Eva Chen’s resume is one that any writer, beauty guru, or fashionista would kill for. She’s held positions at Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Teen Vogue, Lucky—where she was the magazine’s youngest editor-in-chief in history—and now heads the fashion department at Instagram. But despite her many impressive roles, she’s finally fulfilling her greatest dream of all: writing children’s books. Her first, Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, hits shelves today, November 6th.
Juno Valentine is a spirited young girl who travels through space and time searching for her shoes that have gone missing. They’re not the fanciest shoes, but they’re her favorites. On the quest to get them back, she steps into the shoes of many empowering women, from Frida Kahlo to Serena Williams. Though Juno loves the new footwear and adventures that come with them, she realizes she still wants her own back, because they’re magical to her.
If you’re one of Chen’s one million Instagram followers, you know that writing Juno Valentine is her greatest dream come true. The moment we started talking about the book with her, she couldn’t contain her excitement. “I’m freaking out about my book,” she admitted. “Every time I talk about it, I get acid reflux.”
The book is only the beginning of Chen’s new passion project.
She also collaborated on a kid’s clothing line, Juno Valentine by Janie and Jack, inspired by the story. And in February 2019, Chen will release her next children’s book, A is for Awesome!: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World.
We spoke with Chen about the Easter eggs in her new book, her adorable kids, and why Juno Valentine is great for both girls and boys. (And adults.) If you have little ones, they’ll love hearing this story, and you’ll love reading it to them. And if you’re an aunt, it’s the perfect holiday gift for your nieces and nephews.
HelloGiggles: I’m 30 years old, but Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes resonated with me quite deeply.
Eva Chen: Yay! Oh my god, thank you. I’m getting that a lot. A lot of people are like, “So, a children’s book? Can you please come out with an adult book for people that don’t have kids?” And I’m like, “Sorry!” My dream in life has been to write children’s books. It’s gonna take me like, seven years to write an adult book, because that’s really hard.
HG: The story is about fashion, but it’s also about empowerment. I love that you highlighted so many groundbreaking women.
EC: So many of the women, from Serena Williams to Misty Copeland—I wanted it to be a diverse cast of characters, but also include unexpected women like Yayoi Kusama, Anna Wintour, Queen Elizabeth, and Gloria Steinem. With the Anna illustration, I think I made Derek [Desierto] redo her illustration seven or eight times to get her hair color perfectly right. With Gloria, I changed her outfit several times. Juno has a signature look, which is meant to be gender-fluid; she’s not a girly-girl. But one of the details that you’ll notice in the book, if you look at all the different characters, they all have an element of Juno’s outfit, whether it’s the bandana print or the stripes. So Juno remains Juno, even when she’s in the shoes of Queen Elizabeth. “Remaining yourself” is the ultimate message I always point out to [my daughter] Ren. And she’s like, “I know, mom. I know.” I’m like, “Okay, three-year-old! You say that you know now, but just wait until you’re 15, young lady!” [Laughs.] Hopefully she’ll remember.
HG: I loved the not-so-subtle dig at Cinderella. Juno tries on her gown and glass slippers and says, “Cinderella’s shoes weren’t made for walking! Or skipping! Or anything fun for that matter.”
EC: Oh dude, yeah. When I was growing up, I loved big, froofy, huge dresses. There’s a picture of me that I posted on Instagram a few months ago wearing a HUGE pink dress with little heels when I was like, five years old. I literally look like the happiest ever, and I’m like, “Yay! This is my look!” I loved that growing up. But if I try to put a dress like that on Ren, she loses her mind. She’s like, “No, Mommy! It’s itchy! I don’t like it!” She’s not into it. Well, she hasn’t been into it yet. She might get into it in a year or two, which I’m fine with. In the mornings, I let Ren dress herself. If she has a preference and wants to wear certain leggings or shoes, I let her do it. Ren is not into big dresses. So that’s why, when Juno’s wearing the Cinderella outfit, she can’t run. She can’t jump. She can’t do anything in it. And I did that because that’s literally what Ren says. She is beginning to put tutus on more, but she doesn’t like a big princess dress. We do movie night every Friday night, and her favorite movies are all dinosaur movies. The Land Before Time—are you too young for The Land Before Time?
EC: Okay. So remember The Land Before Time? That’s her JAM. Anything with a dinosaur, she’s super into. I love that. She likes the “Let it Go” song from Frozen, but she doesn’t like the movie, which I think is funny. She only likes the song.
HG: In addition to the story, the illustrations are so fun and creative, too. I imagine that a lot of care and consideration went into the outfits and shoes.
EC: I was a magazine editor for so many years. And when I was a magazine editor, I meticulously obsessed over everything: the placement of a caption, one word in a beauty note. I took that process with me to this book, which I think drove my editor a little crazy. She told me she’d never had an author come in to look at foil samples—there’s foil on the cover. Literally, I went into her office, and I was like, “I need to take these foil samples home. I need to see how they look in different kinds of lighting.” Which is important! It really is. And she was like, “This is the first time I’ve ever had an author look through foil samples.”
HG: Well it shows, because Juno Valentine is so fun to read.
EC: The book was a ton of fun to write. It’s a very millennial, Instagram-my story. I met my illustrator through Instagram, though direct message. He tagged me in a picture, and I DMed him and said, “Thanks, I love this picture.” And then like, two years later, when I was writing this book, I was like, “There was this guy. He tagged me in a picture.” His picture always just stuck in my head. So when the publisher was like, “Oh, is there an illustrator you have in mind?” I was like, “There’s this guy, and he’s on Instagram.” They were like, “Has he ever written a children’s book or done a children’s book?” And I was like, “No, but I have a good feeling about him.” So I DMed him and was like, “This is so random, but let’s do a children’s book together!” And he was like, “Are you punking me right now?!” The whole book deal came about through Instagram as well, because my publisher reached out to me through Instagram. You just never know the power of the social network and putting yourself out there and taking a risk.
HG: You mentioned on Instagram that there are some little hidden Easter eggs in the book.
EC: There are tons of Easter eggs hidden in the book. So if you love fashion, you’ll see a lot of fashion references. When you open the book, on the inside of the book cover, you’ll see tons of pairs of shoes. There’s everything from Versace heels to a pair of boots with Diane von Furstenberg’s signature lipstick print to a shoutout to Chiara Ferragni. There’s a Gigi Hadid shoutout, too, which is very subtle. She saw it, but no one else might see it. 23 is her lucky number, so there’s a pair of shoes with the number 23 on them. There’s an avocado for Aimee Song, the blogger; there’s a tube of Glossier. There are Stan Smiths. And Manolo Blahniks, of course. I have to give Sarah Jessica Parker and Manolos and Sex and the City a shoutout. They’re in the book as well; a pair of the blue Carrie Bradshaw shoes from the movie are on the cover. There are the Vivienne Westwood 14-inch purple boots that Naomi Campbell wore and tripped in famously—those are on the cover as well. There are little Easter eggs like that hidden throughout the book where you kind of have to be a fashion nerd to recognize them. But if you aren’t a fashion person, you’ll still notice little things in the book. I wanted it to be fun.
HG: There are some Easter eggs for your kids Ren and Tao too, right?
EC: Yes! There’s a purple elephant in two places in the book—that’s Ren’s favorite stuffed animal. Paddington is my son’s favorite stuffed animal, so that’s hidden in there. There are Magna-Tiles, which are a kid’s toy that Ren loves. Ren’s fish is in there. There are tons of references that she gets. She’s like, “There’s my jacket! There’s mommy’s hat!” She recognizes it. It’s almost like a fashion Where’s Waldo.
HG: I don’t know a ton about what types of children’s books are out there, but I have to imagine that kids need more books like this.
EC: There are so many amazing kid’s books out there. I read like, 30 children’s books a day, basically. Fifteen a day to each kid, morning and night. There are so many great books out there, but I think a lot of kid’s books about fashion tend to be a little frivolous, and I think some of the kid’s books about empowerment tend to be a little overly serious. So I wanted a book that married fashion and empowerment, and that girls and boys could read and just have fun with. That was the impetus behind the book. Ren loves the book. She’s not into fashion; she’s just beginning to get into it. But she loves the book. She calls it “The Shoe Book” and thinks it’s about her. It isn’t not about her.
It was super, super fun to do this book. It’s really a dream come true for me, because I’ve always wanted to write children’s books specifically. I think people are always like, “Really?” And I’m like, “Yes!” I used to work at Teen Vogue, and when I left, the editor-in-chief was like, “What’s your dream in life? What’s your passion?” And I was like, “Writing children’s books! All I want to do with my life is write kid’s books!” I think that’s why I’m so nervous about it. Every time I, um…oh my god. See, I have to pause every time I talk about it, because you know when you feel your heart in your throat? That’s how I feel about the book. Every time I talk about it, I literally have to pause and feel my heart in my throat. And I don’t get nervous about anything. I think it’s quite personal for me. It’s not technically a work project; it’s a passion project. My dream is coming true!…Okay, see? Every time I talk about it, I get emotional.
HG: HelloGiggles is a legion of millennial aunts, and Juno Valentine is the perfect gift for nieces and nephews.
EC: Nieces, nephews. I believe very strongly that boys should be read books about strong women. That’s one of my philosophies. Because you want boys to have strong female figures in life, whether it’s their moms, aunts, or characters in books. I think that’s one of the things that makes for stronger, better men—being surrounded by strong women from a young age.
HG: Do you have your own pair of magical shoes?
EC: My go-to shoes are actually in the book. On the back page, Derek did an #evachenpose with these Chanel slingbacks that aren’t quite magic, but they’re the most versatile shoe, because you can wear them with everything from mom jeans to a dress, and it looks right. They’re not magic, but they’re my everyday shoes. Also, one of the first pairs of shoes that I really obsessed over getting, there’s—I don’t know if we put them in the book, but there’s a pair of glitter Miu Miu ankle booties. I literally scoured the city for these shoes, and I was super into them. Those are good magic shoes. Ten years ago, my magic shoes would be like, crazy seven-inch heels that you’d see in a museum. Nowadays, my magic shoes are anything that I can chase after my kids in, but still look presentable in. But let’s talk in five years when my kids are in school and hopefully I don’t have to be diving and grabbing them from running out into the street every two minutes.
HG: What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?
EC: A book called Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. It’s a re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, and it’s really good. Any time something’s a re-telling, I’m here for it. It’s really, really good, and it’s really well-written. She created nice complex characters. There’s a Hunger Games-esque quality to the writing. It feels austere, almost. It has that tone of writing that’s sparse and raw. Support women authors!
Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes is available wherever books are sold.