By Yeonwoo Shim
Today we’re pleased to welcome Thanhhà Lại to the WNDB blog to discuss picture book Hundred Years of Happiness, illustrated by Nguyen Quang & Kim Lien, out April 5, 2022!
This sweet and emotional picture book will resonate with readers who love A Big Mooncake for Little Star, Ladder to the Moon, and Thank You, Omu!
An’s grandmother Bà sometimes gets trapped in her cloudy memories. An and her grandfather, Ông, come up with a plan to bring her back to a happy moment: they grow gấc fruits so they can make xôi gấc, Bà’s favorite dish from her wedding in Việt Nam many years ago.
An and Ông work together in the garden, nurturing the gấc seeds. They must be patient and wait for the seeds to grow, flower, and turn into fruit. When the xôi gấc is finally ready, An is hopeful that her grandmother will remember her wedding wish with Ông: hundred years of happiness.
Striking and vivid illustrations bring this tender story of a loving, intergenerational Vietnamese family to life.
Hundred Years of Happiness is a story about the loving relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Why did you want to portray this relationship?
I’ve had the privilege of watching my mother and daughter interact for 15 years. My mother speaks only Vietnamese, so my daughter speaks a little Vietnamese. As my mother loses her short-term memory, she remembers what they used to do when my daughter was really little—if we’re having a lucky day. I wanted to capture one of those moments, although fictionalized.
It’s mentioned that “hundred years of happiness” is a wedding wish between Bà and Ông. Is there a reason or inspiration behind this specific phrase and why you decided to have this as the title?
Everyone wishes couples this phrase at Vietnamese weddings. I grew up with it. So certainly Bà and Ông would have received this wish at their wedding, and certainly she would remember it, if only for a moment. Having the phrase in the title puts readers in a happy mindset.
Why did you decide to use a food dish, especially xôi gấc (sounds absolutely delicious!), as a vehicle for bringing back memories?
Memories return easiest on the tongue, which records what tastes good, whom we were with, the feelings of warmth and satisfaction. Memories flood the tongue, glide down to the heart, rise up to a smile, all without saying a word.
How do you think your experience as a child refugee influences your writing in your books, including Hundred Years of Happiness?
I like looking back, rather than science-fiction forward. With a child-refugee backstory, I speak two languages, know two cultures, have a mother who stays within a Vietnamese mind/world. So it’s natural that my interests would include themes of war, displacement, resettlement, second chances, double identities, hardship, sacrifices, redemption…
In the book, An expresses disappointment when smoke clouds Bà’s eyes again. What advice would you give children like An going through similar experiences with their grandparents?
At times, a little is more than enough. Enjoy the moment, then let it go and be surprised by the next one. Time span does not dictate joy.
What message do you want readers to take away from Hundred Years of Happiness?
That aging and dying are as natural as eating rice and drinking water. They happen. To fully engage, let’s accept all of life’s stages. Appreciation then overshadows fear.
What is a question you wished you were asked more often, and the answer?
Your books deal with war and its aftermath, yet often they are funny. Why? Because life is funny after contemplation. Humor allows coping and healing.
Do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming books?
I just finished Grace M. Cho’s Tastes Like War, loved it. Also Weike Wang’s Joan Is Okay.
Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes. Peter Wohlleben’s The Secret Wisdom of Nature.
Jacob Shell’s Giants of the Monsoon. Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved.
Li Juan’s Winter Pasture.
Thanhhà Lại is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Inside Out & Back Again, her debut novel in verse, which won both a National Book Award and a Newbery Honor; the acclaimed Listen, Slowly, which was named to numerous best book of the year lists; and the award-winning Butterfly Yellow. She was born in Việt Nam and now lives in New York with her family. To learn more about Thanhhà, visit www.thanhhalai.com.
Yeonwoo Shim is a student at Vanderbilt University who hopes to increase accessibility and diversity in children’s literature. Coming from an Asian-American immigrant family, she grew up seeing a lack of diversity in the books she read, but hopes that through WNDB, she can help more diverse characters come under the spotlight.