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, Hà 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).