Vong (V.T) Bidania talks about her new release Astrid and Apollo, the importance of seeing oneself in literature — and she tells us a scary Hmong folk tale.
[We Need Diverse Books opening credits: text against an animated crinkling paper background. The text reads, “Book Giveaways, Grants, Mentorships, Writing Awards,” followed by the WNDB logo.]
I’m Vong Bidania, the author of ASTRID AND APOLLO, which is a chapter book series coming from Capstone on August first. ASTRID AND APOLLO stars eight-year-old twins Astrid and Apollo Lee, who are second-generation Hmong-Americans living in Minnesota.
[Question title at the lower left side of the screen: WHAT ARE YOUR BOOKS ABOUT?]
This series follows along as the twins enjoy everyday adventures like camping, fishing, attending the Hmong July soccer festival and the Hmong New Year celebration. I wrote the series because I want Hmong children to see themselves represented in books, and I wanted to make sure the representation was positive, accurate, and authentic.
[Question title at the lower left side of the screen: WHEN DID YOU FIRST SEE YOURSELF IN A BOOK?]
To be honest, I haven’t quite seen myself in a book. I’ve seen bits and pieces of my personality in some characters or similar experiences from my life in different books I’ve
read throughout the years, but I haven’t seen an accurate, authentic, or relatable portrayal of a Hmong person, a Hmong refugee from Laos, or a first-generation Hmong-American.
[Question title at the lower left side of the screen: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE HMONG FOLK TALE?]
So my favorite Hmong folk tale that was told to me when I was a little kid was something that my older siblings like to tell me a lot. So this isn’t a happy story, this is actually horror, and it’s not really kid friendly so I don’t even know why I was being told it. But anyway, even though I don’t like horror stories, this is actually one of my favorite Hmong folk tales. So this is the one about the guy who had to leave his village to go to the city to go to school because he was so incredibly smart. So he leaves behind his beautiful girlfriend who was madly in love with him and who becomes completely heartbroken after he goes to the city because she misses him so much. So she becomes very sick and then she dies. This is kind of a common theme in a lot of Hmong stories a person gets really sick to the point of death. So ..
[Standby screen with the text: **THE REST IS TOO SCARY FOR US, SORRY!** – RESIDENT SCAREDY-CATS AT WNDB]
It’s really scary, really creepy, but it is one of my most favorite stories.
[Question title at the lower left side of the screen: WHAT’S THE BEST WRITING ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?]
The best writing advice I’ve ever received wasn’t something that was said directly to me, but it was something that I saw online a few years ago, and this was a drawing done by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who’s a Canadian-based author/illustrator. The drawing was of a little girl riding on a pencil, and underneath that were the words, “What you write might change the world.” Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or discouraged by my writing, I’ll remember that and I’ll feel inspired.
[Closing screen against an animated crinkling paper background. The text reads, “Look out for a longer Q&A with Vong on the WNDB blog: diversebooks.org.”]
[Closing credits with links to the WNDB Youtube channel]
Produced by JoAnn Yao
Edited by Anya Steiner & JoAnn Yao
Graphics by Amber Hooke
Captions by Elissa Petruzzi
Vintage and woman vectors created by brgfx & freepik – www.freepik.com
ASTRID AND APOLLO covers and art courtesy of Capstone Young Readers
Girl illustration copyright Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Standby Screen by angelenesdreams on Deviantart