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The Picture Book Buzz

Anh's New Word - The Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF + Giveaway

Based on a true experience, this wonderful, heartfelt book explores how kindness, generosity, and compassion can inspire bravery.

Book cover - girl and grandmother in front of refugee barracks in Penn. U.S. celebrating her first English word.

Ánh's New Word: A Story About Learning a New Language

Author: Hanh Bui

Illustrator: Bao Luu

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan Publishing (2024)

Ages: 3-6

Historical Fiction


English as Second Language, refugee, family, grandmother, kindness, and persistence.


A child living in a Vietnamese refugee camp learns their first word in English with a little help from their teacher and grandmother in this heart-warming picture book based on the author's childhood.

Many things are different for Ánh now that they've left Vietnam with their family. The weather is colder and they live in a communal barracks at a refugee camp while they wait for their new life in America to start. Ánh finds comfort in their warm-hearted teacher, Miss Mary Ellen, but has trouble with the foreign sounds of learning to speak English in class.

All Ánh wants is to be able to say "thank you" out loud to Miss Mary Ellen, but will the words ever stop getting stuck between their head and their voice? With a little inspiration from their grandmother―as well as the chance discovery of an adorable animal―Ánh will try to gather the courage to finally say their first word in a new language.

Exquisitely illustrated by Bao Luu, Ánh's New Word by Hanh Bui is a hopeful story of finding your voice, inspired by true events from the author's childhood.

Opening Lines:

Every day when I arrive at my new school, my teacher says,

"Good morning, Anh!"

Today I open my mouth, but no words come out. Heat rises

to my cheeks like when I bite into a tiny hot chili pepper.

What I LOVED about this book:

There is so much emotion packed into the succinct text and these stunning opening illustrations. And I love the yellow silhouette around Ánh and her teacher, as if they are the only ones in the room. What a beautiful way to highlight the importance of a caring teacher.

Interior spread - on the left a teacher welcomes a girl to class. On the right, the teacher squats to compassionately encourage the girl.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2024. Image © Bao Luu, 2024.

Miss Mary Ellen places her hand on my shoulder. "Take your time."

Her voice is soft and gentle, just like my grandmother's lullabies. "It'll get easier."

But Ánh's fear of making a mistake outweighs her ability to respond and her previous enthusiasm for school in Vietnam. In a super touching moment, on the walk back to their barracks after school, Bà Nội (Grandmother) acknowledges Ánh's struggle and suggests that "Vietnamese will always be our first language, but it’s good for us to learn English so we can speak with our American helpers. We’ll keep practicing.”

Internal spread - on the left girl and grandmother walk past refugee barracks. On the right, zoom in on the grandma and girl walking hand in hand.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2024. Image © Bao Luu, 2024.

Bao Luu's softly colored digital illustrations gorgeously capture the loving connection between Ánh and Bà Nội, and her emotional and physical struggle with learning English. While providing realistic depictions of life in the refugee camp - the rows of identical buildings distinguished by numbers, an old jeep, a room packed full of single beds, and a commissary (where they can "shop" for donated clothes and toys). On one such shopping trip, Ánh discovers a reindeer sweater and a bit of hope when she watches Bà Nội's grin fill her face after saying "Thank you" in English.

Internal spread - on the left a volunteer speaks to girl and her family. On the right, grandma smiling at the girl.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2024. Image © Bao Luu, 2024.

Interestingly, at this moment, Ánh and Bà Nội are shown in the same yellow silhouette as Ánh and her teacher in the opening spread. Highlighting two pivotal moments of compassion and hope that help inspire Ánh's bravery. This poignant story concludes with a perfect, uplifting ending. One guaranteed to leave the reader with a smile and a sense of empowerment to face their own struggles. The author's note explains that this story is based on Hanh Bui's own childhood experiences when her family left Vietnam and first settled at Fort Indiantown Gap refugee camp in Pennsylvania. A gorgeous, touching story showing how compassion, persistence, and hope transcends language and inspires courage.


Photo collage of 4 of  20 reindeer crafts.

  • Ánh's reindeer sweater and grandmother gave her courage to speak her first word in English. What has helped you be brave? Write a story description or draw a picture of when you were brave.

  • read a newspaper story about the Vietnam immigrant's arrival in Pennsylvania and Fort Indiantown Gap (here) [check out the video & pictures, too].

  • pair this with The Rock in My Throat by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Jiemei Lin, Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai, and Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour.

🎈🎉 Ánh's New Word Giveaway 🎉🎈

Awesome news! Hanh is offering one lucky reader a copy of Ánh's New Word: A Story About Learning a New Language.

- Simply comment below, or on Hanh Bui's interview on Monday (here), to be entered in the random drawing on June 3rd.

- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Bluesky), and I'll add additional entries for you.

- Sorry US Residents only.


Danielle Hammelef
Danielle Hammelef
May 31

I want to try speaking more Japanese to my fellow students, but my fears of making mistakes hold me back. I am so excited to read this book and shared about it on Twitter and Facebook.


Leslie Piotrowski
Leslie Piotrowski
May 31

I am so looking forward to reading this book. I don’t think there are many picture books available that discuss what it feels like for a child to move through the hard steps of learning a new language. (I shared your post on Twitter/X.)

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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