Thursday, December 28, 2023

Building Connection and Community

Oftentimes being a writer can be an isolating and challenging experience. There is so much uncertainty and waiting for things to happen in this industry that are beyond one’s control. Three years ago, while I was in the midst of supporting a family member and his young family as he faced a serious terminal illness, I felt utterly overwhelmed and pondered whether I should continue my path toward publication. I was deep in the query trenches and feeling too emotionally drained to develop my manuscripts. I almost walked away from my dreams of becoming a published author. 

One sleepless night I was scrolling through Facebook, Vivian Kirkfield’s post about her writing contest caught my attention. I decided that writing a story in fifty words would be challenging, but achievable with all I had going on in my life. It was an opportunity for me to take a small step back into doing what I love and share my writing. The encouraging comments I received about my entry sparked in me a desire to complete the picture book manuscripts I’ve set aside. I reached out to Vivian to thank her for her thoughtful feedback about the story I submitted for her contest and to let her know how grateful I was to be writing again. Vivian responded with the most thoughtful letter. Her words were reassuring and needed. She said, “Life often gets in the way of our dreams, and I’m so impressed you are finding ways to continue to follow your passion to write.” Vivian’s 50PreciousWords contest was the catalyst for me to continue to pursue my dreams of becoming a children’s book writer. Vivian has been a dear friend and an ally to many in the kid-lit community. She embodies all the qualities of what it means to succeed with grace, humility and kindness. 

Hanh: What/who inspired you to become a writer? Is there a special theme that is a part of all of your books? 

Vivian:  Hello Hanh! Thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation. And I love this question because I think that writing…and perhaps everything we do…stems from someone or something that inspired us to do it. For me, writing has always been a part of my life – even as a child, I loved scribbling poems. And, even as a child, my goal was to become a kindergarten teacher – I loved reading to younger children in the neighborhood. But it wasn’t until my son gave me a very unusual birthday gift for my 64th birthday that I seriously considered becoming a writer: he took me skydiving and, when my feet touched the ground, I knew that if I could jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I could probably do anything. And the next year, I jumped into the world of writing for children.

Many of my books center on ordinary people who did extraordinary things…visionaries whose inventions or actions made a difference…folks who overcame naysayers, discrimination, and other huge obstacles because they refused to give up on their dreams.


       Vivian skydiving with her son.                            Vivian sewing at 5 years old.

Hanh:  Do you remember a time in your childhood that sparked your love of books? What do you hope readers will feel when they read your books? 

Vivian: My love affair with books began at the age of two, sitting on my mother’s lap as she turned the pages of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. By the time I was old enough to get a library card, the librarian at our local library already knew me by name. And summers were spent pretty much inhaling books. I always felt that books were a window on the world – I loved finding out about people, places, and things – and even read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover.

My hope is that readers will feel the same thing when they read my books as I felt as a child: engaged and entertained by the story, as well as curious to learn more. I hope my books inspire kids to believe in themselves, and to have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be…and to realize that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it. Because once you have the idea in your mind, you can start taking steps to make it a reality.

Hanh:  Please share the 5 P’s that have guided you on your writing journey.

Vivian: The 5 P’s…thank you for asking about them, Hanh. Once you have the idea of what you want to do, you need to take steps to make that hope or dream a reality. And the 5 P’s apply to anyone setting out to accomplish anything in any field. These ingredients/steps are crucial for success:

Passion: Honestly, if you don’t absolutely LOVE the story you are writing, it’s probably not going to work for you. Having your own connection with the subject or person and having a desire to connect with your readers will help you pour your heart on the page.

Preparation: When I first started writing for children in 2012, I thought that since I got A’s in English, I could just sit down and write picture book manuscripts that would be instantly acquired by editors…but that was not the case.  I needed to take picture book writing classes, attend webinars, study mentor texts, and join critique groups.

Practice: To get good at anything, we need to do it over and over, right? Playing basketball, becoming a dancer, learning to speak a foreign language. And writing is no different. We need to write and revise, write and revise, write and revise.

Patience: The path to publication is a process…it takes TIME! And lots of it. It’s important to have patience with editors and agents – they are overwhelmed. With critique partners – they are juggling their own responsibilities and obligations. And most importantly, be patient with yourself…be kind to yourself…surround yourself with positive people who can encourage and support you.

Perseverance: Never. Give. Up. Success comes to those who push through the rejections and just keep on going.

Hanh:  What is the best advice you’ve ever received on your journey as a writer? Please share resources that have been helpful to you. What would you say to your younger writer-self about the process and journey to publication? 

Vivian: This is a three-part question…and I think the answer to part one and part three is the same: Don’t compare yourself to others! We are each on our own individual journey – and no two journeys will look the same. Some folks juggle full-time jobs. Others have family responsibilities – young children and sometimes, aging parents. Plus, we are different types of writers – some people love to set aside a dedicated writing time each day. But some write when the muse strikes. As long as the fire to write is ignited in your heart – and you are finding joy in what you are doing, you are on the right path.

Regarding resources, we are so very lucky because this kid-lit community rocks – filled with generous mentors and supportive friends. Here is a very short list of some helpful links:


Susanna Leonard Hill/Making Picture Book Magic 

Julie Hedlund/12x12 Challenge 

Tata Lazar/Storystorm Challenge 

Renee LaTulippe/Lyrical Language Lab


Rate Your Story 

Hanh:  I’m excited for your annual 50PreciousWords contest. It is a wonderful opportunity for writers at all stages to hone their craft, receive encouraging feedback and share their stories in a warm and welcoming space. Please share with us more about your uplifting contest.

Vivian: Thank you for asking, Hanh. #50PreciousWords grew from a whim to challenge writers to tell a children’s story with only 50 words or less into an amazing international writing contest that garners 700+ submissions every year. Back in 2016, I’d been reading how editor Bennett Cerf challenged Dr. Seuss to write a story for children with only 50 unique words. And I thought…I’ll go one step further and try to write a story with only 50 words TOTAL! When I opened the challenge to the kid-lit community, the response was phenomenal. And the great thing about it, other than the comment thread of thousands of positive comment and other than the fabulous prizes awarded each year, is that many writers are inspired to be writing, revising, and submitting (exactly what writers need to be doing) and almost every day, someone emails me or messages me to tell me about the agent they got or the book deal they signed with THAT manuscript – sometimes fleshed out – other times edited drastically – but always sparked by their contest entry. I also added a Literacy Initiative – and for the past two years, thanks to the generosity of contest participants, we’ve been able to donate hundreds of brand-new children’s books to local schools in need.

 In addition, since 2018, I’ve hosted a children’s writing challenge: #50PreciousWordsforKids. Young people around the world are invited to write a story for children in 50 words or less…and they can add illustrations, which is a lovely incentive for students who prefer to express themselves with art. Entries are emailed to me by teachers and parents, every child receives a Certificate of Participation, and then ALL the submissions are published on my blog in a special Mother’s Day post. How amazing for the children to see their stories in print! That could be a life-changing moment!  

Thank you, Vivian, for your encouraging and inspiring responses to my questions. Beyond my admiration for you as a writer, I am grateful for our friendship which has been one of the greatest blessings on my creative journey. 

Wishing everyone peace, joy and blessings for 2024. May we continue to write stories that will give us hope and create a kinder world for all. 

You can learn more about Vivian's 50PreciousWords Contest on her website.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. A retired kindergarten teacher with a master's in early childhood education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, Best STEM Book K-12, Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books and 50PreciousWords Contest:

Vivian's Website Facebook X (formerly Twitter) Blue Sky Linkedin Instagram

Hanh’s Website Instagram Facebook X (Formerly Twitter) 

Inspired by her first teacher at the refugee camp, Hanh Bui pursued a master's degree in early childhood education and taught second grade. Her stories are inspired by her immigrant experiences and Vietnamese heritage. She hopes to help all children feel seen and know that their experiences matter. Hanh’s commitment to celebrating her heritage includes giving presentations in school visits about her refugee experience to children studying immigration as part of their school curriculum. She is a member of Diverse Verse and serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài and Ánh's New Word.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Story Lessons from a Holiday Song: Roy Peter Clark Explains How "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" can be a Mentor Text

This article in Poynter. by Roy Peter Clark, What I learned about writing and storytelling from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, is fun holiday (and craft) reading.

The subtitle is great, too: "There may be no more efficient example for teaching the elements of story than the story of Rudolph, just 88 words."

Roy Peter Clark makes his case (in far more than 88 words), and walking through the Names, Telling Detail, Inciting Incident, Story Engine, Mythic Archetypes, and Payoff of a song so many of us know really does, well... pay off.

Enjoy, and here's to more light and joy for us all, in this holiday season and ahead in 2024!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Power of Storytelling

I’ve had the honor of meeting readers at book events and school visits who have shared with me how much my book, The Yellow Áo Dài, means to them. I am especially moved when readers of all ages tell me that my story helps them feel seen, proud of their Vietnamese heritage and that my words are “healing their inner child”. This is how I feel about Ly Ky Tran and her coming-of-age memoir, House of Sticks

Hanh: Please share the inspiration for your book. What do you hope readers will connect with from House of Sticks

Ly: I was an avid reader growing up. I loved getting lost in books and imagining all the different lives and different worlds. But as my own life became increasingly complex and difficult, I found myself yearning to see a story that resembled mine. I wanted to feel less alone in my experiences, but to no avail. When I discovered the power of my own written word, I figured that I could be the one to tell my story, and in the off chance that there was someone out there who experienced what I’d experienced, that at the very least I could help eradicate their loneliness. 

It makes me incredibly happy to see the increase in AAPI representation in literature and the arts in general, and I’m thrilled to see your beautiful book, The Yellow Áo Dài, gracing the shelves. There is so much warmth and tenderness emanating from your characters, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much of it is inspired by your own family and experiences. Could you tell me about the sources you drew from to write this beautiful story? 

Hanh: I’m delighted that you were touched by this story inspired by my daughter and beloved mother-in-law. I appreciate what you shared about your wish to write your own experiences into existence between the pages of your book and to offer comfort to those who may feel the loneliness you experienced. You certainly succeeded in helping others feel seen and less alone. 

My mother-in-law passed away when my daughter was just a baby. My daughter felt alone and different from most of her friends who have grandparents. She began to feel curious about her grandmother. I realized this was the perfect opportunity for me to share with my daughter her special connection not only to her grandmother, but also our Vietnamese heritage. 

In your memoir, you shared the challenges you faced navigating two worlds and how that impacted your day-to-day life. Your words resonated with me because I too grew up in a traditional Vietnamese household feeling the pressure to honor my heritage while also searching for a sense of belonging beyond my homelife. Was there a defining moment in your life that empowered you to believe that you can have agency over who you wanted to be?

Ly: There was this point when I was in my second year of college. I was depressed beyond belief and could barely bring myself to wake up, feed myself, go to school, etc. It was a dark time full of regret, living a life that seemed headed for nothing but failure. In those days, I was always searching for someone or something to blame, my parents, my family, institutions, systemic oppression. It was so easy to point that finger. But after some time, I realized that blame was not a solution. I needed a way to move forward and rewrite my narrative. So, I made the drastic decision to drop out of school. It didn’t make sense to anyone else but me. But I truly felt that if I could fail on my own terms, I could succeed on my own terms as well. Despite not knowing what the future would hold, it was at that moment that I reclaimed my agency. 

In many ways, Naliah’s story is also one of self-ownership while honoring one’s heritage. I adore how Naliah embraces her culture with the help and support of a loving family and admire her courage in owning up to her mistake. What is a moment in your life that required courage? And how did that change you? 

Hanh: Your words resonate with me on so many levels. When I was in high school, both of my grandparents became ill. I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother passed away during my first year of college. I felt utterly lost and struggled to move forward on my life’s journey. After all, my grandmother was my moral compass and anchor in this world. I was torn between feeling like a failure in school or going to college as expected coming from a traditional Vietnamese household where education is prioritized as the path to success. I told my family that I wanted to drop out of school, and they felt I was making a mistake. I’ve always been raised to be obedient to my elders, but I decided to do what I felt was best for my broken self. 

It took a lot of courage for me to make a choice that went against what others believed was best for me. From that moment on, I learned to trust myself and listen to my inner voice. When I was ready to return to college in order to realize my dreams of becoming a teacher, I enrolled in school for me and that made all the difference in the world. My head and heart space were in a better place to navigate the challenges of college life.

How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What has been the most meaningful part of your creative journey?

Ly: The publication journey took me about seven years. When I received my book deal, I had just graduated college, and I was still living the story I was telling. It not only took time to hone my craft but to also create the distance needed to honor the truth of my story. I didn’t set out with some grand notion of love or forgiveness. I set out to simply understand my past, my parents’ past, examine all the details that characterized my life up until that point. And by the end of the process, I was utterly transformed. From the soil of understanding, love and forgiveness blossomed. It was alchemical. 

What did your process look like? And could you talk about your experiences collaborating with an illustrator to make your words visually come to life? The art is absolutely stunning.  

Hanh: My creative process organically stemmed from my need to be a part of the change I wanted to see in our world. I recognized the need for positive representation of marginalized voices in children’s literature and stories that authentically represented the experiences of refugees. I felt a responsibility to write about the many layers of my experiences as a refugee child in hopes that my stories may foster empathy and inspire kindness. After all, I am a testament to the impact of kindness and allyship. 

My collaboration with Minnie Phan, the illustrator for The Yellow Áo Dài, was surreal. To see my words come to life with Minnie’s art was even better than I imagined. Minnie felt a special connection to my protagonist’s experiences in the story because of her own childhood with her mother. The gorgeous art Minnie created for our book elevated the text and made this story even more meaningful and engaging. 

Hanh: When did you know that you wanted to become a writer? How did your own childhood and lived experiences influence your stories? 

Ly: Storytelling has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I learned it from my father, who told me stories about his time in the re-education camps, and I learned it from my mother, who told me fables and parables to teach me valuable lessons. When life got too unbearable, I turned to storytelling as a coping mechanism. But it wasn’t until I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in the ninth grade that I felt the draw of the written word and its power. It was the first book to ever move me to tears. I wanted that, whatever it was, that ability to touch someone’s heart so profoundly that it could make them cry. I think that’s when the seed was planted, and I watered that seed over the years, writing countless iterations of my story until it grew into something that I finally felt was worth sharing with the world. 

How about you? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer, and how does your experience as a schoolteacher impact your writing?

Hanh: I decided to become a writer later in life as a second career in hopes that my stories may help children who have yet to see themselves represented in books. My experiences as a teacher deepened my desire to write stories that show all children that their family experiences and culture are worthy of being shared and have a place on bookshelves. 

Do you feel that there is a through-line or particular theme you’re drawn to, whatever you’re writing, regardless of genre? 

Ly: Yes, I think on a cellular level, the themes I’m drawn to include mental health, womanhood, and loneliness. These themes are ubiquitous in my own life, so I have a lot to draw from. On a more macro-level, I’m interested in the idea of breaking free from the narratives that prevent us from embracing our humanity in all its beauty and all its flaws, and having the courage to be who we are meant to be.

Thank you for having the courage to share your truths. May our words inspire others to know their experiences matter and are needed between the pages of books. I cherish our sisterhood as women and writers.


Instagram     Ly’s Website                         

Instagram, FacebookX (formerly Twitter)Website

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Inspiration Quote: "Art is the highest form of hope"

I saw this brilliant quote by Gerhard Richter in the Phaidon Press book by the same title, 

cover of the book titled "Art is the Highest Form of Hope" with those words in silver on a dark blue background

The quote citation: Gerhard Richter: documenta 7, vol. 1 (Kassel, Germany: D + V Paul Dierichs, 1982), 443, exhibition catalog.

So here's to us each creating our own art, our own highest form of hope, this season and onwards, into 2024 and beyond,

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

Thursday, December 14, 2023

A Serendipitous Meeting: Beyond “The Gap”

Spending time with book creator friends at my local Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference is always a special experience for me as a writer. At the 2022 Conference I had a serendipitous meeting with Chiêu Anh Urban. Our connection was instant, unbelievable, and moving. In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, Chiêu and I immigrated from Vietnam to the United States with our families. We realized that we stayed at the same refugee camp—Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. She was five years old, and I was eight. When the conference was over, we made plans for lunch to continue our conversation about our experiences at “The Gap”. I couldn’t wait to see her again and kept thinking of us as little girls having gone through a similar experience of starting over in a new country. We stood in the same lines for meals at the mess hall. We learned and played in the same outdoor spaces. When we saw each other again we talked for hours. Because she was younger than me, Chiêu wanted to know my memories of “The Gap”. “You must have been one of the cool kids playing with all of the big kids,” Chiêu commented. When I was eight years old adjusting to life in America, I often felt confused and lost. I certainly didn’t feel big or cool. I remember wanting to stay up past my bedtime so I could sing along with my aunts and uncles songs by “The Beatles” under the moonlight. Meeting Chiêu was definitely the highlight of my time at the 2022 Conference. It feels surreal that we both grew up to become children’s book creators. I am thrilled to share our special connection and my interview with Chiêu Anh Urban about her creative journey as an author and illustrator.  

Hanh in orange sweater at 8 years old with her cousin at the refugee camp. 

Chiêu at 5 years old attending a peaceful protest in front of the White House.

Hanh: What is the earliest memory you have of creating art?  

Chiêu: Interestingly, my childhood memory started when I settled in Virginia with my family, following our transition from the refugee camp. Sadly, I don’t remember Vietnam or the journey to America. Toys and books were scarce, but I loved playing make believe - and cut-paper art was a creative outlet for me. I drew bakery displays with all kinds of desserts and paper houses that I decorated with furniture. When my mom wasn’t looking, I took cooked rice and mashed it to a sticky consistency to use as glue. I was about six years old.  

Hanh: When did you know you wanted to become a children’s book writer and an artist?  

Chiêu: I was working as a graphic designer up until my girls were toddlers. We loved novelty books and I especially enjoyed concept driven ones, particularly those about art and colors. But I found myself wanting an interactive story time experience that visually demonstrates how primary colors mix to make secondary ones. I love working with acetate as a medium, and developed my first book idea, Raindrops: A Shower of Colors. The die-cut raindrops consisted of colored film, which were layered on top of each other with a turn of a page. The blue, red and yellow raindrops would blend together to make purple, green, and orange. I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue creating interactive books that encourage hands-on discovery.  

Hanh: Could you walk us through the first steps you take when you begin dreaming and sketching your illustrations for a book?  

Chiêu: I begin my creative process by thinking of interactive formats and concepts, often while paralleling with my daily activities and chores. I jot notes and sketches on paper at hand, on the phone, or in my little sketchbook that I carry with me. It isn’t until after many months' worth of thinking that I’ll sit down, lay out my ideas and start creating art and dummies. Sometimes, it may be a year or two later.  

Hanh: As the author and illustrator of your own books, which comes first, the text or the art? How long does it usually take from early sketches to final art?  

Chiêu: The book format comes first, then the art, and lastly, the text. The length of time from early sketches to final art really depends on how many spreads I’m working on. In my experience, it has taken me somewhere between three to seven months to deliver my first draft.  

Hanh: Do you have a signature style or theme that you incorporate in your books that embodies your creative vision?  

Chiêu: I’m a graphic designer at heart, and have a stylistic approach to my books that are minimalistic in design with clean and bold art. My book formats are conceptualized to help encourage discovery and fun learning.  

Hanh: What emotions do you hope readers will feel when they spend time with your books?  

Chiêu: I hope children have a feeling of empowerment, and that they find it rewarding to discover and learn the concepts introduced in my novelty books. It’s my goal to develop books that offer fun learning and exploration.  

Hanh: What advice would you give to an aspiring children’s book writer or illustrator that you feel has been most helpful to you?  

Chiêu: Create what you love and keep working on new projects and ideas. Try not to take the publishing process personally and stay optimistic. This positive energy is important in developing a long publishing career.  

Hanh: Are there any upcoming exciting projects you’d like to share with us?                        

Chiêu: I often have a few projects in the works at a given time and am hopeful they will develop into books I can share with children and families. 

Hanh: Thank you, Chiêu, for our time together. Your beautiful and engaging board books are for readers of all ages. I appreciate your thoughtful, innovative and child-centered approach.

Chiêu: Thank you, Hanh, for sharing our moment of serendipity. I’ve been to many SCBWI conferences but bumping into you at last year’s conference was truly a blessing. Your presence and stories have filled a void in me I didn’t realize existed. 

Chiêu Anh Urban is a children's book author/illustrator, award-winning graphic designer and format designer. She enjoys creating playful books that provide fun learning and exploration for the youngest readers. Her recent titles are board book series ILLUSIONS in ART (Candlewick Press, October 2023), and 123 ZOOM and ABC ROAR (Little Simon/S&S, 2022). Her novelty books include Color Wonder Hooray for Spring!, Color Wonder Winter is Here!, Quiet as a Mouse: And Other Animal Idioms, Away We Go, and Raindrops: A Shower of Colors.

Chieu’s website Instagram chieu.anh.urban Twitter @ChieuAnhUrban Chieu’s blog


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. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài, April 2023 and Ánh's New Word, May 2024 (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan).

Hanh’s Website Twitter IG Facebook

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Onomatopoeia - words that sounds like what they describe






It's a fun exercise, to see if you can add some of these magical words to your picture book in progress...





comic-style graphic of the word BOOM! surrounded by visual puffs and movement lines

And while Onomatopoeia is hard to spell, there are lots of fun lists online to explore!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Our Stories, Our Legacy

Growing up as a refugee child, I struggled with navigating two worlds—my Vietnamese upbringing and my new life in the United States. I found comfort, safety, and joy between the pages of books. Stories have a way of connecting us and our humanity. Stories build bridges between cultures and foster compassion. Writing stories has empowered me to remember the goodness in our world, honor my heritage, and fulfill my purpose of showing all children that their experiences matter. Our narratives may be uniquely ours, but the themes in our stories are universal and the emotions our words evoke unite us. It has been wonderful getting to know Hà Đinh and Kerisa Greene whose heartwarming stories help readers see themselves between the pages of books and celebrate their culture. 
Hanh: Please share the inspiration for your book. How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What is something you want readers to know about Where Wildflowers Grow?   
Hà: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story with you! I have been carrying this story in my heart since I left the Philippines Refugee Processing Center at 5 years old. The memories, the friendships, and the hope that I experienced there at the refugee camp stayed with me all of these years, and I knew that one day I would honor this special place in my own way. It took almost three years from the time I wrote the first draft of the release of Where Wildflowers Grow. I hope that readers who have moved and had to say goodbye to their friends and loved ones can relate to Hà’s emotional struggles and finding hope in the future. I also hope that readers who are not familiar with the plight of refugees around the world gain more understanding and empathy for those who are forced to relocate to find a better life for themselves and their families. 
Hanh: Please share a bit about your creative journey and what has been most rewarding to you? What is the most helpful advice you’ve ever gotten on your writing or publishing journey?
Hà: I have been so incredibly lucky and blessed to have met so many supportive friends along the way who have been and continue to be my mentors, advisors, critique partners, and allies in the writing community to help elevate my writing and voice. Seeing children reading my story and finding themselves in it or being able to relate to Hà or wanting more information on refugees have been the most rewarding part of writing for me. The most helpful advice that I have received is to hone into the small moments in my stories to make them more impactful and relatable for the reader. I honestly live for the small moments in my life, so this advice resonates with me so much. 
Hanh: When did you know that you wanted to become a writer? How did your own childhood and lived experiences influence your stories? Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share with us? 
Hà: I have always been drawn to stories based on real life events as a child, so I knew that I wanted to write stories based on different aspects of my life. I write best when the stories are from my lived experiences because I am able to draw from my own memories and emotions. My next work that is also inspired by my life and it is lovingly titled The Jade Bracelet, which is based on a jade bracelet that my late mom gifted me as a child. This picture book will be published 2025 with Random House Studio. 
Hanh: Please share the inspiration for your book. How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What is something you want readers to know about I Am Both
Kerisa: I Am Both is the story of my mother and her family leaving Saigon on the last flight out during the war. I started the first draft in early 2021 and the book doesn’t come out until April 2024, so about three years! I wrote this story to share my family’s incredible journey in hopes that it will be a comfort to any child who has moved somewhere new — to the readers, I want you to know that home is in the foods that comfort you, love is anywhere your family is, and you my dear, belong. 
Hanh: What challenges have you faced on your creative journey and how did you overcome them? What has been most rewarding? What is the most helpful advice you’ve ever gotten on your writing or publishing journey? 
Kerisa: As an author and illustrator, I’ve struggled with balancing writing new stories and improving my craft as an artist. Honestly, I still struggle with it, but now I put less pressure on myself and focus only on creating for the joy of it. Going through this publishing journey with an incredible support system has been so rewarding. Everyone from my critique partners, agent, editors, and art directors have been so kind and encouraging. The most helpful piece of advice that I often think about is that “the ones who make it are the ones who don’t give up.” So, whether you are just starting out, in the querying trenches, or out on sub — don’t give up, your time will come! 
Hanh: When did you know that you wanted to become a writer and an artist? How did your own childhood and lived experiences influence your stories? Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share with us?
Kerisa: I’ve been told that as a child I drew and wrote stories all the time, so I suppose becoming an author-illustrator was inevitable! I’ve always loved storytelling and reading so being able to share inspiring stories, my culture, and spread joy through books is a dream come true. Yes, I am just now wrapping up final art for my new book Legendary Cakes: A Story of Tết, the Vietnamese New Year that will be coming out January 2025. The book is about two young siblings who learn the legend behind making bánh chưng during Tết and celebrate their culture through food, tradition, and storytelling. 
Thank you, and Kerisa for sharing with us your creative journey. Your stories are ones I wished I would have had when I was a child. I am excited to see all of your books out in the world and in the hands of kids! 

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. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài, April 2023 and Ánh's New Word, May 2024 (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan).

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Two Options for the SCBWI Winter Conference - In-Person and Virtual!


The In-Person conference 
Come and be inspired by renowned authors and illustrators, learn about the state of the children's book publishing industry from panels of agents, editors and art directors, dive deep into your craft with TWO three-hour Creative Labs, and get your work in front of industry professionals! 

The Virtual conference
Can't make it to the In-Person Winter Conference in New York City? Join us at this online event featuring the recorded keynotes and panels from the New York Conference, a choice of three deep-dive Creative Labs, a live marketing pitch-off with the opportunity to win money to market your book PLUS networking and peer critique opportunities! Video recordings of all the Virtual Conference sessions will be made available to attendees for 30 days after the event under RESOURCES.

We hope you'll join us for one of these! 

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,