The Backstory: The Yellow Áo Dài
Hanh Bui joins The Backstory today with her beautiful book, The Yellow Áo Dài with illustrations by Minnie Phan. This is a gorgeous book about family, forgiveness, and culture. Keep reading to learn about the inspiration behind The Yellow Áo Dài and for your chance to win one of two copies that are up for grabs.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration
behind The Yellow Áo Dài.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
HB: Naliah is excited to perform a traditional Vietnamese Fan Dance at her school’s
International Day. When she finds that her special áo dài no longer fits, she goes to
her mom’s closet to find another. She puts on a pretty yellow one―the color of
happiness and forsythia blossoms. While practicing the Fan Dance, she accidentally
rips it. She’s disheartened to discover that this was a very special áo dài that her
grandmother had worn to dance at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam. With a little
help from her mom’s sewing kit and her grandmother’s loving legacy, Naliah learns
not only how to mend the yellow áo dài but also how to believe in herself and make it
AH: You have created such a sweet story of family and culture interlaced with beautiful poetic language. I can already imagine all of the families who will be inspired to share their own stories with one another after reading this book.
AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea
HB: Every year my children’s school hosts Grandparents’ Day. I always attended this special celebration with my daughter hoping she wouldn’t feel left out. My daughter was sad that she didn’t have grandparents like most of her friends. She has always been curious about her beloved grandmother and wished she would have known her. One day, I saw my daughter admiring her grandmother’s áo dàis hanging in my closet. She said the dresses looked fancy like what princesses wear. She especially loved the yellow one with beautiful embroidered flowers. She wanted to try it on, but she was only six years old and the áo dài was too big for her. After some back-and-forth, we agreed she could wear it when she is sixteen. My daughter loved learning that her grandmother was crowned Mid-Autumn Princess in her village when she was a school girl and yellow was also her grandmother’s favorite color. My daughter was comforted knowing she and her kind grandmother had so many things in common. I knew at that moment that this was a story seed.
AH: How wonderful that so much of this inspiration made it into the final product and I love being able to see how some aspects of that original inspiration morphed and changed on their path to being published.
AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now The Yellow
Áo Dài? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you
need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the
HB: I started jotting down notes that evening. I did not want to forget the things my daughter asked or shared with me. This was a pivotal moment in my daughter’s life. Talking about her grandmother comforted her and helped her to feel connected to the grandmother she never knew. I thought of other children who, like my daughter, may also be missing someone special in their life or feel different because they do not have a grandparent.
This story also allowed me to introduce readers to my Vietnamese words, culture and
traditions. I hope that The Yellow Áo Dài will inspire readers to share their own family
stories and know that even when someone is no longer with us, their memory lives on.
AH: I think you have succeeded masterfully in crafting a story that can be universally related to, while infusing your culture into the text to help provide windows and mirrors for the readers.
Did The Yellow Áo Dài undergo any major changes/revisions from the original
version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
HB: As with most books, this manuscript also went through many rounds of revisions before it became a complete story. Overall, the heart of the story remained the same. However, I did add more layers of family love and child agency to make this story more meaningful and engaging. I was fortunate to collaborate with Minnie Phan as the illustrator for this book. We are both Vietnamese Americans and Minnie connected with the story from childhood memories with her mother. Minnie's addition of a sweet bunny friend for Naliah was such a wonderful surprise. It was surreal to see how Minnie brought to life my words with her beautiful art.
AH: I couldn't agree more with how beautiful Minnie's art is! I love the way she represented your lyricism on the page. It made for dynamic images and added a touch of whimsy to the book.
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on The Yellow
HB: Two books that have always resonated with me are The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee and Under My Hijab by Hena Khan. These heartwarming stories celebrate family love, cultural traditions and a child’s vivid imagination. I admire the storytelling voice of both of these authors.
AH: As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars
to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?
HB: SCBWI and Highlights Foundation have been instrumental in helping me hone my craft, build community and gain a better understanding of kid lit industry. I also feel it is
important to support other authors and indie bookstores no matter where you are on
your creative journey.
AH: Yes to all of it! Both of those organizations offer incredible opportunities for new and seasoned creatives. And a resounding YES to supporting authors and indie bookstores!!! We can't so this without each other.
AH: Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
HB: My next book Ánh’s New Word will be published Spring 2024, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. This story is based on my experiences learning English at a refugee
camp. I wrote this story in honor of my first teacher in America and my grandmother.
Their steadfast love and gentle guidance helped me to overcome my shyness and
embrace my voice in a new language. I am delighted to share that I also have another
book in the works. It has been a dream come true to write for children.
AH: I love when our guests have more in the works! Congratulations on your forthcoming books. I can't wait to learn more about them.
Where can people connect more with you?
HB: My website hanhbui.net has up-to-date book news and more about me. My social media handles are X formerly Twitter @HanhBuiWrites, Facebook hbui333, and Instagram @hbui333.
AH: Readers, please connect with Hanh on social media and check out her website for more information about The Yellow Áo Dài. And while you are at it, please consider supporting The Yellow Áo Dài in any way you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Hanh, thank you for joining us on The Backstory and for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at The Yellow Áo Dài.
Hanh is generously offering two winners (US only) a copy of The Yellow Áo Dài.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT HANH BUI
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, Spring 2024 (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan).
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.