Saturday, August 5, 2023

Debut Author Panel: Hanh Bui and Levi De La Rosa

 Topic: What To Know About The Path To Publication

An inspiring Debut Authors Panel with Hanh Bui, Levi De La Rosa, Frederico Erebia, K.X. Song, Lala Watkins, moderated by the brilliant Martha Brockenbrough. This post focuses on takeaways from Hanh Bui and Levi De La Rosa, but be sure to check out Team Blog posts about the other debut authors!

Hanh Bui pursued a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and taught second grade, inspired by her first teacher at the refugee camp. She serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài and Ánh's New Word, (Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan). You can find out more at, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Levi De La Rosa is a a 32-year-old artist with a passion for drawing and a love for myths, legends, and folklore. "I find inspiration in the stories that have been passed down through generations, and I enjoy exploring these tales in my art." During a local chapter contest for SCBWI Guatemala, Levi's work caught the attention of Editorial Amanuense, and Levi was offered the opportunity to publish his first book. 

Levi's debut book, Historias del Mayab (written by Ezequiel Tinajero and illustrated by Levi) is a collection of stories about the Mayab. Levi says he struggled with depression the past four years, but therapy and illustration helped him find a way out. He tries to draw in his sketchbooks every day, a habit he established during his difficult years. His book is published by Mitsu, which belongs to Grupo Amanuense.

Levi says he experimented with a variety of different media until he found techniques and a process that best suited him and his work. He also revisited archaeological sites he remembered visiting as a child to bring back memories of what he felt like back then and to recreate a list of events, to help him better connect with young readers in his stories.

Be patient, Levi advises creatives. Things will come when they are meant to come.

Hanh says her debut picture book, THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI (illustrated by Minnie Phan),  is an inter-generational story inspired by a conversation she had with her 6-year-old daughter, who saw her grandmother's áo dài (Vietnamese garment). Hanh wrote the story because she wanted to her daughter to get to know her grandmother through these kind of memories. Hanh noticed that there were few books about Vietnamese culture in her daughter’s school. She points out that yellow represents happiness in her country.

When Hanh gets a story idea, it's usually during unexpected times (e.g. washing dishes), usually a memory from her childhood. She'll jot down the idea, usually on her phone, until she has some quiet time and is back home, and then she'll visualize the scene in her head. 

"A memory is not a story," says Hanh, so when developing her story she will work on adding layers. Settings and characters, for example, but also getting to the emotional heart. She'll think back and remember how she felt back then, try to recall conversations, and gradually add layers of connection and ways to help young readers relate.

Hanh says she writes the books she wishes were around when she was a child, and that children still need today.

On the topic of agents: Hanh strongly recommends finding the right agent. Her first agent didn't share her vision, so they parted ways. 

Hanh's next book, Ánh’s New Word, tells the story of a refugee child embracing her voice and speaking her first English word aloud with the help of her teacher, for publication on May 14, 2024. It will be illustrated by Bao Luu.

Hanh's final piece of advice: "Protect your heart as well as your art." She says that sometimes when it gets overwhelming with too many opinions and critiques, she reminds herself of the original joy. Listening to feedback and being willing to revise is important, but stay true to your original vision.


Register for the SCBWI Summer Conference at Replays of the conferences will be available until September 10th, 2023.

Also be sure to check out the Faculty Conference Bookshop and the Portfolio Showcase!

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