Good news came to Vietnamese comic community in late 2015 when Saigon-based author-illustrator team Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien won Scholastic Asian Book Award. Their children’s comic book The First Journey overtook 135 other entries from across Asia to take home the grand award presented by Singapore’s National Book Development Council and Scholastic Asia.
The First Journey tells the story of An, a young boy who crosses the Mekong Delta for the first time on his way to school, encountering floods, snakes and a mysterious forest with a giant crocodile. Though not yet published, the vivid and colourful illustrations shown on Room To Read already created high demand for The First Journey in Vietnam.
Amazingly, it took the young authors only 2 weeks to create this winning artwork from scratch. “We saw it on Room to Read’s workshop group on Facebook for its writers and illustrators. We had only two weeks left to turn in a manuscript! It had to be in English with six full pages of color illustrations. We spent two days coming up with the idea, two days to write the story and nine days of intense work.” Quang said.
The idea for the book came to Quang and Lien very naturally. Inspired by Son Nam’s short stories Hương rừng Cà Mau, Doan Gioi’s novel Đất rừng phương Nam and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, they decided to create a book to honour the fierce yet enchanting beauty of Mekong Delta’s jungles and rivers.
Although the book is an independent project, Quang and Lien have been greatly influenced by the knowledge they adopt from the workshops by Room to Read. Room to Read is a charity founded in 2000 in Nepal with the aim to give children, especially girls, in developing countries in Asia and Africa equal access to high-quality education. In Vietnam, Room to Read is currently operating in Mekong Delta, the northern mountainous area and some central provinces. They have implemented many educational activities such as building reading rooms and donating books for under-priviledged children in these areas. Furthermore, with the aim to continuously improve children’s book quality, Room to Read has organized many training courses for artists and young authors and published a lot of high quality children’s books for their own library.
“Thanks to Room to Read’s workshops, we have the opportunity to receive extensive training in writing and illustrating children’s books as well as having access to many books that haven’t been published in Vietnam.” Quang said.
As the grand prize winner of Scholastic Picture Book Award, in addition to cash prize, Quang and Lien’s work will be presented and released worldwide by Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, while copyright remains with its authors. This is a great opportunity not only for the two young authors, but also for children’s graphic comics industry of Vietnam to go global. Quang and Lien also have plan to translate the book into Vietnamese to publish within the country right after its international release.
When asked about the estimated publishing date, the two indicate that the book is not finished and is still being written and edited, hence, there is no clear publishing date decided. However, it should be scheduled no later than the end of this year. Therefore, don’t forget to keep an eye on Grapevine for updates!
Information about the authors:
Quang, 26, and Lien, 24, are freelance writer and illustrator based in Saigon. Their main job is creating and illustrating children’s books, designing book covers as well as other designing and illustrating tasks. Quang and Lien met 5 years ago at a senior designer’s studio. Nowadays, they have a studio of their own named Kaa illustration, where they create artworks together and sell lovely little hand-made souvenirs.