MacKids Spotlight: Gene Luen Yang

Meet Gene Luen Yang, the author and illustrator of Dragon Hoops, a 2021 Printz Honor Book! Gene shares more about his inspiration for this book, his most memorable teacher, his favorite childhood book, and more!

When describing Dragon Hoops, what’s your elevator pitch?

Gene Luen Yang: Dragon Hoops tells the real-life story of the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, a high school basketball team from Oakland, California. During the 2014-2015 season, they made a dramatic push for the California State Championship.  I document that season in graphic novel format. 


What inspired you to write Dragon Hoops?

Gene: I taught at Bishop O’Dowd High School, the home of the Dragons, for seventeen years. During my last year there, I became friends with Lou Richie, the coach of the varsity men’s basketball team.  Lou might be the most interesting human being I know.  He’s just lived a very eventful life.  Lou isn’t just a coach at O’Dowd, he’s also an alum. Back in 1988 when he was a junior and a point guard on the school’s team, the Dragons made it all the way to the State Championship, but lost in a heartbreaking fashion.  His story was so compelling, it convinced me to do this book even though I knew nothing about basketball at the time.  I retell Lou’s story from high school in the first chapter of Dragon Hoops.


Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.

Gene: My high school computer science teacher was a guy named Cary Matsuoka. He had a talent for breaking complex ideas into easily digestible pieces. It’s been thirty years since I sat in his classroom, but I still remember his lesson on binary numbers. He used a flashlight to illustrate the zeros and ones. Mr. Matsuoka inspired me in countless ways. I became a high school computer science teacher myself and used his curriculum in my own classroom.  Later, I created a graphic novel series with my friend Mike Holmes called Secret Coders that teaches computer science concepts, the same concepts I learned in Mr. Matsuoka’s class.  The third book of the series is dedicated to him.


What is the first step in your creative process?

Gene: The first step is to get over fear.  For most writers, the blank page is terrifying. That’s when all those familiar doubts bubble up.  What makes me think I can do this?  Do I really have something to say?  Do commas actually work the way I think they do?  The first step is to push those voices out of my head and write that first line.  It doesn’t have to be a good line.  It just has to exist.


What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?

Gene: That was a long time ago and my memory is pretty terrible, but it may have been The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I don’t remember the details of the story, but I do remember the emotions I felt while I was reading it.  I remember feeling terror and awe and triumph and love.


Is there a book you wish that you wrote?

Gene: Fantastic Four #1, maybe?  That issue kicked off the entire Marvel Universe. It also cemented writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby as not just the makers of legends, but legends themselves.  I would love to know what it felt like to hold an entire universe in your head, and then have the know-how to put it onto a page.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gene Luen Yang writes, and sometimes draws, comic books and graphic novels. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second Books, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. His two-volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. His other works include the Secret Coders series (with Mike Holmes), The Shadow Hero (with Sonny Liew), New Super-Man from DC Comics (with various artists), and the Avatar: The Last Airbender series from Dark Horse Comics (with Gurihiru). He was the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and in 2016 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Ages 14-18

In his latest graphic novel, Dragon HoopsNew York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

Praise for Dragon Hoops:

2021 Printz Honor Book
2021 ALSC Notable Children’s Book
2021 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers

2021 YALSA Great Graphic Novel 
2021 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Vetted Nominee

★ “Yang is an extraordinary cartoonist…through recurring visual motifs that connect a champion basketball player to a self-questioning artist to a Russian immigrant with a new idea, he illuminates the risks that every one of us must take and has, once again, produced a work of resounding humanity.Booklist, starred review

As Yang taps into subjects as varied as assimilation and discrimination in America…readers learn how this low-cost, indoor game leveled racial, gender, and international boundaries to attain global prominence… [T]his title will have even sports haters on their feet cheering.” —School Library Journal, starred review

★ “While the action on the court is absolutely transfixing…the story shines just as brightly off the court when Yang’s focus shifts to his own dilemmas and profound insights regarding art and storytelling.” —Horn Book, starred review

★ “Using a candid narrative and signature illustrations…Yang has crafted a triumphant, telescopic graphic memoir that explores the effects of legacy and the power of taking a single first step, no matter the outcome.”  —Publishers’ Weekly, starred review

★ “Expect a warm reception from both the sports fiction crowd and open-minded nerds willing to explore what all the seasonal fuss is all about. ” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

“The full-color illustrations are varied in layout, effectively conveying intense emotion and heart-stopping action on the court…A winner.” —Kirkus


Read more author Q&As here!