2023 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration Winner’s Acceptance Speech

Jeet Zdung, June 2023

When I was a child, I always wished that I could create my own cartoon movies. I loved wildlife, so my mind was filled with fantasies of thrilling adventures through vast old forests and nature all around. Sometimes I imagined myself as a leopard, a deer, a bird… or a dinosaur freely exploring the forest.

Of course, making a movie was impossible, I was only 7 years old then.

But when I was exposed to comics and manga, the way the stories were presented with their vivid characters coming off the page really appealed to me. I realized I could make my own movies on paper. I also liked illustrating and drawing, and taking lots of notes when I watched wildlife documentaries on TV. I enjoyed sharing my drawings with other children.

The process of creating the book Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear was a journey to satisfy the child’s longing inside of me – to create an immersive movie on paper that would engage and share with other children about the wild natural world. I had the precious opportunity to work with wildlife conservationist Dr. Trang Nguyen and other wildlife experts, Brian Crudge and Dr. Marion Schneider, roaming the rainforest and searching for the creatures I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Sadly, seeing them in the wild is difficult as the forests are shrinking and their numbers are dwindling. The places where I saw them the most were the rescue centres. Free The Bears is one of the rescue centres that are doing fantastic work in rescuing bears and providing them with a safe haven.

I imagine myself as one of them, as Sorya, a naive orphan Sun Bear, hanging around in a corner, trying to replace her mother’s cuddles with sucking on her own toes. I don’t want these creatures to gradually disappear. I want to see the vast forests filled with the life of strong and free beings.

Together with Trang Nguyen, we hope these books will contribute to the conservation of wildlife by sharing with the readers what we know, what we love and care about. For me, this is a long and enduring journey.

Winning the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration is a great honour. We hope that the impact of the prize will be felt widely and draw attention to the plight of the Sun Bears and other wildlife.

I would like to express my gratitude to my readers, and to the editorial, design, and publishing team of Macmillan Children’s Books. Thanks to the organizers of The Yoto Carnegies and the librarian judges – and to all of those teachers and librarians who are sharing books with young audiences every day.

Thank you Trang Nguyen for writing this wonderful story. To assistant artists Phuong An and Nguyet Hang-Mochi Mun, and designer Linh Phan for accompanying me.

Thank you, Mom and Brother, for being the first readers in my life.