Sep 10, 2021 / 20:33

Vietnamese children’s picture book featured on US press

A book about a boy living in the Mekong River Delta, the southern part of Vietnam, has recently been featured in the US press on the occasion of the new school year.

The picture book titled Hanh trinh dau tien (My First Day) by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien has just been introduced to American readers by the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

In an article called “Children’s Books: Back to School We Go!” (The Wall Street Journal) author Meghan Cox Gurdon mentioned the comic book that tells the story of the first special journey to school made by a young boy named An.

The picture book entitled 'My First Day' was changed its cover and published in February by Penguin Random House, United State. Photo: Kaa Illustration 

This is no ordinary first journey. The rainy season has come to the Mekong Delta, and An has to set out alone in a wooden boat wearing a little backpack and armed only with a single oar.

On the way, he is confronted by giant crested waves, heavy rainfall and eerie forests where fear takes hold of him. Although daunted by the dark unknown, An realizes that he is not alone and continues to paddle. He knows it will all be worth it when he reaches his destination-one familiar to children all over the world: School.

According to Meghan, “this sumptuous picture book for children ages three to seven, show how differently children may get to class, jitter on the first day are universal,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Krauss from New York Times included My First Journey in a list of eight featured picture books in the article called “Finding Your Own Way With Words, and Images”.

“Quang and Lien’s large-scale art goes edge to edge across double pages, and their words are spare, to show how tiny humans are in relation to nature, and how much some will risk to get an education,” Jennifer wrote.

The book is the brainchild of illustrator duo Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, who completed its first draft in two weeks. Photo: Kaa Illustration 

According to Mel Schuit, founder of US-based ‘Let's Talk Picture Books’- a project specialized in reviewing children’s books, ‘Vietnamese painters of the book are really getting a chance to shine with heavily-detailed illustrations that take up whole spreads and stretch beyond the boundaries of the page’.

“Alternately using deep shadows and bright streaks of light during key emotional moments, Lien conveys a wide range of tones and emotions that perfectly accompany Quang's sparse, lyrical text,” she said.

As for Elizabeth Hopes, an English teacher in Hanoi, the illustration of the book is amazing in that it left her speechless about its beauty.

“I first stumbled upon this book when looking for some reading material for my students,” she told The Hanoi Times, “Then, I ended up buying it for me as well”.

“The end of the story made the entire meaning of the book so much deeper. Both the art and the content of the story are fantastic depicting the diversity of Vietnamese culture and nature,” she added.

An’s journey is not like many other children’s around the world since he lives in the Mekong Delta and has to pilot a small wooden boat to school every day. Photo: Kaa Illustration 

According to the two authors of the book, My First Day was strongly influenced by famous novel titled ‘Huong rung Ca Mau’ (The Flavor of Ca Mau Mangrove Forest) by writer Son Nam. The outstanding illustrations in the book are all typical images of the Mekong River Delta.

“Hopefully the comic book is not only a warm greeting from Vietnam to international friends, but also our gift to Vietnamese children on the occasion of every new school year season,” they told The Hanoi Times.

My First Day was first created by these two Vietnamese artists in 2014. This is also an award-winning children’s book that clinched the top prize at the Asia-wide Scholastic Picture Book Award competition, Singapore in 2016.

Since being published in 2018, the book has always been in the ‘Best Seller’ category of Kim Dong Publishing House.

The English version of the book which was translated by Christopher Myers was published by Penguin Random House in February this year.