Filipina-Chinese author helps kids understand the many meanings of ‘no’
One of the shortest but most difficult words to understand (and hear) is “no.” Even adults still struggle with its meaning or even just accept it when they hear it. Imagine how much more confusing it might be for kids.
This is what inspired Filipina-Chinese author Dazzle Ng to create “When an Elephant Hears No,” a beautifully crafted children’s picture book that takes both children and their reading adults alike through the many different meanings and contexts of the word.
And as the book goes, “no” isn’t always negative.
This short word bears and needs so much context and nuance, and the book, which comes with charmingly cute art by Portuguese illustrator Estrela Lourenço, is a wonderful primer.
“I realized how many quick and unexplained NOs kids get in a day and how some of those can understandably lead to a tantrum,” Ng says. The elephant, she shares, just clicked as a perfect imagery. “An elephant flaring its ears, stomping around, shooting out angry sounds with its trunk… had the makings of a giant tantrum. And it would all come from a tiny word: NO.”
View this post on Instagram
Writing for children
It was ultimately her own kids and her experience in looking for picture books for her kids that inspired Ng to explore the genre.
“I’ve always loved writing, but it was when I started spotting these unique, cool, breathtaking picture books for my own kids that I fell in love with the format. When I was growing up, my books were mostly fairytales. Now they have biographies, incredible non-fiction options, books where the narrator or a baby dragon in it is causing chaos, titles that deal with topics like perspective, body positivity, gender identity, racism, etc.,” she says. “The content and experience of picture books go far beyond their usual 32 pages. They become discussions, memories.”
It was also a real-life experience with her son that informed the book, as she realized, in one instance where she had told him no (“And his face fell,” Ng shares) that kids might not understand the real meaning of “no” when they are just told quickly, without explanation. The book, therefore, serves to help.
Flipping through its pages, one can see a myriad scenes and experiences that are all familiar and relatable. It shows how we may hear “no” as a “not yet,” or “wait, please,” or “no” as a way to express shock or fear or worry.
These scenes are simply but beautifully worded, seamlessly flowing from one “no” to the next, interspersed with the whys and hows of the coming-to-be of these “nos.” Ng was also able to delicately insert important “nos”—the “no” as a response to being asked for consent, and the “no” that precedes a want for something better (as in protest! “No cutting down trees!” “No litter where little critters skitter!” And a personal, witty favorite: “Power plants, no! Flowers/plants, yes!”).
“Picture books are so tricky to craft. In as few words as you can manage, you have to: tell an engaging, complete story; have a powerful emotional arc; leave space for the illustrator to work their magic; create a satisfying read-aloud experience; and so much more,” Ng says. And the experience of reading her book is telling of how much passion and care was put into it.
Being published in the US
Ng joins the ranks of several other Filipina authors making their mark in the US publishing industry. Based in the Philippines, Ng works as a writer for brands while simultaneously working on children’s stories.
She has been signed with an agent since 2021 and shares that “‘When an Elephant Hears No’ was one of the first manuscripts” her agent had submitted to editors. Page Street Kids acquired the story and developed it into the book that is now being distributed both online and in brick and mortar bookstores in the US today.
View this post on Instagram
“Even though I’m based here (in the Philippines) and Estrela is based in Dublin, we were able to work smoothly and collaboratively. Not all authors have the same experience, but I truly enjoyed every step of the process,” Ng says.
“When an Elephant Hears No” is published by Page Street Kids, and is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon