If you follow Eva Chen on social media, it's hard to believe she would have an iota of time outside of her job as the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram to do anything else. One day she's in Paris, then she's with her children, Ren and Tao, holidaying in Spain, and a few posts later she's in Brazil moderating a panel with top fashion influencers.
But the former editor in chief of Lucky magazine and health and beauty director at Teen Vogue did find time after hours, burning the midnight oil when the kids were in bed, and now she can add author to her impressive résumé with her debut children's book, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, illustrated by Derek Desierto.
While it only launched today, the charming story has already reached the top of Amazon's Children's Girls & Women Books new releases chart. But after speaking with Chen over the phone, I'm not at all surprised. She has been manifesting this book since she was Ren's age, just 4 years old.
As a first-generation American, Chen tells me that English wasn't her first language; she spoke Chinese at home, so reading was her escape. "I grew up a bookworm," she says. "I always kind of escaped by reading and I always carried a little notebook. I would jot down things and jot down ideas, and I always wanted to write children's books."
But Chen didn't stop at just a children's book. She went one step further and partnered with kids clothing brand, Janie and Jack to bring Juno and her epic adventures to life. Chen hopes the 30-piece capsule collection of clothing, shoes, and accessories (including Juno's red bandana and olive shorts) will "inspire the next generation of she-roes."
Read on to hear more about Chen's creative process and shop the debut kid's clothing collection.
How did you come up with the name Juno Valentine and her as a character?
So Juno is my grandmother's name, and I've always loved my grandmother's name. I always would joke with my husband that like, Oh, if we have a third baby, we should name him or her Juno, and he'd be like, Ha ha ha, no, but I guess in a way, I do have a third child named Juno Valentine now. I just thought Juno Valentine had a ring to it; it just kind of popped into my head. And I mean, when my daughter saw the book, she thought it was great, and she thinks it's about her.
Juno has a kind of irrepressible spirit, she has a big personality, and she is basically discovering who she is through the shoes.
Talk us through the "magical" shoes featured in this book.
At the beginning of the book, Juno is wearing a pair of shoes that are very plain, just simple white shoes, and her friends have shoes that look like Stella McCartney sneakers. So I really can't wait for fashion fans to see this book because there are a lot of fashion references like the Vuitton sneaker that everyone's wearing this season, or the Stella McCartney. There's also a Gucci shoe in there if you look closely for it. There's Vivienne Westwood, there's the Manolo Blahnik SJP shoe (the Sex and the City shoe), there's the Chiara Ferragni shoutout—there are all these shoutouts to different fashion people and the shoes that they wear, if you know to look for them.
That was one of the fun things about writing this book. For me, as a mom, you read these children's books over and over again, so it has to be fun for the kids to read it, of course, but the parents also have to have things to constantly look for and enjoy.
You've said this book is like a girl's guide to empowerment. Why was that messaging important to you?
We're in this kind of critical moment in politics in America and the culture in general where women have progressed so much, and yet, there's a lot of forces and a lot of things happening in the greater world that would somehow indicate that there isn't as much progress as we think. So for me, any kind of ongoing reaffirming I can get my daughter and the next generation is important.
I see it with my daughter now. She internalizes every message I tell her. So when I tell her it's important to share, or it's important to speak up, or don't let the little boy or the little girl at the playground take your toys or just snatch your toys out of your hands, she's absorbing it all. So for me, it was really important to have a book that has those messages of empowerment framed in a way that a 3-year-old would digest and not feel like it's being stuffed down her throat. This book is fun. It's lightweight and enjoyable.
And then, for the moms and the dads, I hope that it's something that they appreciate reading to their kids, and it's something that kind of reinforces that message. Because I don't think you can tell a 3-year-old, or a 5-year-old, or 10-year-old enough times that they're special just the way they are. It's like there's no amount of time that you could tell someone that positive message.
So really it's about embracing what makes you you, and that's really what the book boils down to. That's the one message from the book.
The book features a lot of female icons throughout history. How did you go about choosing them and why?
They're all women I find incredibly inspiring, and I think they all have a different kind of message of perseverance and individuality. There's also a character in the book named Sally Ride. She's one of the first American women to go to space. So it was really inspiring to write the book just because you have heard about some of these women, but when you read about what they actually went through to get to where they are, it makes their achievements even more remarkable.
How has your daughter, Ren, influenced this book and how you wrote it? Did you read it with her, or to her along the way when you had different drafts, to get her opinion?
She helped me choose the cover and the font, and the typography, and everything. It's definitely been Ren-approved. She likes it, and I often find it in her bed in the morning, which means she read it to fall asleep on her own. Derek, the illustrator, was definitely inspired by her too. I think when Ren brushes her hair a certain way and is dressed a certain way, she definitely looks like Juno.
Talk us through the Janie and Jack clothing collaboration that has brought Juno to life.
It was super fun. I've never done anything like designing clothing before, and honestly, designing kids' clothing was so much fun that it really kind of lit a fire in me. I made little sunglasses that are cat-eyes like the little sunglasses that all the supermodels are wearing now. I made a teeny-tiny pair of cat-eye sunglasses, and they're honestly the cutest thing ever.
My daughter has a very individual taste. She'll match anything with everything, and I love it. I encourage her to. I have never forced her to wear something on her own. I feel like if she wants to wear leopard print leggings with a floral shirt and unicorn sandals, then I don't care. I want her to wear whatever she wants to wear. She should have fun with it. Kids should be comfortable. I think they should be able to run and jump and skip and do everything.
What's your advice for aspiring authors who want to write a book?
I went to this book fair called Book Expo, and I met the writer Jodi Picoult, who I guess has written like 30 books. And she said the most important thing is to keep at it, make it an exercise. Just force yourself to do it. And then there are two young adult authors who I really admire and who I've gotten to know recently. One of them is Jenny Han, who wrote To All the Boys I've Loved Before, who has that Netflix movie right now. And then the other one is Leigh Bardugo, who wrote the book Six of Crows, and they both told me that you just have to write garbage.
They were like, "Just write garbage. Just vomit the words out onto a page, and then edit from there. Your editor will edit it for you," so that would be my advice. Write garbage. But that's my untested advice because I've never done it. So I guess my advice is number one, write crap. And number two, do your research. I live around the corner from a children's bookstore in the city, so I literally spent hours there. I would spend weekends there, looking in all the books and reading all the books. So do the research to make sure your idea is an original one. But even if it's not original, do it anyway, and do it your own way.
Buy Chen's charming children's book below and then shop the fashionable Janie and Jack collection to bring Juno to life:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.