Celebrated children’s book author and illustrator Grace Lin highlights the rich stories feeding American Chinese cuisine in Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods(Little, Brown; Sept. 12), which a Kirkus reviewer applauds as “an utterly delectable feast of history and storytelling.”Lin responded to our questions by email; her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get the idea for Chinese Menu?

Back in 2004, I wrote and illustrated a picture book, Fortune Cookie Fortunes. During my research, I found out that the fortune cookie was a completely American invention. Whenever I mentioned that to people, they often replied, “Oh, so fortune cookies aren’t really Chinese?” This was usually said in a tone of disdain, sometimes disgust, and that kind of bothered me. As an American-born Asian person who has struggled with her identity, I could easily see the same words said about me.

The idea came to me to make a book [about] American Chinese food—I wanted to show this kind of food some respect! Yes, every Chinese dish served in an American restaurant has been adapted and changed. Yes, most do not have the flavors of traditional Chinese cuisine. But American Chinese cuisine is the flavor of resilience, the flavor of adaptability, the flavor of persistence and triumph. Above anything, this food is the flavor of America.

Is there any one story in Chinese Menu that evokes a special sense of nostalgia in you?

The ones that are most nostalgic are the ones I remember from my childhood—for example, “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.” I can remember my father sitting at the dinner table, telling the story of the dish that “smelled so good” that the monks jumped over the wall to find out what it was, laughing and speaking with his eyes twinkling. I think he enjoyed telling the story even more than I did hearing it!

Were you a big reader as a kid?

I have many fond memories of hiding from my mom behind her large banana tree plant, reading a book. I read all the classics and loved them: Anne of Green Gables, The Search for Delicious, “B” Is for Betsy, The Boxcar Children, etc. They all influenced me, but not just because they contributed to my love of reading. They also left me with a strong yearning to see someone who looked like me in books—a yearning which I am fulfilling in adulthood.

But probably what influenced me the most is when, in sixth or seventh grade, I won fourth place in the Written and Illustrated by…Awards Contest for Students. It was a big national contest, and I received $,1000. I was absolutely thrilled and decided then and there that I wanted to make books for life. By the way, the first-place winner of that contest was none other than Dav Pilkey!

What do you read for pleasure?

I used to read exclusively middle-grade fiction, but in the last few years, it’s been almost exclusively nonfiction. The reason for that is twofold. One, I do most of my reading via audiobook these days. I pair my listening with my morning runs—it’s what motivates me to exercise. Nonfiction is easier to digest while working up a sweat. The second reason is that I’m at a stage in my life where I feel like I need help! Currently I’m listening to Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, by Lisa Damour. Can you tell that my daughter just became a tween?

Katherine King is an editorial intern.