BY CARMEN CITA
Once upon a time, a daring young lawyer hatched a fanciful plan to publish a series of children’s books. Inspired by her various expeditions to far-flung places, Longzhen ‘Longy’ Han wanted to share the wonders of her travels with the next generation.
What first seemed like a whimsical dream has now become a reality. After raising more than $10K of crowdfunded finance, the first installment of Longy’s book series is set to hit bookshelves this month. Entitled Gusto & Gecko Travel To Kenya, the premier edition will be launched at Dymocks this Saturday.
“The focus for the books is to inspire kids to learn more about the different cultures, food, landscapes, people, and animals of the different countries,” Longy explained. “So that at a very young age, they realise and appreciate how exciting the world is, and then, as they get older, they will go on to travel.”
The Sydney-based author is an intrepid traveller, whose global adventures include flirting with Antarctic penguins; kayaking in the Adriatic Sea; eating rooster testicles in Budapest; relishing the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in New Orleans; and volunteering at a Kenyan orphanage. She has travelled independently across seven continents, over 30 countries and 90 cities, mostly on a shoestring budget – and now she wants to pass on the joy of her travels to the children of the world.
“In many ways, travel is education,” said Han. “It teaches you important life skills such as adaptability, resourcefulness and critical thinking. I think everyone should do it if they have the opportunity.”
Longy’s impromptu transformation, from lawyer to children’s book writer, started as a creative diversion to offset the stresses of her day job. She elaborated: “I moved from Melbourne to Sydney two and a half years ago for work, and because I didn’t have many friends here I had all of this time on my hands – so that’s when I sat down and told myself: ‘Think less. Just do it.’ And I started writing.”
“At first I thought I would just write my little story book, and maybe show it to my parents for a laugh,” she recalled. “It has turned into so much more.”
As the idea started to grow and take on a life of its own, Longy promoted her ‘little story book’ on Pozible. “Crowdfunding was a great way to raise the capital that I didn’t have, but also get the support from family and friends, and validate an idea in the marketplace,” she said. “That wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. Society has become incredibly interconnected, and there are many online platforms that you can use to make things happen if you want to.”
Of the $10,095 raised to finance the first of the Gusto & Gecko series, Longy donated ten percent to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, to support Indigenous children in remote areas with limited access to books and education.
She explained: “With this book series, part of our focus is on giving back to the community where we can. That’s going to be a running theme through my books, because I believe literacy lays the foundation for lifelong learning.”
The 2014 NAPLAN National Report highlights the scale of the Indigenous literacy gap in Australia. In all areas of learning, the scores for Indigenous students are substantially lower than those achieved by their non-Indigenous peers.
The report shows that Indigenous students in remote locations are especially susceptible to low literacy levels. In Australia’s most isolated communities, only 37.4 per cent of Indigenous students met the national minimum standard for reading in Year 3, while 90.9 per cent of their non-Indigenous counterparts achieved that benchmark.
Longy may be a successful lawyer-come-writer now, but literacy is not something that she takes for granted. “When I came to Australia at the age of six, I didn’t speak a word of English – and neither did my parents,” she recalled. “So for me, growing up, I was really relying on the teachers and the students at school, and then relying on children’s picture books to help me get up to speed with my reading and writing.”
“That’s why I am a firm advocate for literacy – because I realise how important basic literacy skills are. Literacy empowers people to do more, and gives them the tools to go and do incredible things with their lives. I think all kids should have that opportunity to learn – even just the most basic reading and writing skills.”
Longy’s first foray into children’s book publishing already looks like a resounding success. She has pre-sold more than 600 copies of Gusto & Gecko Travel To Kenya and plans are currently underway for the second book in the series.
But, for Longy, success is not measured in dollar values. “I don’t really envision making money from this project,” she said. “It’s about delivering happiness to kids around the world – it’s about reaching out and engaging with kids.”
“That’s why we are committed to donating the book to children’s hospitals – because we want kids who might not have the opportunity to travel to still feel like they are going somewhere, through the books.”
Gusto and Gecko Dymocks Book Launch Party and Signing
Oct 10, 2pm. Dymocks, 424 George Street, Sydney. Free event.
Look up the Facebook event and find out more about The Curious Travels of Gusto & Gecko at gustoandgecko.com.