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How the Story Unfolded:
As the global pandemic struck Vietnam in February 2020, schools in Ho Chi Minh City were closed for a total of 5 months, and I decided to invest some time in doing things that I love. I’ve always enjoyed writing and like a lightbulb illuminating my brain, I decided to write a children’s book. And so, in the dark and cramped, but weirdly cosy 1st floor of Awesome Coffee Roasters’ Cafe, I drafted the first manuscript of my children’s book.
To understand why I decided to write Suzie The 8 Legged Painter, it is first relevant to mention the external factors upon my life and who I was spending most of my time with. At this time, I’d been teaching at Kids Club Saigon part- and full-time for 2 years and the kind, welcoming and warm environment made me feel as though I was part a community. I’d worked hard to form strong relationships with my teaching assistants, which was by no means easy, and I was actively seeking ways to become a more effective early childhood development teacher. My 3-5 year old class was a combination of 6 different nationalities and me being from England, made it 7. It was important that everyone felt included, and although the children could speak different languages, we never saw anyone as being different – we celebrated our diversity and explored our differences whenever we could.
The previous semester, from October to December, we’d focused on being kind and contributing to our community; I’d talked with the children about using kind words, caring for one another and being thankful for what we have. After documenting a conversation we had as a class about giving back to the community, it was apparent that the children were well aware that they were privileged and that there were plenty of people that were less so. The class decided that they appreciated the street cleaners because they work outside and it is very hot outside (over 32 degrees). Together, we discussed ideas of how to we could show appreciation to the street cleaners; the class decided to make cold, freshly squeezed orange juice. This moment, combined with short one-to-one conversations I had with the children, the incredible story-times we had together and observing how children use power in their play, inspired me to write my book on inclusivity.
Suzie The 8 Legged Painter is about a spider ostracised from society for being different. The other insects in Buzz Town think she is scary for being different, and so she lives far out of town, alone. After visiting the town, Suzie meets a centipede named Betty who encourages Suzie to paint her house in town, to which Suzie agrees. Suzie is so swept up in her love to paint, that she doesn’t notice the insects from town come out of hiding to watch her, in awe of her painting. Suzie’s courage and creativity inspires the other inhabitants of Buzz Town to rethink their stereotype of spiders; are spiders really scary because they have 8 legs? Is Suzie really that different to us? What can we learn from Suzie in order to move forwards?
Whilst writing the book, I imagined sitting on the reading chair in my classroom, facing my curious, bright-eyed and enthusiastic students. I imagined their empathetic faces when Suzie cries because the insects run away scared of her, imagined their excitement as Suzie starts to paint Betty’s house “I think she will paint a rainbow!” and, more than anything, I especially imagined their genuine support and kindness in saying “Suzie is a really good painter”. In that respect, this book is for the Early Explorers class of 2019-2020, but more widely it is to every child in Vietnam that I taught. To all their inquisitive minds and hopeful hearts that I had the pleasure of teaching.
After finishing my manuscript around the end of April, I emailed many different publishing houses in the U.K., I heard back from a couple of publishing houses and on the 11th July 2020, I signed a contract with Pegasus Publishers! The book was published on 25th March 2021 and it has been a pleasure seeing young readers enjoy the book globally. Please get in touch if you have bought and enjoyed the book, I would love to see your photos and any Suzie-inspired activities!
PS. There are more stories in the pipeline… so stay tuned!