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'Meo and Be': St. Louis author pens book about Vietnam War through the eyes of a child

A St. Louis author launches her debut middle-grade novel "Meo and Be" in a stunning story highlighting a little girl leading up to the Vietnam War.

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis author is chasing her dreams while teaching young readers about empathy and times of strife.

Doan Phuong Nguyen is the author of the debut middle-grade novel "Meo and Be," a story about an 11-year-old girl, named Be, and her three-legged cat, named Meo. This story depicts war and struggle through the lens of a child, and it is also about resilience and finding one's voice.

"It was based on my adopted aunt's story," Nguyen said. "She was abused by her stepmother as a little girl."

In real life, Nguyen's aunt had been relinquished by her biological mother to live with her biological father and stepmother. Her biological mother was a concubine and could not raise her alone. Nguyen's aunt grew up in brutality and neglect, and by the time she was found and adopted by Nguyen's grandmother at age 5 or 6, she did not know how to feed herself properly and was on the brink of starvation. 

Nguyen said the fictional version is a serious read but is one that is age-appropriate for middle-grade and young adult readers. Nguyen said it will also resonate with adults because empathy is such an important lesson at any age. 

Nguyen is a mother to a young child and works as a family photographer in the St. Louis area. She went back to school to get her masters in fine arts because she knew she always wanted to be a writer. Her publisher, Lee & Low Books, is a multicultural children's book publisher founded more than 30 years ago and well-known for focusing on diversity. It was not easy for her to chase her dreams, as Nguyen's parents did not fully support her desire to become a creative writer. That makes this work even more meaningful to the first-time author.

"Since I came to America and I learned English, I wanted to write books my whole life," Nguyen said. "This is literally my whole life's journey."

The book hit store shelves earlier in May, but the St. Louis County Library Foundation will host the debut author for a talk on Aug. 29. She hopes she can not only share her life's work but also talk about how a serious story for young readers can make such a big impact.

"I want people to have empathy that sometimes people go through really hard times," Nguyen said. "There's always hope in the dark."

More can be found here on the author's event. It will take place 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Louis County Library Grand Glaize Branch in Manchester. 

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