I start outlining a new book, and the fiction projects are fulfilling for entirely different reasons. I get to create characters, fall in love with them, and send them on adventures. Hopefully, my readers fall in love, too!
Let’s talk about Mya’s Strategy to Save the World. In this book, you wrote about an ambitious young girl who is very much aware of the social injustices of the world. Sometimes adults want to hide the hard truths from young people. Do you think it’s important for kids to stay informed about current world issues?
Some issues – climate change, for example – are so overwhelming that it’s impossible to hide them from kids. The young readers of today are going to be the inventors, scientists, and politicians solving these problems tomorrow, so there’s no sense hiding the truth. Instead, I think we should give kids the facts and the tools to understand and process the issues, and the ambition and hope necessary to drive change.
The character of Mya from Mya’s Strategy to Save the World was inspired by my own daughter. She once sent a letter to politicians, urging them to end whale hunting. She wrote: “It’s cruel, mean, and unfair, and every whale in the world agrees with me.” I wanted Mya to have that sort of passionate, activist voice. Because if every kid (and every adult!) cared enough about even one issue, we could create a huge wave of positive change.
Tell us about your latest book, Me and Banksy. What inspired the story?
After I wrote a non-fiction book called Eyes and Spies: How You’re
Tracked and Why You Should Know (Annick Press), I was extra-aware of surveillance cameras and their potential problems. I felt as if I
hadn’t finished thinking about these issues. So when I began imagining a trio of smart, artistic teens in a fancy private school, I gave them some privacy invasions to deal with – and things spiraled from there!
I’ve always loved reading about the exploits of the street artist Banksy, so I made him (her?) a personal hero of my main character. The book ends with an art-based caper that was very, very fun to write.
Do you think a book like Me and Banksy can help young people to take measures to protect their own safety online?
But privacy goes far beyond that.
Imagine you’re standing on your bed in your pajamas, lip-synching into a hairbrush. You’re not doing anything wrong, but you wouldn’t necessarily want the video posted. Maintaining our privacy, online and in real life, means ensuring we’re free to be goofy, to explore, and to play… without the whole world watching.
I see that you have also published a number of non-fiction titles. How does the writing process differ from non-fiction to fiction?
Writing non-fiction is like traveling a highway with a GPS. Writing fiction, for me, is like traveling a marsh with a broken compass. I’m always falling into quicksand and having to dig my way out.
Having said that, I love both. When I’m working on an information book, I love delving into new research, learning about wacky historical beliefs, and finding cultural connections. Writing non-fiction is about finding great stories. When I’m working on fiction, I have to create those stories – it’s harder, but just as much fun.
Do you have any tips for aspiring non-fiction authors writing for a younger audience?
When writing for young readers, there’s no sense pretending that grown-ups have all the answers. I try to embed this idea in all of my books: “The world is messy. But throughout history, there have been brave and dedicated people who’ve made things better. You could be one of them.”
Are there any other types of genres that you would want to try your hand at?
I recently finished my first picture book manuscript and it was so much fun – I’d love to write more of them.
What projects are you working on now? Can you tell us about any upcoming books?
In September, I have a book coming out with Kids Can Press called, This is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias. This is the most fascinating subject I’ve ever researched. There are so many ways our own minds play tricks on us. I’m really excited to see what readers think of the book.
Want to learn more? Visit Tanya Kyi at tanyalloydkyi.com