A Q&A with Author Tory Envy
By Justin Wheeler
Victoria Lee, known professionally as Tory Envy, is a Hmong-American children’s book author, singer, and musician. Envy published her first bilingual children’s book “I Am A Big Sister – Kuv Yog Ib Tug Niam Laus” in 2021. We interviewed her about the process of being a creative entrepreneur, and working on a book that helped create a unique bond between her children and her community.
Justin Wheeler: I’m interested in your entrepreneurial journey of being a successful creator of music, art, and now an incredible story for children. Where do you think all of that energy to create comes from? What sustains it in your day to day life?
Tory Envy: I am a creative person and need an outlet for it. My dad taught me how to play the guitar and I began writing music when I was in high school. These days, being a mom of two, it’s hard to find quiet time to produce music so I found another outlet in writing children’s book inspired by my own kids. The people in my life are what give me energy to create. And experiencing life with them sustains it day to day.
JW: What kind of belief in yourself do you have to have to be a creative person?
TE: I think you just have to persevere when you have an idea that you want to try. You do have to believe that you can do it, whatever it is, but know that there will be challenges along the way that you’ll need to overcome.
JW: What process did you go through when you were preparing to write the book? Did you end up learning a lot about early childhood education, the importance of reading with kids from a young age, or anything else that impacted your creative process on it?
TE: Each night I read a book to my children. We practice speaking Hmong at home, so I started to look for Hmong children’s books. I realized that there weren’t that many, so I decided that I would try writing one for them.
I put together a manuscript detailing each page with text and a description of what kind of illustration would help portray the story. I ran my manuscript across various people close to me who speak and write Hmong. Being part of the first-born generation of Hmong Americans in the Unites States, my literary education consisted mostly of English. I had little education on the Hmong written language which was taught to me at home. Receiving edits and feedback from my friends and family who helped edit taught me more about the Hmong written language. I also learned about their process of trying to write in Hmong. It’s similar to writing a song. They sound out the words to select the right vowels. In songwriting, I hum the melody before I write the music.
JW: Do you feel like writing the book gave you a unique experience with your own children? Is that something you can put into words?
TE: I wrote about the experiences I saw my girls go through. Each page of the book is an event that happened in our lives. When I was going through the illustration editing process, I shared it with my toddler. Right away, she knew those were the things she experienced with her little sister. Now, every time she sees the book, she knows that it’s an illustration of her and her little sister. It was exciting to see her go through that.
JW: Why is it crucial to preserve Hmong literacy for both your children and the many others who are diving into this book? Do you have hopes that it’s something other people will want to get into beyond the Hmong community?
TE: Hmong is a small minority group of people. The Hmong language, written and oral, is mostly only taught at home and if we don’t continue to practice it, it’s possible that it could disappear. I think it’s important to preserve the language and culture because it helps form a strong understanding of one’s identify which is good for personal growth and our wellbeing.
The Hmong population is the densest in the Twin Cities. For places like these, I think it’s important to have Hmong literature available for everyone to learn more about their community.
JW: What are some of the biggest overall themes and lessons you want kids, and parents, to walk away with after reading the book?
TE: I want Hmong children to look at the book and feel proud of who they are as they grow up. I want parents to not feel intimidated by Hmong literature. This book is an easy read. For parents like myself who are of the first-born generation in the United States, we likely know basic Hmong. This is a great place to start to try to teach the next generation the Hmong language. For everyone else, I want them to enjoy and experience the subtly touches of the Hmong culture depicted in the book.