Book Review w/ Author Q&A | The #picturebooks of Muon Van (“In A Village by the Sea” and “Little Tree”) with a lovely convo about her creative style of writing stories for children.

Posted Sunday, 3 January, 2016 by jorielov , , , , , 0 Comments

Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin.

Acquired Book By:

I was selected to review “In A Village by the Sea” by JKS Communications: A Literary Publicity Firm. After I was putting together this showcase, to highlight both the story and a conversation with the author, I learnt of her second picture book “Little Tree”; enabling me to combine my showcase to feature both releases. JKS is the first publicity firm I started working with when I launched Jorie Loves A Story in August, 2013. I am honoured to continue to work with them now as a 2nd Year Book Blogger. I received my complimentary copy of In A Village by the Sea (hardback) and Little Tree (PDF) direct from the publicist at JKS Communications in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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I decided I wanted to switch things up a bit today, and offer the conversation before my thoughts on behalf of the illustrated stories contained within the picture books of Muon Van! In this way, I wanted the author’s own words to help define the stories and in some ways, give an extra layer of enjoyment to my readers as they read this ahead of knowing what I found inside the books themselves! Enjoy!

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My convo with Muon Van on her creative way of giving children a beautiful ‘first start’ towards embracing creative stories built on family, hearth and love:

How did you create In A Village by the Sea to bespeak of such a grounding of autobiographical inspiration and homage to your heritage whilst renewing the spirit of Vietnam for those of us who are not as familiar with the country?

Van responds: I come from a long line of fisherfolk on both sides of the family, which is pretty unusual for both an American and Vietnamese-American. I grew up with my dad at sea most of the time, and eating seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so I wanted to write a story that would reflect those experiences.

Whilst your father was away fishing, how did your mother encourage you and your siblings not to worry about his safety and well being? Were the passages of home and hearth reminiscent of your mother tending to the home? I ask as there is such a lot of warmth and love set inside this story, it softens the concerns of dangers at sea. 

Van responds: Even though fishing is considered one of the most dangerous occupations around, my siblings and I didn’t consider it as such while we were growing up–it was just what our dad did. My mother definitely tended the home–cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping, dressing, educating nine kids! I always knew she was a superwoman and supermom but after I had my first kid, I was amazed!

I was curious about the process you took with April Chu to bring your story to life through her illustrations – can you explain how you worked together to give the reader such a wellspring of living realism whilst deepening it with thought-provoking narrative?

Van responds: Unlike what most people think, April and I did not collaborate in real-time on the book–we only met once it was completed! April only received a plain, unannotated manuscript and knowledge that the story was dedicated to my father, a Vietnamese fisherman. With just those pieces of information, she was able to imagine and execute the brilliant art in the book. I, and the readers, are truly lucky!

The spirit of Vietnam is strongly lit inside you, as the story that is set inside this picture book is alarmingly clear and visually stunning – when you wrote the words that are featured against the illustrations did the final copy read to you like the internal visuals you had whilst you had written the story?

Van responds: I believe the published visuals are faithful to the story but in my imagination, they were spare and monochromatic, sort of like the verse. I was surprised, and delighted, by the outcome.

What has caused the fishing lifestyle of the villages in Vietnam to disappear? Is it the culture of the time that is changing or is the fishing industry unable to support itself, as this happens in other countries as well?

Van responds: I can’t speak to all fishing lifestyles in Vietnam–just the one in my ancestral village. The villagers there, and the ones who have migrated to America, have found the the income derived from fishing is not as great, or sustainable, as it is through other means. While most of my relatives worked in fishing when they first arrived in America, most now work in the cosmetic (nails) industry, as it’s lower-risk and more profitable.

In your heart, your drawn to the sea as it states in your biography you live near it; what do you find the most alluring balm about the sea and how it’s set a harmonic pulse inside your life?

Van responds: Probably that it seems so vast and unknowable (you can only see a bit of it at a time, from a beach or a boat or an airplane). I also like the color blue :)

In The Little Tree the colour contrasts are brilliantly bright and pop with vitality whereas the colour contrasts in In A Village by the Sea is more traditional and classic. Did you have input about the colour spectrum for the illustrations and books?

Van responds: No, but I love that they are so different.

The Little Tree is philosophical and intuitive, giving children a pause to think about the larger scale of life and how the circle of life evolves during our lifetime. How did you tap into this life lesson whilst writing such a cleverly witty story?

Van responds: I was inspired after my first (and so far, only) trip back to Vietnam in nearly thirty years. I thought about how my parents must have felt when we left and how they would felt about it now, thirty years later.

I love how you’ve stitched familial history inside your stories – you write from the heart and your stories have a living spirit about them. How did you capture the moment of recognition to be given to the Little Tree by the Little Seed’s leaf? It was such a warm gesture of love from a child to a mother.

Van responds: Parents will always know their children, right? (Ask me this again in thirty years; my older child is only four :))

You give so much of your own heart to your writings and you leave fingerprints of affection in your closing statements where your ancestry and your family are illuminated in short stories of recollection. How did your family react to the picture books and of your continuance of carrying forward your living histories to inspire children and adults alike?

Van responds: My family likes to play it cool but I think one day soon, one of them will get choked up reading it to their daughter or son. Three, soon to be four, of my brothers just had their first child!

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Truly blessed to have had the chance to ask these questions of Ms Van and to have your responses threaded inside my showcase! I was truly touched by the warmth of her words in her stories and wanted to gain a bit more insight into how she created the world in which I lived for the time I soaked inside her picture books! I can definitely foresee many Mums and Das appreciating ‘reading time’ with their children as they pick up either volume and enter a world of family and timeless love!

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Book Review w/ Author Q&A | The #picturebooks of Muon Van (“In A Village by the Sea” and “Little Tree”) with a lovely convo about her creative style of writing stories for children.In a Village by the Sea
by Muon Van
Illustrator/Cover Designer: April Chu
Source: Publisher via JKS Communications

Written in a spare, lyrical style using fresh, evocative imagery, this richly illustrated picture book is about longing for the comforts of home while braving the adventures and perils of the wide world.

In a house by the sea, a woman is cooking. Near the woman, a baby is crying. Under the floor, a cricket is painting. In the painting, a fisherman rides stormy seas, longing to get home to his wife and infant…

The perfect book for teaching about diverse cultures and lifestyles, children will delight in this beautiful story which pays homage to the vanishing fishing culture in Vietnam, honors courage and sacrifice, and celebrates hearth and home.

Genres: Children's Literature, Early Reader Stories, Illustrated Stories

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781939547156

Published by Creston Books LLC

on 9th June, 2015

Format: Hardcover Edition

Pages: 32

Published By: Creston Books, LLC (@CrestonBooks)

Available Formats: Hardcover and Ebook

Converse via Twitter: #MuonVan

#picturebooks and #JKSLitPublicity

About (Illustrator) April Chu

April Chu

APRIL CHU began her career as an architect with a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, but decided to return to her true passion of illustrating and storytelling. April currently lives and works in Oakland, California.

About Muon Van

Muon Van

MUON VAN was born on the run in the southern port city of Rach Giá, Vietnam. When she was nine months old, she left Vietnam as part of the “boat people” mass exodus. She now lives in Northern California.

Her previous book, In a Village by the Sea, is also a family story and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, as well as rave reviews from The New York Times and School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 Production.

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As soon as you pull back the cover of In a Village by the Sea you are curling up inside a beautifully illustrated world, where the colour palette has a vintage touch to it and everything pops right to life straight off the pages! I knew it was going to be an enchanting reading as soon as I saw the title page – finding out that the pages of the book are with an FSC rating touched my heart, as I love finding publishers who are using sustainable methods to publish books in print! Green printing does exist but not every publisher has found creative ways to accomplish this goal.

Even on the Dedication page, you gather a proper sense of ‘setting’ and ‘place’ as you see the fisherman casting his eyes towards the sea, the boat propped up on shore before his feet and his ready canine companion beside him. It feels like twilight with the setting of the sun out of view and a bit of a sombering nod towards how the sea provides a living and what is necessary to survive. I found this page to be poetic even without descriptions to guide my thoughts. Art has a way of moving your heart.

The illustrations are so lush and representative of a fisherman’s life in Vietnam, you feel as if your spending the day with this hard-working father as he makes his way out to sea. He’s one of many boats heading out for the day’s catch, whilst the cliffs and the mountainside is tucked close to the hungry waves. As the nets are cast, so too, can you see the home that reaches itself upward on a spiral road above the sea. In the next instance, you recognise this is his family’s home – as each illustration thereafter takes us further into this world, where a mother takes care of her young and creates a home full of love in her husband’s absence. Such a strong sense of home, he surely can taste it on the winds as he sets his course each day and returns each night.

I love the expressions on the family dog, as he is your guide into this dearly loved home, and how the traditions of the family are aptly seen throughout the story. It’s set to a poetic pace of ordinary life and the blessings of children growing up in a house that is tended too with grace and love. The warmth of these moments is lovingly cast by it’s illustrations and guided forward with the words by Muon Van who etches in the depth of the story that was thus inspired by her own family’s living history.

There are hidden dangers at sea and as the story shifts forward a bit to provide a bit of unexpected woes for the fisherman, so too, does the story shift perspectives from the fisherman’s companion to a cricket who takes up residence inside the walls of the house. In true story crafting form, Van gives children and adults alike a hearty little tale full of what your expecting a family to provide you with as you take a day out of your world and enter into theirs. It is such an uplifting story to read – visually inspiring you and nearly giving you a meditative outlook on the wider scope of our own personal journey.

Book Review w/ Author Q&A | The #picturebooks of Muon Van (“In A Village by the Sea” and “Little Tree”) with a lovely convo about her creative style of writing stories for children.The Little Tree
by Muon Van
Illustrator/Cover Designer: JoAnn Adinolfi
Source: Publisher via JKS Communications

When the Little Tree sees the world around her narrowing, she worries what life will be like for her Little Seed. Until she decides to take the biggest risk of all and let Little Seed find a richer life on her own.

With simple words and whimsical illustrations, The Little Tree tells a poignant tale that can be appreciated by children and parents alike. Children will continue to discover the different messages and layers as they reread the story as they get older.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781939547194

Published by Creston Books LLC

on 10th November, 2015

Format: epub | PDF editon

Pages: 32

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I was a bit apprehensive about accepting a PDF Picture Book for review, as due to time constraints, a print copy could not be sent to me; as is my general preference when it comes to reviewing books. Digital copies of stories in full length (i.e. novels or works of non-fiction) are too difficult for me to process, as I cannot read for long spurts of time via a digital screen; however, this experience showed me I can handle a picture book if a need arises for me to receive a PDF or ePub copy in lieu of a print book. I won’t make this a habit, as I still very much prefer the tactile experience of reading books I can read in my hands, but for the sake of this showcase I was happily surprised! Also, to be noted, when I’m able too, I will be purchasing a copy of this story, as it truly spoke to my soul!

As I had mentioned in my conversation with Ms Van, the colour selections for this picture book were more vibrant and resplendent of Spring or a renewal of warmth out of Autumn. To have two incredibly dimensional stories written for young children whilst grounding them in the honest truths about family, connections, friendship and the circle of life – was a blessed discovery for me!

In the first illustrative layout, we meet the Tree’s family of friends in the forest; wherein everyone is be represented from those who can walk, fly, scatter or climb! Portions of the next illustrations reminded me of quilts – quilts of colours and stories interwoven into their threads, the telling of a tale of a person or of a community all stitched and united together. This story takes on the full scope of a well lived life – where you come of age yourself only to find a way to pass on the legacy of who you are to your offspring. It’s about the tides of life and the buoyancy of joy sprinkling itself throughout our days with such unexpected splendors as to keep us full of light.

In the lifeblood of The Little Tree is a compassionate story about a mother who has to draw in a well of courage to let her offspring take flight into the wide and expansive world that she may not be able to see with her child. This is a story for mothers and for their children; as I would believe each would look at the chapter marks a bit differently given where they are on their own path and feel together, this is a celebration of our most cherished treasures: our parents and our children.

There is such a lively celebration happening in the forest – the illustrator for this story took merriment out of sharing the expressions of wonder and joy with the forest dwellers, but especially the center characters being featured: the trees themselves! They burst onto the scene with such happy hearts and with a genuine interest and care about the Little Tree’s problems.

Even when there is a time lapse between when a mother recognises she must let her child fly free to wander and land where their own lifepath will take them, there is a reassurance of curiosity and a bit of sorrow for the loss of connection. My favourite part by far is how the Little Tree receives word from her little seed and how within that brief encounter the whole of a mother’s heart can be heard and felt.

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One of the beautiful takeaways you will have as you read these stories,
are the anchour revelations that come at the end of them! Ms Van has
generously shared pieces of her own family’s history with you,
after you conclude each book. It’s a well of insight into what inspired her, too!

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A wicked sweet announcement to share:

Stay tuned to the 2015 Cybils:

Cybils 2015 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. Used with permission.

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This book review is courtesy of:

JKS Communications: A Literary Publicity Firm

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Comment Box Banner made by Jorie in Canva.

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{SOURCES: Book Cover Art for “In A Village by the Sea” and “Little Tree”, Author Biography, Author Photograph and Illustrator Photograph, Book Synopsis for both books, and reviewer badge were provided by JKS Communications and used with permission. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Tweets are embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Comment Box banner made by Jorie in Canva. Blog dividers and My Thoughts badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Cybils 2015 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. Used with permission.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 3 January, 2016 by jorielov in #JorieLovesIndies, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Book Review (non-blog tour), Children's Literature, Compassion & Acceptance of Differences, Debut Author, Early Reader | Chapter Books, Equality In Literature, Illustration for Books & Publishing, Illustrations for Stories, Indie Author, JKS Communications: Literary Publicity Firm, Multi-cultural Characters and/or Honest Representations of Ethnicity, Picture Book, Story knitted out of Ancestral Data

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