In an interview for McSweeney’s, co-authors Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son Ellison Nguyen, alongside co-illustrators Thi Bui and her son Hien Bui-Stafford, talk about their experiences working together to create the children’s book “Chicken of the Sea.”
Next month, we will publish our newest children’s book, Chicken of the Sea, co-written by Ellison Nguyen (age 6) and his father Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, and co-illustrated by Hien Bui-Stafford (age 13) and his mother Caldecott Medal-honoree Thi Bui. A band of intrepid chickens leave behind the boredom of farm life, joining the crew of the pirate ship Pitiless to seek fortune and glory on the high seas. Led by a grizzled captain into the territory of the Dog Knights, they soon learn what it means to be courageous, merciful, and not seasick quite so much of the time. The two younger collaborators sat down with their elder counterparts to discuss the project, excerpted here.
HIEN BUI-STAFFORD: Why did you accept this project?
THI BUI: I took the job because it was a chance to do something new with you — something we both are good at that I could teach you a little more about.
ELLISON NGUYEN: How is it like making a book with me?
VIET THANH NGUYEN: It was great! I loved seeing your creativity and how you take joy in making comic books. You have a unique imagination, and I hope you will always use it. It will bring you great pleasure.
HIEN: What motivated you to keep working on the project?
THI: Sometimes it was hard to juggle this project with other work I was doing (like when I was coloring your drawings and interviewing people in a refugee camp on the same day). But I always wanted to make the book as great as I could so that we’d all be proud of it when it was published.
ELLISON: What is your favorite part of the book?
VIET: The end, which is happy. I won’t give anything away about it. But I don’t do happy endings. The happy ending is all yours, which fits, because you’re a happy child.
HIEN: Did you like working on it?
THI: I did! I loved watching you draw and hearing your ideas. You have a rich and uninhibited imagination, and I hope that never changes, even as you learn more technical skills. I also like how we worked on this book together in so many places, from ramen shops in Berkeley to cafés in Greece! I remember our travels every time I see these pages, and I wonder if people will recognize the influence of what we saw on the art we created.
ELLISON: Did you like spending time with me on the book?
VIET: Of course! I’d much rather spend time with you making a book than watching you play soccer, baseball, football, basketball, or basically any sport you can imagine. Remember that.
Chicken of the Sea will be released on November 26th, 2019 and is available for preorder here.