• Children’s Stories from Viet Nam and the Vietnamese Diaspora

    This year, I’m returning to Vietnam, a journey I could only imagine till now. Come with me through stories for children I’ve been reading over so many of years with children in story programs and with adults learning English. I include folktales, a contemporary story about a child who paddles a sampan across a lagoon to get to school in the Mekong Delta, to a story of recent history about a mother wishing safety for her child as they flee by boat.

    A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui, Capstone, 2017.

    Bao Phi is from the newest generation of writers. He came as a child with his family who migrated to the U.S. after the American war in Vietnam.

    A Different Pond by Phi, who is also a poet, is illustrated by the amazing graphic artist and writer, Thi Bui. Bao Phi tells a story of a small Vietnamese-American boy’s ritual of fishing early in the morning with his father. They’re catching food for supper before the father goes to work, one of his two jobs. The text and illustrations capture the boy’s respect for his father. They show his growing skill in their ritual, his fear, and the tight web of their family as they learn to survive in the U.S. This story is a model for writers who seek to tell their own migration story. The author selects one ritual vital to the life of a migrant family and allows the emotion and the story to flow from it.

    My Footprints by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran, Capstone, 2019

    Bao Phi returned to Capstone Publishing with a second book, My Footprints. A little girl with her two Vietnamese moms, think of the strongest animals they can imagine. Thuy wants to be THAT strong when she’s bullied.  Together, they become a phoenix. “Thuy sees their shadows curl into long blue feathers.” She and her moms “hold hands with Thuy in the middle, then spread their arms wide so that together their shadows form a great wingspan.” Then Thuy makes up her own magical creature all “different shades of pretty.” In the lovely, child-silly climax, Thuy creates a creature of her own. She steps into her own powerful footprints.

    My First Day by Phùng Nguyên Quang & Huynh Kim Liên, Make Me a World, imprint of Random House, 2021.

    The author/illustrator team live and work in Ho Chi Minh City. My First Day is a fantastical yet universal experience, told in sweeping panoramas of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. A small boy paddles a sampan through the river on his way to his first day at school.  “I paddle out into the floodwaters, past yesterdays and all the things I didn’t know.” His journey is through mangroves, past crocodiles, under sky that is a “crayon box of colors.” The boy meets up with laughing children paddling their own little boats to arrive at their school on the banks of the Mekong. 

    Wishes by Múón Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai, Orchard Books, 2021.

    “The night wished it was quieter. The bag wished it was deeper. The light wished it was lighter.” With such simple lines giving emotion to inanimate objects, Van tells the deep fear and emotion of a mother boarding a boat with her little girl and a baby, having left all they love at home. Van helps young child readers imagine the courage to continue the voyage.

    Interior illustration by Jeanne M. Lee from her retelling of the folktale, Toad is the Uncle of Heaven.

    Con Cóc là Cậu Ông Trời (Toad is the Uncle of Heaven)

    The toad’s legacy goes like this: In a time long forgotten, Heaven made a drought so vicious, so brutal, that the lakes and rivers were sucked dry.” This line is from a version of the tale found on the site of DiaCritics, the Diasporic Vietnamese Artist Network .The Toad is the Uncle of Heaven is the story of a toad who is considered ugly by the other animals, but he shows his great worth to them in the time of the terrible drought. The tale warns about being judgmental, and also explains why toads croak before a big rain.

    Jeanne M. Lee retold the tale and many, many other tales from Vietnam and Cambodia including I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told.

    For those a bit older:

    The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden and Thây Pháp Niêm, Candlewick, 2008.

    Niêm and Marsden help children understand the Buddhism of Vietnam. The book is a retelling of a talk Niêm gave  at the Deer Park Monastery in California. “One Sunday, Thây Pháp Niêm told the children how his Vietnamese village had been destroyed by a cyclone – and how this devastating experience opened him to a deep encounter with the Buddha.” Niêm’s childhood experiences form the basis of The Buddha’s Diamonds. A year after the storm, Niêm escaped post-war Vietnam in a small boat and made it to safety. He later became a Buddhist monk.

  • Writer for Children Reflects on Intercultural Collaboration

    Author Terry Farish reflects on the collaboration process for A Feast for Joseph with writing partner OD Bonny and gets insights from other authors and illustrators who have also collaborated on children’s books.

    School Library Journal OnLine

    This is also a reading essay about books by contemporary children’s book authors who are writing collaboratively, often from different cultural perspectives. Writers include Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan (A Place at the Table), Charles Waters and Irene Latham (Can I Touch Your Hair), Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran (Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team), Louisa Jaggar and Shari Becker (Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States), Anne Sibley O’Brien and Reza Jalali (Moon Watchers) and OD Bonny and Me (A Feast for Joseph). We describe our processes which are each quite different.

    Writer for Children Reflects on Intercultural Collaboration, SLJ online

  • Unanswered by Do Nguyen Mai

    As I prepare to return to Vietnam, I found this exquisite poem by Do Mguyen Mai who is from California.

    Unanswered by Do Nguyen Mai

    After Joshua Nguyen

    Em ơi,

    don’t look back

    when my spine snaps

    against the cold click

    of the trigger,

    when my lungs flood

    with the fullness

    of the night sky,

    when my body drops

    headfirst

    when the ocean folds

    its palms over my chest,

    when my ribcage whistles

    with the waking shore,

    when the water ripples,

    when the boat tips over,

    when I become the sea

    swelling beneath your swaying ship –

    em ơi,

    I will carry you

    to shore.

    Do, Mai N. (2019) “Three Poems: Charges Against a Newborn; Unanswered; For the First Generation,” Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement: Vol. 14 : Iss. 1 , Article 3. DOI: 10.7771/2153-8999.1183 Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jsaaea/vol14/iss1/3

    https://donguyenmai.com/

  • New Class: Writing a Picture Book, Adult Class

    Terry’s presentation style is lyrical, engaging and her love of the medium was infectious.” Laura Horwood-Benton, Public Programming & Community Relations Librarian, Portsmouth Public Library.

    I’m offering this Online workshop especially for libraries. Thank you, librarians, for doing essential work this past year to keep kids and all of us connected with the books we need. The workshop fee is negotiable.

    “Writing a Picture Book”

    Picture books for children are poems with pictures. They can be funny. They can bring a family memory to life. Maria Popova describes picture books as “stories that tackle with elegant simplicity such complexities as uncertainty, loneliness, loss, and the cycle of life.”

    What makes a story one that children will love?  What are the components that blend and form the structure and beauty of a picture book story? 

    In this two-week workshop with a focus on writing the picture book, participants will explore – by word and image – how one picture book is made. Please join author Terry Farish to explore the narrative components that help a picture book sing.

    Terry will offer prompts and guidelines for participants to write their own picture book in Part I of the workshop. Part II is a Picture Book Writing Group in which participants are invited to share their picture books in progress and join in discussion about the group member’s work.

    Praise for “Writing a Picture Book”

    “Terry was so generous with her time in reviewing and offering constructive comments on all participants’ work, in a warm and encouraging manner that was a joy to witness. Her presentation style is lyrical, engaging and easy to follow, and her love of the medium was infectious. We had unanimously positive feedback from those who attended, and hope to offer the workshop again in the future. Laura Horwood-Benton, Public Programming & Community Relations Librarian, Portsmouth Public Library


    “Terry’s Writing a Picture Book workshop created a spark that ignited a first draft in a week! Her enthusiasm for the picture book genre was evident from the first presentation. As she read excerpts from different picture book categories, I felt the magic between each book’s covers.  She encouraged us to experiment with the structures we heard and to hang our own stories on their hooks. Most importantly, to be brave in the telling. As we shared our drafts, Terry’s questions guided us. We learned more about writing as we analyzed each other’s drafts and benefited from receiving gentle, honest feedback on our own writing.
                                                                Participant, Dunbarton, NH

    “I thought the three prompts provided were helpful and they reminded me that each of us was probably starting out from a different point and that each draft contained the possibility of several different stories–fiction may free itself from fact. The prompts and the comments of my fellow authors helped me identify the central issue to [my story]. Will my character overcome her passive role and assert herself to obtain a treasured pet and then show it off to perfect strangers? The input I received made me realize that [my character’s] triumph was what had prompted me to write the story in the first place. I’m now enthusiastically engaged in reworking the text to do just that. Participant, California

       “Writing a Picture Book” Handout with Reading List

    Here’s an essay that introduces my approach to “Writing a Picture Book” with examples from beautifully crafted stories.