Debut chapter book series highlights Vietnamese culture, complexity of kids’ experiences

Gifts, connection with ancestors guide Nguyen siblings as they face problems

The Nguyen Kids, a celebration of Vietnamese culture and the role of grandparents, is Linda Trinh’s debut series of chapter books. With universal themes and empowered characters, the series is aimed at early readers from six to nine years old.

The Nguyen Kids are three Vietnamese Canadian siblings, each of whom has inherited a gift from their grandmother – a jade bangle for Anne, a pair of pearl earrings for Liz, and a painted fan for Jacob. Despite being recently deceased, Grandma Nội is a very important presence in their lives, and her gifts are anything but ordinary.

“I grew up with the Vietnamese spiritual tradition of ancestor veneration,” Trinh explains. “My dad passed away when I was seven years old, so we had an altar for him and made offerings regularly. Because of this, I’ve always felt close to him and to my ancestors.” Grandma Nội’s gifts help the Nguyen siblings feel close to their grandmother’s spirit, providing guidance and strength when they need it most.

The first two books in the series are being released simultaneously, with a third to follow. Along with Grandma Nội’s gifts and guidance are interwoven relatable problems kids face – from striving to be the best ballet dancer and having trouble with friends to navigating allyship and confronting discrimination.

Linda Trinh
Linda Trinh

The Secret of the Jade Bangle, Book 1, follows Anne as she learns to be proud of her culture in the face of her ballet teacher’s racist remarks. In The Power of the Pearl Earrings, Book 2, Liz’s sense of self is threatened by the new kid’s boys-only rules – and the betrayal of her Best Friend Ever. Following the experiences of younger brother Jacob, The Mystery of the Painted Fan will explore gender identity and stereotypes when it is released in 2023.

Grandma Nội also helps the siblings connect with their Vietnamese heritage, which is often absent from Canadian media.

“It means so much to me for readers of Vietnamese and Asian descent to be able to see themselves in the books – their family dynamics, spiritual practices, food, and questions of identity,” says Trinh.

Illustrator Clayton Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese Canadian living in Ontario, says that sharing his last name with the main characters is “just a happy accident.” However, his own childhood memories inspired many of the series’ illustrations.

“Things like the Nguyen family shrine are often reminiscent of things my family or friends’ families had in our houses. And when I had to draw food that wasn’t specified in the text, I often filled it in with dishes my mom would cook,” he explains.

Clayton Nguyen
Clayton Nguyen

Alongside Vietnamese culture, Trinh says she wanted “to reflect and highlight the complexities of kids’ experiences,” especially for kids from historically marginalized communities.

“It’s important to me to write these types of stories because unfortunately, kids do face these things in real life – discrimination, prejudice, hate, violence – as they are trying to figure out who they are.”

Young readers from Winnipeg will also recognize settings and familiar references.

“I have lived in Winnipeg most of my life, and I chose to raise my family here,” says Trinh. “Why not set my series in Winnipeg? It’s great to showcase that people live all over. Watch for some Winnipeg landmarks in each book!”