It’s hard to be a dad, especially when your own daughter wants to be someone else.
Meet Jerry Zhang. Lawyer and father to daughters Madison and Everly. It was eldest, Madison, who broke his heart one day when she said, “I don’t want to be Chinese.”
Zhang knew why Madison didn’t want to be Chinese. His daughter wished to be like the characters she read about in her books and couldn’t see herself as the star in her own adventures. Her books were showing her that she needed to be something else. Zhang couldn’t blame her — she was growing up in a world where books featuring Asian characters were at a staggering low of 3.3% of children’s books, while books with White characters made up 73.3%. Even trucks and animal characters made up 12.5% of the market, according to a 2015 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education.
It was a problem that Zhang was determined to solve. He didn’t want Madison to grow up in a world where she didn’t want to be Chinese, so he created “Pepper Zhang”, a sassy, free-spirited toddler passionate in art and adventures.
“My goal is to show them that being funny and interesting is not exclusive to only certain children. Asian children can be just as imaginative and unique as the long-standing iconic book characters that exist today,” Zhang told NextShark.
Next, Zhang founded Little Ning Books and launched his book on Kickstarter to ask the public for their support.
“I really didn’t know what to expect and was actually nervous about setting the goal at $5,000, which is the absolute minimum we need in order to print $1,000 copies plus the shipping and storage costs. On the night the campaign launched, I couldn’t stop pacing and refreshing the page, only to see 1 pledge from my friend who I shared the link with. At that time, the $5,000 goal seemed like an insurmountable challenge.”
It was vital that the public play a part in the book’s success. It didn’t take long for crowds to respond, and Zhang was blown away by the crowd’s response.
“I was first caught off guard when we hit our goal in 3 days! From then on, it just kept going and my level of disbelief kept increasing each time the pledges increased.”
This month, Zhang achieved over 600% of his Kickstarter goal with 775 backers pledging $30,639 to help bring Pepper Zhang to life, and he plans to keep going:
“As long as there are people who support my books, I will keep writing them. I always intended for Pepper Zhang to be the first of many things because there’s just such a void in the market for these types of books. My dream is for Pepper to star in her own animated series.”
Zhang never dreamed the books would be this successful, but dearly appreciated the support he’s received:
“I’m incredibly grateful for all the parents and non-parents who have supported this project. In particular, it was touching for me to hear from people of all backgrounds expressing gratitude for my writing this book and taking on this mission. But the success of my crowdfunding campaign can be proof that anybody can do this. These books are important to me because I am hoping they can play a part in providing more options for children when it comes to the books they have access to. But I’m only one person and I hope my experience provides confidence and encouragement to other parents who are considering doing a similar project but are hesitant.”
And to top it all off is the incredible impact it’s making on his daughter Madison:
“Madison is so excited about ‘Pepper Zhang, and this whole project has made such an impact on her; I remember telling myself during the project that if we never raise $1 during the campaign, the book itself was worth the effort that went into it because of the impact it had on Madison. In fact, she’s recently expressed an interest in learning Mandarin, which is just amazing to me.”
It might be nerve-wracking to be a dad when your main book critic is your daughter, but for Zhang and his daughter Madison, it was worth it to hear her say these four simple words:
“The best book ever!”