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Duck Duck books

Serena Li's books for kids come in many languages


Last updated 3/29/2023 at 12:32pm

Brian Soergel

Serena Li is pictured at the Edmonds Winter Market Feb. 25 with her children's books that are available in several languages.

Serena Li is a young entrepreneur selling children's books. But what makes Li's offerings different than the rest is that they are available in several languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

Li started her publishing company, Duck Duck Books, in August 2021, offering multilingual children's books intended to cultivate social and emotional skills. She said she is inspired by the multicultural values she cherished as an immigrant.

Building the brand from scratch during the pandemic, Li led a team of American creators of color, many of them living in the greater Pacific Northwest area.

"We strive to create a better world for future generations by creating products with great love and care," said Li, who lives in Edmonds.

"From books that are built to last, to eco-conscious lifestyle goods that are designed to be washable, reusable, and convertible, Duck Duck Books and Duck Duck Eco Goods now work together to further causes of diversity, giving back, and spreading the love of our planet and one another."

Duck Duck Eco Goods offers a small backpack for toddlers and an accompanying swaddle for babies. The backpack is an eco-friendly take on kids' backpacks, lunch boxes, and book bags. It's reusable, meaning the back straps can be removed, to be carried as a lunch box as a child ages, reducing waste and saving money.


Li, 34, said she wanted to offer books in several languages, as she's trilingual. She was born in Guangzhou, China, and raised in Houston. After high school, she moved to Seattle and eventually Edmonds, six years ago.

"My mother tongue is Cantonese, my second language is Mandarin, and I learned English when I moved to the U.S. at 14," she said. "I've always wanted to pass my language skill to my daughter, who is currently enrolled in a bilingual immersion school for Mandarin and Spanish."

Before creating Duck Duck Books, Li spent a decade in communications and advertising. That led to contacts: Her network includes colleagues who are formerly journalists, linguists, translators, and inclusive communication specialists.

"Many are people of color like me," she said. "Our common interest and goal is to make a fun collaboration, and this start-up venture has kept many of us connected during the pandemic."

Li said she started small when launching Duck Duck Books, focusing on English, Spanish, and traditional Chinese. Within a year, due to popular demand, she added simplified Chinese and Cantonese.

"Many asked us if we will add more languages," she said. "We certainly can, but it will not be wise to scale too quickly. We now offer transcreation services, as well as editing, formatting, and consulting services to other self-publishers who want to publish their stories.

"Transcreation is the secret sauce of the advertising world, where you have to convey the key message in very little words to your target audience. How fitting it is to use this technique in the publishing world, especially children's books. Transcreation focuses on the context, tone, intent, and style rather than localizing the language alone."

All Duck Duck Books' transcreators are native speakers of their languages, re-writing a book from the ground up. A network of editors, proofreaders, and community reviewers work together to ensure the final manuscript and the art are relevant to those reading.

"It's a labor of love," she said. "Duck Duck Books and Eco Goods aren't just about me. If it's just me, it will forever remain an idea. I have the most supportive husband and an amazing, talented team who work even harder than I do. They inspire me every day.

"My daughter, who reads two books a day, 60 books a month, is my greatest critic. She likes some, but not all of my books, and it makes me very sad. I have to learn that books, like art, cannot please everyone, and that is OK.

Finding her moment!

Li, who has a double major in finance and marketing from Seattle University – comes from an entrepreneurial family.

"My father was a hard-working man," she said, "and ever since we were little we learned that there's nothing more amazing than seeing people's lives improve because of your invention or creation.

"My younger brother opened his first business right before the pandemic, Snowy Village – a Korean dessert cafe – and has since expanded to three locations. It's only a matter of time until I become a small-business owner."

Li said her business idea came to her after her daughter was born, when her younger brother opened his cafe.

"I was struggling with the new world of parenting as a full-time working mom trying my best to raise a kind and open-minded child. Like many new mothers, I suffered a difficult recovery. And just like many new mothers, I fell into severe postpartum depression. The journey to recovery was arduous, and I had the hardest time bonding with my darling daughter.

"The only way that helped us bond was via bedtime reading, which was the quality time I looked forward to every day to get by. When I had a hard time finding meaningful, bilingual books for young children reflecting the cross-cultural values that I wanted to pass on, I found my new passion and purpose."

But, as Li acknowledges, there can be a lot of work in keeping a startup going.

"Unfortunately, publishing is like planting a seed," she said. "Lots of effort, investment up front, and hopefully, someday, the tree will bear fruit. I wish this were my full-time job – it certainly feels like a full-time job – but I do have a real full-time day job."

She works at a large global ad agency as the director of Global Client Solutions.

"After daycare pick-up, dinner, and bedtime routine, I clock into my night gig at Duck Duck Books, often from 10 to midnight. Those two hours a few times a week surely add up."

Social justice

Growing up in Texas, Li went to a high school with very little diversity. She had good-hearted classmates ask, "Do Asians speak Asian?"

It was at Seattle University where Li said she was first exposed to the term "social justice," which she found enlightening.

"In order to achieve social justice, each of us must have empathy – to relate to the stories of injustice even if they didn't happen to us; to love and accept one another despite our differences. To voice for those who do not have a voice."

Growing up in China, Li said society focused so much on test scores rather than emotional intelligence.

"I realized how important it is to nurture the social-emotional skills before honing in on writing ABC/123 correctly. If all of us were to raise our children to be a bit kinder to themselves, a bit kinder to others, how much better would this world be?"


Li's publishing company is getting noticed.

She recently found out she is one of the Asian Hustle Network's 2023 Top 50 Unsung Heroes awardees. She describes the group as an online and offline community aimed to uplift and connect Asian entrepreneurs and professionals around the world.

The award ceremony is in Las Vegas at the end of the month

More news: A few months ago, Li was cast in season 6 of "The Blox," an online reality TV show on entrepreneurship hosted and produced by MTV star Wes Bergmann. Li was one of the 60 contestants from around the country, chosen out of 60,000 applicants.

"It was a grueling week, packed with education, competition, and around-the-clock filming, but it was so exciting because I met some of the most brilliant, like-minded people, and I've learned so much."


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