Le Uyen Pham has a history like many of us Vietnamese Americans. She was born in Saigon in 1973, left in 1975 on a US transport, bounced around before settling near Pasadena, CA. She briefly attended UCLA for political science before her artwork was recognized for what it is, and she was accepted into the Art Center College of Design at Pasadena. She would briefly work at Dreamworks before quitting even that job to enter the finicky world of children’s picture books. Contributor Julie Nguyen reviews Le Uyen Pham’s work below.
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Le Uyen Pham usually squishes her name together as LeUyen Pham. I’m not entirely sure why and haven’t found out in any of the various interviews or bios I’ve read but if ever I meet her, I’m going to ask. She appears infrequently, seeming to modestly avoid the spotlight, but I recently read on her blog that she’ll be attending some book signings in San Francisco (where she also lives) on April 9th, April 17th, and May 7th.
From her blog:
CHARLES M. SCHULZ MUSEUM
Second Saturday Cartoonist Series
2301 Hardies Lane, San Rosa, CA 94503
Books Inc, Burlingame CA
1375 Burlingame Avenue
Burlingame, CA 94010
Books Inc, Chestnut Street Store
2251 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
And more information about these signings here.
So now I’m going to backtrack and tell you who this lady is. She’s most known for her charming work as a children’s book illustrator. Let me just say that her drawings have more life in them than two hours of Pixar animation. From soft furry creatures under moonlit skies to simple brush strokes of vibrant, exuberant children, Pham puts life to a page like a magician. I’m not kidding. Pick up Big Sister, Little Sister or Freckleface Strawberry to see what I mean. So many of the books she’s illustrated would not be the story they are without her drawings.
Big Sister, Little Sister (2005) was her first authored book, originally written with the intention of being a personal birthday gift for her own chị. Happily, this book was shared with the world, and we get a sweet story that delivers snarky lines like: “The Big Sister thinks she’s always right. I’m the little sister. I know I’m right.” The illustrations are like the cream on the cake, depicting two funny girls exerting their vivacious personalities, caught between looking out for and squabbling with one another.
Pham’s second authored book is a relatively new one having been published in 2010. It is dedicated to her two sons and is titled All the Things I Love About You. I have to admit the prose in this story is a bit trite, but at least it’s straightforward. You’ll get lines like: “I love when you hold my hand. And even when you let go…I know I haven’t.” The story is better told in the pictures, revealing a squirming, restless child escaping bare-bottomed, just out of reach.
These are the only two books that Pham has authored. She’s illustrated several more (totalling more than 30) and has represented a fine array of people of color (and furs) as well as a great diversity in genre and art style. From the beautiful tranquil forests of Can You Do This, Old Badger? (by Even Bunting) to the rough edges of the violent adventure in the graphic novel Prince of Persia (by Jordan Mechner) to the expressive minimalist of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (by Lenore Look) to the optimistic energy of Grace For President (by Kelly DiPucchio). But perhaps she’s most famous for her work in the daffodil pages of Freckleface Strawberry (by Julianne Moore), which was recently adapted into a musical. Her art was plastered across bus stops and taxis for weeks here in NYC, to the delight of my 3-year-old. We’re both fans.
For the most part, we’ve enjoyed the books that LeUyen Pham has contributed to, and even if the story may be boring (as is the case for a minor few), at least we can always count on some endearing art to captivate us in some way.
Julie Nguyen likes toads a lot but only eats vegetables. She’s still wondering how she got picked up as a contributor on diaCRITICS. She enjoys drawing and creative writing, and has been self-educating herself on Vietnamese history, both the documented and the mythological, as well as improving her comprehension of the language so she can pass it on to her funny daughter. She resides in NYC.
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