A couple months ago, I had the honor and joy of reading a beautiful picture book by a new author named HANH BUI.
I am excited to share my review for the book as well as an interview with HANH on how the book came to be. Here is my review:
A beautiful story of culture, family, and tradition told in loving and gentle prose. The illustrations are lively and animated, filled with the emotions of Naliah and her love for her family. A perfect addition to a multi-cultural library collection.
Here’s my interview with author HANH BUI:
What an honor and pleasure it is to read your beautiful book! Thank you for sharing it with me. How did you decide to write this story with the focus on this special tradition of the dance and the AO DAI?
I decided to write THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI after my daughter shared her sadness with not having a grandparent to attend her school’s Grandparent’s Day. Every year, I would be there with her on that special occasion. She said it wasn’t the same because unlike her classmates, she was the only one who didn’t have at least one grandparent. She also wished she would have known her beloved grandmother (my mother-in-law). The idea for the story came to me when I saw my daugher admiring her grandmother’s traditional Vietnamese dresses hanging in my closet. She asked if she could try on the yellow áo dài. I told her it was much too big for her since she was only 6 years old. After some negotiating, we settled on her being able to wear the dress when she’s sixteen. However, I did let her try it on for a bit so she may feel a connection to her grandmother. This was the beginning of my story seed. The Fan Dance is a nod to my childhood experiences dancing the Fan Dance at my school’s International Day.
We live in such a disposable society, where clothing is used, tossed. I love the idea of a garment so special it is handed down through the generations. What inspired you to tell this particular story?
As Vietnamese refugees, we could only bring a few items of clothing on our journey to America. My mother-in-law loved her special áo dàis as they were treasured keepsakes from her homeland. Each one was carefully crafted by a seamtress whose exquisite art are lovingly stitched on to each dress. If my mother-in-law ever had a rip or needed alterations, she would use her sewing kit to repair her dresses to be worn again and again. Her beautiful áo dàis have become family heirlooms passed from generation to generation. I also wanted to celebrate the sewing skills of Vietnamese women who often learned at a very young age how to mend clothes and create new ones.
How do you pronounce AO DAI?
The word áo dài is pronounced ow-YAI. My editor and the design team came up with a clever way to help readers pronounce the word and remember it. They put in the beginning of the book before the story begins that áo dài rhymes with “now fly”. This is so thoughtful because in the book, Naliah grows in courage to soar by the end of the story.
I love how yellow is the color of happiness. (It’s my favorite color.) Was choosing this color intentional?
Yes, choosing this color was intentional. Yellow is my dauhgter’s and my mother-in-law’s favorite color. It is such a joyful color and I wanted to share the special meaning of this color in Vietnamese culture. I love that yellow is also your favorite color!
The illustrations are lovely and so full of animation and Naliah’s emotions. Did you have any input? What are your feelings about them?
I was thrilled when my editor announced that Minnie Phan would be the illustrator for this book. My editor and the design team at Macmillan F&F were respectful of the process and welcomed my thoughts when Minnie shared the sketches. They really cared about making sure that my story is portrayed authentically. Since Minnie is also Vietnamese American, she was familiar with the Fan Dance and her mother also gifted her a yellow áo dài. Collaborating with Minnie on this story and honoring our Vietnamese heritage together made this debut book even more meaningful. I love the finished book. The art beautifully portrays the heart of our story.
What message do you want readers to take away from this story of culture, family, and tradition?
I want readers to know that even when someone we love isn’t near or has passed on, the connection we feel for them will always exist in our stories, traditions and the love we all share. I also hope that THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI will inspire readers to learn more about their family’s keepsakes, traditions and stories.
Anything else you’d like to share? What’s next?
I’m excited to share that my next picture book is inspired by my first teacher in America and the lifelong impact of a kind teacher. In this story I will share with readers my first English word. Thank you for your thoughtful questions, Darlene. You have been a kind friend and ally on my creative journey.
Hanh’s book will be out in the world in April. In honor of her three children, she is giving away THREE signed copies to lucky winners who doesn’t mind waiting for this gem. Please leave a comment and (if you care to) share a story of a family heirloom that has meant a lot to generations in your family. Three winners will be chosen at random and announced later this month.
Inspired by her first teacher at the refugee camp, Hanh Bui pursued a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and taught second grade before becoming a full-time mother to three children. She also served as a Development Officer for Senhoa Foundation in support of women and children who survived human trafficking in Cambodia, and has served on boards supporting children and parents in building community. 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 serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI, and has been featured in Highlights For Children magazine and Next Avenue. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài and Ánh’s New Word.