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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Article in Sacramento Bee about Adventures of the Treasure Fleet

Children's book follows Asian explorer
By Niesha Lofing - Bee Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sailing voyages to distant lands, pirate battles and tiger fights are just a few of the adventures local author Ann Bowler chronicles in her latest children's book. In the historical fiction "Adventures of the Treasure Fleet," Bowler tells the story of Adm. Zheng He, who led seven Chinese naval voyages between 1405 and 1433.

Bowler, of Granite Bay, is a former elementary school teacher. She has written seven books, including the children's book "Gecko's Complaint," based on an Indonesian folk tale. Bowler will be reading "Adventures of the Treasure Fleet" at 11 a.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1256 Galleria Blvd., Roseville.

Bowler took time recently to answer questions from The Bee about her writing and her latest book.

Q: Where did you get the idea for this children's book?
A: My editor actually proposed it to me. ... This is the first children's book in English on the topic of Asian explorers. It really deserves to be on the shelf along with books about other explorers. I really feel like Asia is often overlooked. My two youngest children are adopted from Korea. And my oldest son lives in Indonesia and is married to an Indonesian woman, and we now have two grandchildren who are Indonesian. ... I'm happy to help tell the Asian stories that are worth telling.

Q: How much of "Adventures of the Treasure Fleet" is fiction, and how much of it is based on fact?
A: I was very meticulous with my writing. I used diaries from people aboard the ships as my main source of information. The diaries were translated at Cambridge University in the 1920s. Everything I wrote was based on fact. How the men were wearing swords in Java, how they had tiger fights going on then. Anything on the fictional page is based on truth.

Q: The illustrations are very interesting. How much involvement do you have with the art in your books?
A: I honestly helped (illustrator Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard) a lot. I'm more of a researcher than she is, so I went to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and worked with the head librarian. I made color copies of things like what the robes looked like. To the best of our knowledge, much of the clothing and housing reflect what they would have looked like that long ago.

Q: Why did you decide to include historically agreed-upon facts at the bottom of the pages?
A: I put the facts at the bottom because this is a children's book and including them (in the narrative) would have made the story too long. It had to be separated out. ... I broke it out to keep the fictional portion lively and fun, but offer enough information at the bottom so kids could know more.

Q: Is it difficult to write children's books?
A: I actually rewrote this book seven times. ... This book was particularly hard because there was so much to cover. It was daunting to try to cover it all and be accurate and interesting at the same time. Every piece of writing has its challenges, but this one was particularly hard because I was trying to be comprehensive.

Q: What is the writing process like for you?
A: With this story, I was stuck with how to begin. I used a tape recorder to help me get started. I taped myself when I was driving around, then typed (the ideas and stories) in. That got me off the ground. It took me a while to get my arms around who this man would have been.

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