For young Tracy Qiu, a job as a newspaper carrier has provided the key not only for finding a foothold in a new country, but also to winning a prestigious international award recognizing her budding artistic talents.
Last year Qiu, 16, a Semiahmoo Secondary Grade 11 student, transformed her own experiences as a Peace Arch News carrier into a picture book and text for children; A Happy Newspaper Girl.
With the encouragement of her teachers – and support of her parents, Jenny and Scott – the South Surrey resident entered the Premier Edition Internationale des Beaux-Arts Sino-Fran Als contest, a French-Chinese collaborative project that drew entries from young writer-illustrators in France, China, Canada and the U.S.
In December she received word from contest organizers that she had won the silver medal for her book, and that it would be on exhibit – with other winning entries – this January in the Bordeaux region of France, in March in Chengdu and Chongqing in China, and in April in Bologna, Italy.
Ironically, the book – in which Qiu’s text tells her story simply, but with a professional flow; illustrated, with great charm, by her own watercolours – has yet to be formally published.
Still in the first flush of excitement at winning the silver medal, Qiu – who has been delivering the paper for three and a half years – said she’s contemplating whether to have her book privately printed for a limited run or to self-publish for a wider audience online, through one of the e-book and print-on-demand platforms.
Currently in manuscript and PDF form only, the book recounts the experiences of a young girl, Amanda, depicted in child-friendly fashion as a bear cub (other characters appear as monkeys, rabbits, goats and lions) who gets a job as a carrier, with the encouragement of her mother, as a way to get to know a new neighbourhood.
Through bad experiences (her mettle is sorely tested at times by rainy and snowy conditions and heavy bundles of newspapers) and happy surprises (in her first year, an appreciative neighbour slips a five-dollar bill into a Christmas card for her) – and through the steady guidance of her mom – Amanda learns a larger lesson about taking responsibility and finding happiness in doing work of value to the community.
“Although no-one knows Amanda’s name, when people mention her, they will always call her that ‘happy newspaper girl’,” Qiu writes, at the conclusion of the tale.
Qiu, born in China, only came to Canada four years ago, and knew only a very little English at the time (her current command of the language is impressive, however). Going from a boarding school near Beijing to classes at Semiahmoo, where she takes a partial IB program was a considerable culture shock, she acknowledges.
But thanks to the encouragement of her teachers and parents, Qiu, who has also enjoyed such hobbies as crafting soaps and jewelry since she was four years old, said she saw entering the contest as a good opportunity, and helpful in reaching her current post-secondary goal of studying architecture and fine art at the Pratt Institute in New York City.
She gives particular credit to Semiahmoo English teacher Jodi Snead and her drawing instructor Xiao Hu He for their help and inspiration in creating the book.
“This is the first picture book I have put so much effort into,” she said.
“When I was younger I would make little drawing books just for fun. But before, they would be only five or six pages, where this one is a complete story based on a true story of my own experiences. I spent somewhere between 50 and 80 hours doing it.”
Even with her hard work on the project, she was very surprised at being selected silver medallist in the contest – “particularly since there were so many participating in it.”
She’d love to travel to one of the upcoming contest exhibits in China or Italy, she said, although concluding, philosophically, “there’s probably no chance.”
The decision to make her lead character’s name Amanda was because “I just liked that name and thought it sounds really good in my story,” she said, although she noted that she had left little clues in the book to point to her own identity.
“On one page there is calendar on the wall which has my own birthday circled on it, and in other pictures the walls of the house are the same colour as the walls of my own home,” she said.
Just as in the story, carrying papers helped her get to know and appreciate her neighbourhood, especially the older people, who are likely to give her a card and a little present each Christmas.
“It’s very sweet,” she said.
Also, as in the story, she had her own discouragements early on, such as trying to deliver heavy bundles of newspapers in heavy rain, she said, and moments when she considered quitting.
“Part of my reason for writing the book is to appreciate my parents – without them I wouldn’t have had the determination to keep delivering in all weather conditions,” she said.
“Now every time I’m delivering the newspaper I see postmen and people building the road and I feel that we’re all part of the same thing,” she explained, noting she currently splits delivering around 100 papers with a neighbour.
She and her mom donate most of her carrier income to World Vision charities, she added.
“In China you don’t have a lot of chance to help in the community. I’ve got familiar with the practice of persevering and now I feel like it’s part of my life.
“This past Christmas Day, a Wednesday (usually a delivery day) I felt uncomfortable – as though there was still something I had to do!”