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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Hanh Bui, Review of The Yellow Áo Dài, and Giveaway

Inspired by her first teacher at the refugee camp, Hanh Bui pursued a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and taught second grade.

Hanh’s commitment to celebrating her heritage includes giving presentations at school visits about her refugee experience to children studying immigration as part of their school curriculum.


She serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI. She is a member of Diverse Verse and has been featured in Highlights For Children magazine and Next Avenue.


Hanh's debut picture book, The Yellow Áo Dài, released April 25th.


Welcome Hanh, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about yourself and your debut book.


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)


I like to write at my kitchen table because it is one of my favorite spaces in my home. We have had many family gatherings around this rustic table so it feels like the perfect space for my stories. I have been writing since I was a teenager, but began writing with the hopes of becoming a children’s book author in 2018. I like writing historical fiction or narrative nonfiction. Both are a good fit for stories based on my lived experiences.


Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

My favorite children’s book as a child was the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel. I adored the art by Arnold Lobel. I also loved reading Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also enjoyed many of the Golden Books because the language was simpler for ESL (English as A Second Language) Learners. I was an ESL student until I was in 6th grade. Books helped me learn English and navigate life in America. Books also allowed me to imagine a world beyond my humble beginnings and provided me with comfort and connection during challenging times as a newcomer.


What was your inspiration spark of interest for The Yellow Áo Dài?

The inspiration for The Yellow Áo Dài were my daughter and her beloved grandmother. My daughter has always wanted to know about the grandmother she never knew. My mother-in-law shared with me that she was crowned Mid-Autumn Princess as a young school girl in her village in Vietnam. My daughter also enjoys pretending to be princesses and dressing up in fancy clothes. She also loves to dance. I wrote this story to show my daughter that even though she may not have known her grandmother, they will always be connected with their special similarities, our memories and family stories.


This is such a wonderful gift you've given her and your readers. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

I wrote a first draft of a MG novel during my visit to Hong Kong. I stayed at the highest peak of Hong Kong. The hotel was surrounded by mountains and a beautiful reservoir. I felt as if I could almost touch the clouds. It was peaceful, quiet and magical. Birds would fly near our window.


© 2023 Time Out Hong Kong

Wow. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Yellow Áo Dài ?


It took me three weeks to write a complete first draft. I revised and worked on it for another six months before I felt I had a polished version ready to be submitted to agents.


Oh my gosh that seems speedy. What's something you want your readers to know about The Yellow Áo Dài ?


I hope that after reading The Yellow Áo Dài, readers will think of their own family keepsakes and memories. It is my wish that this book will inspire others to ask questions and learn more about their own family’s history so they too may share their stories.


I hope you get your wish. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Minnie Phan’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Hanh Bui, 2023. Image © Minnie Phan, 2023.


When I saw Minnie Phan’s art I was surprised to see the cute little bunny who served as a friend for the main character. I love that Minnie included the bunny as homage to her own pet rabbit. I know children will be drawn to the adorable bunny and his adventures with Naliah, the protagonist. My favorite spread is the one with Naliah dancing the Fan Dance with her sweet bunny by her side. I love how Minnie illustrated a large lotus flower in full bloom to embody the meaning, movement and beauty of the Fan Dance. The lotus flower is significant also because it is the national flower of Vietnam.


This is a fun image. I love the rabbit's mimicry of Naliah's positions! Thank you for explaining the significance of the lotus flower! What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing The Yellow Áo Dài ?


The most challenging part of writing The Yellow Áo Dài was deciding if I should stay true to how I reacted as a mother when my daughter makes mistakes or listen to other writers in a Writer’s Boot Camp who felt I should make the mother more upset or angry. I chose to stay true to my own experiences with my daughter. I’m glad I did because children really appreciate that the mother acted with patience, understanding, and kindness.


I think it is important that books show a range of reactions for both children and parents; especially since everyone responds differently. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have another picture book coming out next summer, Ánh's New Word, illustrated by Bao Luu (June 2024 Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan). This is a story inspired by my first teacher, my first English word and my first time going to school in America. I wrote this book in honor of my grandmother and as tribute to the lifelong impact of kind teachers like Miss Marilou, my first teacher at the refugee camp.


We'll have to keep our eyes open for it. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

I would love to visit the Redwoods Forest in California. I think it would be a wonderful place to be present and think of more story seeds.


Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?


The following are the three best advice I’ve ever gotten on my writing journey:

1. “Embrace revisions!”

2. “If you can imagine it, you can make it happen.”

3. “Sometimes rejections are protection.”


That last one is thought provoking! Thank you Hanh for stopping by to share with us your debut picture book.


Thank you, Maria, for kindly hosting me and for these thoughtful questions. I am honored and grateful to be a part of the kid lit community.

Warmly, Hanh


To find out more about Hanh Bui, or to contact her:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HanhBuiWrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hbui333

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hbui333/


*And for more information on Hanh Bui's writing journey and The Yellow Áo Dài, check out Susanna Leonard Hill's Tuesday Debut – Presenting Hanh Bui! PLUS A Triple Giveaway! and Vivian Kirkfield's HANH BUI AND MINNIE PHAN: Will Write and Illustrate for Cookies Plus Triple Giveaway.*


Hanh Bui's upcoming book event:


Saturday May 27, 2023 at 3:00pm

Bards Alley Bookshop (110 Church St. NW, Vienna, VA

Join us at Bards Alley Bookshop as we host debut picture book author Hanh Bui for The Yellow Áo Dài, a story of family and identity following Naliah’s time fixing a very special áo dài so she can perform a traditional Vietnamese Fan Dance, and learning about her family’s legacy in the process.


Hanh Bui will be reading the book aloud on May 27th at 3:00 pm. She will be holding a Q&A and giveaway afterwards, and signing copies of her book!

Preorder your copy at Bards Alley



Review of The Yellow Áo Dài and Giveaway


This is touching story of family and Vietnamese traditions, of owning mistakes, and most of all loving understanding. One that stays with you long after you close the book.

The Yellow Áo Dài


Author: Hanh Bui


Illustrator: Minnie Phan


Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (2023)


Ages: 4-6


Fiction


Themes:

Tradition, family, forgiveness, and heritage.


Synopsis:

Lovingly illustrated by Minnie Phan, Hanh Bui’s debut picture book, The Yellow Áo Dài, is a warm story of family, identity, and remembering those who came before.


Naliah is excited to perform a traditional Vietnamese Fan Dance at her school’s International Day. When she finds that her special áo dài no longer fits right, she goes to her mom’s closet to find another.


She puts on a pretty yellow one―only to accidentally rip it while practicing her dance. She’s horrified to discover that this was a very special áo dài that her grandmother had worn to dance at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam.


But with a little help from her mom’s sewing kit and her grandmother’s loving legacy, Naliah learns not only how to mend the yellow áo dài but also how to believe in herself and make it her own.


Opening Lines:

It was the day before the International Day at school, and

Naliah couldn't help but be a little nervous.


She loved to sing and dance. Last year, Naliah had taught her

classmates a Vietnamese song. This year she was performing her

her favorite traditional Vietnamese dance, and she wanted to do her best.


What I LOVED about this book:

Though a little nervous, Naliah's excitement for International Day and the chance to show her classmates the Vietnamese fan dance hits a snag when she discovers her special áo dài is too small.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2023. Image © Minnie Phan, 2023.


So Naliah and her bunny companion sneak into mommy's room and she jerry-rigs her mother's beautiful yellow áo dài - rolling up the sleeves and tying on a belt - then proceeds to practice the fan dance. (Look back at the interview for this gorgeous illustration of Naliah & the bunny dancing together.) But her foot snags and the dress rips. I love how Minnie Phan's added bunny is a perfect barometer of Naliah's emotions; radiating joy in the fan dance and worry (wanting to hide) after the dress tears.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2023. Image © Minnie Phan, 2023.


Naliah's guilt grows as her mom gifts her with a beautiful yellow áo dài covered with butterflies. Throughout the illustrations, fantastical elements - like dancing across a lotus blossom, a bunch of butterflies circling her new yellow áo dài, and rippling water carrying the reflection of the dress across the miles - add movement and a touch of magic to the story. When Naliah discovers the dress was her grandmother's, she confesses. With a quiet, loving tenderness, her mother explains that she also accidentally ripped the same dress as a child. And suggests they repair it as grandmother did years ago when she embroidered a lily pad over that first hole.

Text © Hanh Bui, 2023. Image © Minnie Phan, 2023.


The ending is tender and imaginative. The gorgeous, soft watercolor illustrations beautifully weave throughout elements of Vietnamese culture and beliefs. Touching author and illustrator notes and a glossary defining some terms and the festival round out this wonderful special celebration of family, forgiveness, and heritage.


Resources:

- make an easy paper fan - without a handle or with a handle (or both). Then try following along with this Vietnamese dance tutorial.

- make your own paper bag bunny friend.


- have you ever accidentally broken, torn, or damaged something special to someone else? What did you do? Even if you haven't, what would you do now if you did?


The Yellow Áo Dài Giveaway


Awesome news! Hanh is offering one lucky reader a copy of The Yellow Áo Dài.


- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing on May 16th.

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


- *Sorry US Residents only.*

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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