Meet the Author, Leslie V. Ryan!
Leslie V. Ryan, born in Japan and raised in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, moved to the United States in 1987. She received her bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies and Japanese language from the University of California at Berkeley. Her book, I am Flippish!, is inspired by her real-life experience of someone telling her son that he couldn’t possibly be Irish because of the way he looked. In response to this hurtful and confusing incident, Flippish! was born. Ryan’s hope is that more children from multicultural families will be empowered by discovering who they are and be able to take pride in and celebrate their ancestry.
The Story Behind “I am Flippish!”
I am Filipino-American, and my husband is Irish-American. We have 2 children, Sean (10) and Linley (7). Ever since our children were born, people said they looked more Asian than Irish. We thought it was pretty funny, especially when Sean’s full name is Sean Patrick Ryan. But in 2007, when Sean was in 1st grade, a mom in his class told my son that he didn’t look Irish and he couldn’t be Irish. Even though it was meant as a joke, it was a little hurtful and no longer funny. My son then asked me if he really is Irish. And I said yes he is half Filipino and half Irish, or Flippish for short. Earlier in the year I had breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, and then chemotherapy, then the reconstructive surgery. So I felt really sensitive, angry, and vulnerable at that time.
After this incident, I started looking for children’s picture books about multicultural families. Surprisingly I didn’t find any. To my disappointment and frustration that there were no books explaining to kids about where their ancestors came from, I decided to write a story myself. I wanted to explain to my children that their ancestors came from different parts of the world to the US and that we as Americans are products of immigrants – with the exception of the American Indians of course.
I wrote the story and shared it with my friends who have multicultural families. They encouraged me to share my story to the world to help families discover and feel proud of their multicultural heritage. The urge to get my story out became so great that, in late 2009, I sent it to ten literary agencies and publishing houses. I figured I had nothing to lose. However, one by one, rejection letters started to trickle in and by September 2010, after my last rejection letter I was really discouraged. I thought about putting my manuscript in the filing cabinet and forgetting about it. That night, I had a strange dream.
I dreamt that I was swimming under water, and I don’t know how to swim, let alone swim under water. So I was swimming alone and then Dory (from “Finding Nemo”) – yes including Ellen DeGeneres’ voice swam up next to me and asked if she can swim with me. So Dory and I were swimming for a long time, and the whole time we were swimming, Dory kept on singing “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”. Just when I was about to ask Dory to zip it because she was driving me crazy, we came upon this big hole. Then I looked around and didn’t realize we were inside a large net. Then Dory swam through the hole and turned to me and said, “See, if you keep swimming, you will find a way out.” Then, Dory disappeared, and I woke up. I thought my dream was pretty strange because I haven’t seen “Finding Nemo” in 5 years and I don’t know how to swim!
That week, my son’s 4th grade teacher, Eric Hartman (who is in the book) and I were talking about children’s books. He mentioned to me that he was also a writer and we started chatting about the challenges of getting a book published. I told him about my discouraged state with the submission process and asked him if he could take a look at my manuscript. I emailed it to him that night with the thought that if he as a teacher didn’t like it, then “I am Flippish!” stays inside my filing cabinet. The next day, I saw him after school, and the first thing he told me was that I had to share my story, and it needed to be published. Eric saw my book as a story not only about diversity and acceptance, but also about encouraging every child to find out where their ancestors came from. Eric said after I published my book, I had to send it to Ellen. It was Ellen DeGeneres – the voice of Dory, the person I needed to send my book to! I got goose bumps at that moment because it reminded me of my Dory dream. My dream was so profound that I still remembered every single detail. So that was what the dream meant! If I kept swimming, and never gave up, I would find a hole and a way out of the net. I didn’t give up, and kept going and pursued my dream of being an author. I would find a way to get my book out. So that is what I did.
My “Dory” dream and my family and friends’ encouragement gave me the gumption to take a leap of faith and publish the book myself. I needed an illustrator and Eric and his wife, Tracy, introduced me to Adolph Soliz, a talented illustrator from Laguna College of Art + Design in Laguna Beach. Adolph did an amazing job making my story come to life.