Growing up, mixed-race Chinese Americans siblings Andy Chou Musser and Amy Seto Forrester loved reading, but didn’t see themselves reflected in the books on their shelves. Now, having pursued careers in storytelling, Musser and Forrester recently published their first collaborative work, Search for the Giant Squid, an interactive, science-based picture book featuring diverse characters like themselves.
After falling in love with drawing at a young age, Musser followed his passion and attended art school. He worked for a decade in motion graphics before switching to creating kids books full-time. His published works include A Home Under the Stars and Ploof.
“As a kid, I was always working on an art project: cartoons, puppet shows, animation, drawings, and paintings. I was really lucky my parents recognized my passions and supported me,” said Musser.
For Forrester, her path to children’s book author was paved through working in theatrical stage management, including children’s theatre productions. She rediscovered her love for children’s literature working at bookstores between gigs and, combined with her enjoyment of working with kids, decided to pursue a career as a youth services librarian.
“I developed as a writer by drawing from many different parts of my life: youth librarianship, children’s literature, storytelling through theatre, and the desire to create diverse stories that reflect and inspire BIPOC and marginalized kids,” she said.
The inspiration for Search for a Giant Squid stemmed from a former program Forrester ran about giant squids. The kids were fascinated with the creature. It has brains shaped like donuts and can grow to be longer than three cars. Forrester realized it was the perfect topic to engage young readers in a unique way.
The interactive element of the book is a choose-your-own adventure experience. The reader acts as the protagonist of the story, choosing their pilot, submersible, and where they want to explore.
“Andy and I have always been fans of interactive puzzle books. I think it’s important to explore different options and think about different outcomes our choices can have,” said Forrester. “Many kids don’t have the opportunity to make many choices in their day, so we wanted to make a book that allowed kids to make the decisions and to have the opportunity to try again if things don’t go the way they planned.”
“We’ve been collaborating on projects since we were kids, so working on a book together felt natural and fun,” added Musser.
The result is a 96-page picture book with countless adventures and intriguing knowledge for the reader. The illustrated characters represent Forrester’s and Musser’s goal to create more diversity in children books.
“Being mixed-race Chinese American makes me want to include as much thoughtful representation in my work as possible, with the goal of having more young readers say: ‘Hey that character looks like me!’” said Musser. “As a kid, I never read any stories that featured heroes that looked like me, let alone met any mixed-race authors or illustrators.”
Search for the Giant Squid creates an engaging and informative storytelling experience. To aspiring authors, Forrester said: “There are so many forms of storytelling! Don’t be afraid to blend them together. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t do it! Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be creatively challenging and thought-provoking? Almost certainly.”
The siblings are already planning the next book in the Science Explorers series, tentatively titled Search for the Mysterious Mushroom, following the pick-your-path format. Search for the Giant Squid has been recognized on several “Best Books of 2023” lists, including Amazon’s Best Books and New York Public Library Best Books for Kids.