19-Year-Old Vancouver Author Embraces the Joys of Her Chinese Culture in New Children’s Book

Karina Zhou’s children's book, Kai's Tea Eggs, explores the beauty of food, friendship and being proud of your heritage.

At 19, Vancouverite Karina Zhou is making promising headway in the world of publishing: her first book, Kai’s Tea Eggs, just launched earlier this week.

Zhou first created the story as an entry for a picture book illustration contest called Je suis un petit auteur-illustrateur. She won gold. Getting it out there for the world to see was the natural next step: “Because it did so well in that contest, I was like, I really want to publish this,” she says. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince informed her style, and inspiration often struck while flicking through the pages of other books: “I went to every library I could find and sat in the kid’s section for a long time,” she says.

Much of Kai’s Tea Eggs was drawn from Zhou’s childhood in White Rock and Surrey. “The story is inspired by a day where I brought in tea eggs for a multicultural event at my elementary school—it was a really positive experience,” she remarks. Her book recreates that memory through the main character Kai: an adorably sweet child with an energetic disposition, who, with the help of a friendly dragon named Ming, finds the courage to embrace and explore the foods of her Chinese heritage.

Zhou is a second year animation student at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, but notably, she creates all of her art by hand before she digitizes it. “There’s some things that you can’t replicate on a screen,” she says, channeling a famous Bob Ross quote that she holds true: “Happy little accidents help build the image.” She uses watercolour and a technique known as gouache, which produces a more opaque effect, to design bright and lively illustrations. Her vibrant colours and expressive imagery inspire emotion and create vivid scenes.

With Kai’s Tea Eggs, Zhou noticed a pattern when sharing the story with people from different backgrounds. Many said they could relate to the experience of the main character Kai, who feels nervous about sharing the food of her Chinese culture. “Everyone has gone through it in their own unique way,” Zhou notes. (If you’re now feeling a hankering for tea eggs, there’s a recipe included in the book.)

Kai’s Tea Eggs was just released on April 11, and is available for purchase online at Arsenal Pulp Press (though any bookstore can order it) and in-store at select Indigo and Chapters locations (Langley, Robson, Granville). The UBC bookstore and a variety of brick and mortar shops, including Massy Books and Iron Dog Books, also carry Kai’s Tea Eggs.

The book is Zhou’s first, but she has plans for more: “I do want to continue finding stories that are meaningful and that I think need to be in this world right now,” she says.