Author: (Illustrator) April Chu

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.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to Riffle

ISBN: 9781939547156

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


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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Posted Sunday, 3 January, 2016 by jorielov in #JorieLovesIndies, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, 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