Chang is a young Vietnamese girl and a wildlife conservationist; Sorya is a bear at the rescue and conservation center where she works. This 120-page middle grade graphic novel is their story. And it’s based on the real-life experiences of author Trang Nguyen, herself a wildlife conservationist, and bears that have been rescued from captivity.
Working in wildlife conservation is the fulfilment of a childhood dream for Chang, we soon discover. She’s a lively, intelligent and highly motivated individual, who has triumphed against the odds to pursue her passion. When she meets Sorya, a young sun bear, she is determined to help rehabilitate her. What follows is a privileged insight into the pair’s special relationship as Chang helps Sorya to learn the survival skills she will need in the wild.
In Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear, readers are treated to a wealth of information about sun bears, their role in the ecosystem and the flora and fauna of their rainforest home. Taking a broader perspective, Trang Nguyen also invites readers to think about man’s relationship with the natural world. Chang may be a passionate advocate for bears and the rainforest, but this graphic novel doesn’t shy away from the darker side. Bear bile farms, poaching, dams and creeping urbanization are some of the big issues that are touched on.
Overall, this is a beautiful, heartwarming read, however. Chang and Sorya’s journey is engaging—full of fun and discovery. And I’m sure that many readers will cheer the young bear on as she learns to adapt to life in the rainforest. Chang’s tone is light and conversational, and the combination of dialogue and little snippets of information make the story easy to read and digest. Illustrator Jeet Zhung’s artwork—a fusion of Vietnamese traditional art and manga—is magnificent. Stunning rainforest panoramas invite quiet reflection, while detailed studies show an abundance of plants and wildlife. Chang and Sorya are brought to life visually, and notebook pencil sketches provide informative glimpses into their daily lives.
You’ll want to read this fabulous graphic novel for ages 8+ all over again the minute you’ve finished. Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear is the first children’s book published by author Trang Nguyen, and illustrator Jeet Zhung’s first children’s book published in the UK and US. Let’s hope it’s not the last!
Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear
Written by Trang Nguyen
Illustrated by Jeet Zdung
Translated from Vietnamese by Trang Nguyen
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2021
Awards: Vietnam National Book Award Honor, Freeman Book Awards Honor, Junior Library Guild selection
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Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com