Tove Krebs Lange is an illustrator from Copenhagen, Denmark, who took part in the Children's Book project in Viet Nam, which was funded by the Danish government. After 10 years in operation, the project was completed in November. The experience took Lange to many provinces and cities throughout Viet Nam. Do Bich Lien interviews Lange about her work at the project.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell me why you were involved in the Children's Book project funded by the Danish government?
When I first heard of the project over 10 years ago, I did not know much about Viet Nam and had never visited the country. Of course, I wanted to go there. I knew that it was not going to be a pleasure trip alone, but was also a commitment to work with children's literature for a number of years.
Being an illustrator and writer of picture books for more than 25 years, this kind of literature means a lot to me, and I wanted to share my knowledge in this field and my love for children's books with Vietnamese colleagues and children. The thought of giving children in remote areas access to the world of stories was also very motivating.
Inner Sanctum: Where did you travel in Viet Nam over these ten years? What impressed you the most on these trips?
We have been privileged to travel to many places in Viet Nam, setting up Reading Clubs and providing books. Our fantastic partner Kim Dong Publishing House, without whom this project would not have been possible, has continued to maintain the existing Reading Clubs.
So far there are clubs in provinces and cities throughout Viet Nam such as Viet Tri, Tuyen Quang, Thai Nguyen, and Thanh Hoa, in addition to Nghe An, Ha Tinh, HCM City, and Vung Tau. There are also clubs in An Giang, Can Tho, Hoa Binh, and Ha Noi, in addition to Son La and Da Nang.
We have been impressed and overwhelmed by the warm reception and happy children we have met everywhere. In every place we have been welcomed by children singing and dancing to celebrate their new Reading Club.
Personally, I have been impressed by the children's beautiful drawings and paintings that we have seen exhibited in every school, big or small throughout the country. These pictures have shown me that children all over the world love the same things, their hometown, being with their family, playing with friends and animals, and celebrating holidays, along with festivals.
Inner Sanctum: How do Vietnamese children benefit from the project?
Mainly, the Vietnamese children benefit from the project by getting access to books. Maybe they will get inspired to write or draw themselves and one day join the writing contest.
On a longer term we hope that the workshops we have held with Vietnamese writers and illustrators will result in many more great children's books in the years to come.
Inner Sanctum: Under the project you have trained Vietnamese young illustrators and writers to create works of literature for children. Did you find something interesting to work with Vietnamese colleagues?
Working with Vietnamese writers and illustrators has been a unique experience. We have met many talented artists and seen them develop and grow over the ten-year period.
Quite a few have improved their English so that we can communicate with them without a translator now. Unfortunately, our Vietnamese is still not that good.
We have learnt a lot about the everyday life of Vietnamese children since most of the books (the Luc Buc Series for very small children) revolve around an environment familiar to the child.
We have seen a lot of differences between the lives of Vietnamese and Danish children but even more similarities, like the love within the family and the importance and challenges of friendship.
Inner Sanctum: Did you face a culture shock when you came to Viet Nam to work the first time?
At no point did we experience any culture shock. We have experienced differences between our cultures and have had some interesting and fruitful discussions. Viet Nam is such a big country and the lives of a child in the countryside and the one of a child in a bigger city are very different.
In Denmark, which is a small country, there is not much difference between the parts of the country. The schools all over the country are very much alike and all have well equipped libraries, so all Danish children have access to more books than they can ever read. I do not think they realise what a privilege it is.
Inner Sanctum: If you have a wish for Vietnamese children what would it be?
I wish all Vietnamese children will grow up in peace and in a healthy environment. That they will all have access to education and books, so that they can grow up and have a full life.
I love children very much and like to think that I have kept my own inner child alive.
The Vietnamese children we have met have been very happy and like to laugh and have fun. Even if I cannot speak to them we have been able to communicate through pictures.
The children we have met, especially in the smaller towns, have seemed less spoilt than Danish children, who in general have access to a lot of things. The Vietnamese children have been happy and excited receiving books, while most Danish children take books for granted.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell me what you are doing now?
We have just returned from our trip, and I will now start illustrating a book that I have written, about a little squirrel, Oliver, who likes all kinds of sports and exercise.
This story should hopefully encourage children to play outside instead of sitting in front of a computer. After that, I will make a book with sights from all over Denmark to colour yourself, a sort of tourist guide of Denmark for children.
Inner Sanctum: Will working trips in Viet Nam inspire you to write a new book?
I don't know yet if I will make a book about our trips to Viet Nam. But being in this beautiful country has changed my use of colours already.
The shades of the flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish in the markets, the decorations in the pagodas and the bright colours of the women's dresses, is something I like to bring into my pictures. Viet Nam has grown into my soul and heart. — VNS