Formerly Teen Vogue’s beauty and health director and the youngest editor-in-chief in Lucky Magazine’s history, Eva Chen is currently the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, with 1.2 million followers. Her third picture book, Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure, stars the eponymous plucky second grader from Chen’s debut, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes. Juno’s latest escapade involves school picture day, her younger brother Finn, and a new cast of revolutionary “sheroes.” Chen spoke with PW about the process of developing Juno’s stories, the impact of social media on her writing, and potential futures for the “Junoverse.”
What brought you to picture book writing, and how did you develop the concept for the series?
Well, I’ve always wanted to write children’s books. It’s a combination of things: as a parent, I read six to 10 books per night to my children, and we spend a lot of time at [Manhattan children’s bookstore] Books of Wonder. As a girl, I was surrounded by books. I’ve always loved to read and write; I’d bring around one of those marble composition notebooks with me everywhere. I was small for my age, so I spent a lot of time getting lost in series like Ramona, Amelia Bedelia, The Babysitters’ Club—books with strong female characters.
Juno Valentine came about because I had this idea for a spunky little girl who was independent and spirited. A lot of people associate me with fashion, shoes specifically, and I wanted to combine that with the idea of walking in other people’s shoes. I think it’s important to encourage children to try a lot of things, to teach them that failure is learning in disguise. And I’ve always loved books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time—books that take readers to new places.
Then I just felt there was so much more to tell. I wanted to expand the Junoverse, if you’ll excuse the pun. In the first book, you only meet Juno and her mom, but in the second book, you meet her younger brother Finn, her dad, and her classmates. I want to show readers the galaxy of characters.
Also, there are just so many remarkable women to write about! People like Michelle Obama, Simone Biles, and Maya Lin weren’t in the first book, so I felt lucky to be able to include them in the sequel.
Can you talk about how you discovered your illustrator, and what the process of working with him was like?
I found Derek [Desierto] on Instagram, which sounds like such a “now” thing to say. He was doing illustrations for fun, and he’d illustrated [my daughter] Ren and me. You can really see his energy through his Instagram. Something hadn’t been clicking with the first illustrator; she was making Juno too dreamy and pretty. So I contacted [my editor] Jean [Feiwel] and told her, “I found this artist on Instagram, and I have this feeling about him.” She asked how many other picture books he’d illustrated, and I had to be like, “Well… none,” and then she asked about his experience, and I was like, “Well… he’s young.”
But we just really see eye to eye—the first book was completed in three weeks. He’s based in Vancouver, so we’d hop on FaceTime or I’d text or email him, and I’d DM him inspirational images. The collaboration was really done through digital communication. In fact, the first time we met in real life was at BookExpo [in 2018].
The process was definitely easier the second time around. As with anything, you get the hang of things; knowing how to format everything helps, and the process for editing feels less fraught. Derek and I essentially developed telepathy, especially regarding the fashion!
Given your role at Instagram, it’s an understatement to say you’re well versed in social media. Do you think social media has informed your writing process at all?
I don’t think social media has really informed my writing process. For me, I find there’s something about the written word in books, specifically, that’s influential and transcends time. I just reread Make Way for Ducklings, The Phantom Tollbooth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn every year. Someone gifted me a Kindle for Christmas one year, but I really prefer a tactile sense of the page. I think social media instead has changed our sense of being able to connect with readers directly. People will tag me in videos of their kids reciting Juno from memory, and I just start crying because it’s so affirming. I think writers are really fragile; we like affirmation, and that’s what the digital space provides.
Your love for YA is well documented. Will you branch out to writing for other age groups? Are there more fashion fairy tales on the way?
I want to try my hand at writing early readers and chapter books, and then maybe middle grade—possibly aging up with Juno. I don’t think I’m quite ready to write YA; I’ll leave that to people like Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas. I actually have been promising my agent a book of autobiographical essays, though I’ve been saying that for almost 10 years at this point.
Hopefully, there will be more fashion fairy tales, because I have a lot of ideas. I’d love to send Juno to Paris or London, and for readers to meet other members of the family. But I really need Professor McGonagall to take me aside and hand me a Time-Turner so I can balance all of my careers!
Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen, illus. by Derek Desierto. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-250-29730-3