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Interview with Hanh Bui: Ánh’S NEW WORD, illustrated by Bao Luu (F&F/Macmillan) 

I first heard about Hanh Bui and Ánh’s New Word during the SCBWI Summer Conference last year, when I covered the Debut Author Panel for Team Blog; you can read my post on the SCBWI Conference Blog. Beautifully illustrated by Bao Luu, Ánh’s New Word is about a child living in a Vietnamese refugee camp who learns their first word in English with help from their teacher and grandmother.

Author: Hanh Bui ~ Illustrator: Bao Luu
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan ~ Publication date: May 14, 2024
Age range: 3-6 years

Synopsis: A child living in a Vietnamese refugee camp learns their first word in English with the help from their kind teacher and loving grandmother. This story is based on the author’s childhood experiences overcoming self-doubt when she discovers a special item of clothing that sparks her curiosity and ignites her courage to embrace her voice in a new language while navigating two worlds.

Take a look inside ÁNH’S NEW WORD here.

Inspired by her teacher at a refugee camp, Hanh Bui grew up to become a teacher. She is the author of THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI and ÁNH’S NEW WORD. Her books are based on her immigrant experiences. Hanh is a member of Diverse Verse and serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI. You can learn more about Hanh Bui on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Q. How was ÁNH’S NEW WORD created? 

I was eight years old when my family and I immigrated to the United States. Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania served as temporary housing for thousands of displaced Vietnamese refugees. Miss Marilou volunteered to teach English and I became her student. Inspired by her kindness, I grew up to become a teacher so I may also help children feel safe and seen.

I wrote ÁNH’S NEW WORD as a tribute to my first teacher and to all teachers for the important work they do. I had the honor of having this book published with the support of my agent, my editor and the team at Macmillan Feiwel & Friends. I am grateful for my editor’s guidance in helping me tell my story with authenticity representing the experiences of a refugee child learning a new language. Even in the midst of so much uncertainty, there was hope and kindness. I worked closely with my editor, Bao Luu(illustrator) and the art director to develop this complex yet universal story of family love, courage and resilience.

Q. Were you involved in the choice of the illustrator? What interaction with the illustrator did you have during the process, if any? What was your reaction when you first saw the illustrations?

My editor suggested three illustrators for this book and asked for my thoughts as to which one I felt was best for my story. I researched each illustrator online and spent time with their art. I connected with Bao Luu’s art and was delighted when he said “yes” to being the illustrator for ÁNH’S NEW WORD . I appreciate Bao taking the time to learn about the Vietnamese resettlement at Fort Indiantown Gap as part of his process.

The color palette he chose and the details of the refugee camp perfectly capture the setting and time period of this story. Throughout the process of creating this book, my editor kept us in the loop and I was able to thank Bao for bringing my words to life with his art layered with emotions. When I saw the final art, I teared up thinking of my grandmother and how much she would have loved this book honoring the kindness of helpers. I can’t wait to share this book with Miss Marilou as thank you for being the teacher I needed.

Q. What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

It is my hope that young readers will feel empowered by this story so they, too, can do hard things and to believe in the kindness of helpers. It is also my wish for readers to connect with ÁNH’S NEW WORD and grow in empathy for the experiences of others who struggle with challenges that are different than their own. Growing up I didn’t see myself between the pages of books. I write stories I wished I had when I was a refugee child struggling with big emotions as I navigated life in a new country. I hope children today who are going through a similar journey will feel less alone knowing their experiences matter and there are people who care.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers? 

Write the story only you can tell. Oftentimes those stories are the ones inspired by your own experiences and exist within you. Being a writer is a big undertaking, but it is worth it to be able to tell the stories that you’ve dreamed of sharing. 

Above photo of Hanh’s writing space: “It doesn’t always look this tidy, especially while working on revisions or deadlines.”

Q. What are you excited about now? 

I am looking forward to sharing ÁNH’S NEW WORD with Miss Marilou when we reunite this summer. It has been forty-nine years since we first met at the refugee camp and she was my teacher. To celebrate this book that honors our special connection and to tell her in our shared language how I feel about her is a dream come true.

Related media and interviews here


Also see other Interviews with Book Creators and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators.

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