Kid Lit Talk: Ming & Wah and Carmen Vela on 'Escape: One Day We Had to Run'

by Lantana Publishing on May 06, 2021


It's the book birthday of Escape: One Day We Had to Runan "arresting collection of deep, accessible stories of people on the move" (Kirkus Starred Review). We asked authors Ming & Wah and illustrator Carmen Vela to share some fascinating facts about the book and their work. Let's dive in!

On the writing 

Carmen: Hi Ming and Wah! I think what everyone wants to know is: Why was writing this book important to you? And why do you think it is overall an important book nowadays?

Ming & Wah: Originally we wanted to write an entire picture book about how our Chinese nanny left Mainland China and came to British Hong Kong: she SWAM.  Literally, she swam almost two and a half miles in cold, shark infested, and patrolled waters in search of more opportunities.  Then, as we brainstormed the idea more, we quickly got  excited about using more action verbs to tell other incredible refugee and migrant stories. 

Carmen: True stories around asylum seeking and escape are unfortunately too many, and there are many kinds of stories from around the world and throughout history. How did you get to decide on this set of stories specifically? Or what factors did you consider when deciding which stories you wanted to share? 

Ming & Wah: Our wonderful publisher wanted to share more hopeful stories for children, so several of our original but darker verbs like HIDE (Rwanda neighbor to neighbor genocide), THRASH (Cambodia to Thailand to escape the Pol Pot regime), and FORD (North Korea via the Yalu River to China) did not make it into the final galley.

Ming & Wah with their Cantonese nanny, Ah Ping Jie, who used to carry them around "like two hot water bottles" (Left). And younger Ming & Wah, strong and fierce even then (Right)

I am aware you both have children, nieces and nephews. Did you have them in mind when giving words to this complex issue illustrated in Escape?  

Ming & WahWe are both proud working mothers and borderline outrageous aunties to young ones ranging from 2 to 29.  We have written picture books and middle grade chapter books but hope that our audience is ageless because that is when you know you have written a classic.  We hope our kids enjoy learning about history and reading thrilling adventure stories as much as we do.

On the illustrations

Ming & Wah: Carmen you are such a talented graphic artist and now, picture book illustrator. What was it like to illustrate Escape as your first foray into picture book illustration?  How was it similar and/or different to graphic art?

Carmen: Thank you! My love for books and all around storytelling is what brought me first into the world of graphics and design. Even though I had plenty of experience making books and other visual materials, creating an entire picture book is a major and meaningful task with its own intricacies and process that should not be taken for granted. I'm so glad you thought of me when coming up with the concept for Escape and that our publishers supported me along the way.

Carmen's studio in Spain (Left). Concept board for the spread PEDAL, about the escape of Curious George authors Hans and Margaret Rey who cycled for four days from Paris to Portugal to escape Nazi persecution (Right. See also the previous image)

Ming & Wah: We worked on the look and feel pretty closely with you, happily with similar design aesthetics.  Earlier iterations were inspired by color blocking and color fields and use of negative space a la Frank Stella & Ellsworth Kelly.  Please share how the final double page spreads came about including how long each spread took to illustrate and the thematic threads.

Carmen: Escape is a book with a common thread and 12 completely different worlds to illustrate. When coming up with the look and feel, we had in mind a simple visual language that would allow for a distinctive feel in each spread and enough flexibility to depict all the necessary details. There were at least three rounds of making for each of escape story, from a very geometrical colour composition to a more elaborate and comprehensive one.

Ming & Wah: Please tell everyone what else do you do? Share your talents!

Carmen: I trained in Communication Studies and I started building a practice as a designer and art director. I have made books, album covers, I have worked with fun global companies and I have ideated brands from scratch while working solo or at agencies. Currently, I also have my own visual art practice which helps me grow in new directions.

Carmen's concept board (left) and final art (right) for DEFY, about Consul-General Dr. Feng Shan Ho, who issued a visa to every Jewish person who applied to the Chinese Consulate in Vienna against his superior's orders

Ming & Wah: One of the best things about collaboratively creating is that it is a healthy and productive way for us to sublimate life’s natural anxieties and escape into a parallel and important and inventive universe of children’s books. Carmen, we so loved working with you on Escape and cannot wait to work on the sequel!!!
Which nicely leads to our final question: Will you work on another picture book with us? We have written a sequel!!

CarmenYes!! Aren't we already brewing some new exciting stories together? :)

Thank you, Ming, Wah and Carmen, for sharing your creative processes with us!

Last May 4th, we celebrated the international launch of Escape: One Day We Had to Run with a virtual event hosted by the Holocaust Museum LA! Meet Ming, Wah and Carmen below and learn more about their amazing book. Then, buy your own copy HERE and donate a book to children who need them most with your purchase.

CLING. Don’t let go. Hold tight. Never give up. FLY. Rev up. Lift off. Soar. PEDAL. Set off. Cycle. Pedal for your life.

Throughout history, ordinary people have been forced to leave their families and homes because of war, famine, slavery, intolerance, economic and political upheaval, or climate change. These remarkable true stories of escape show how courageous people all around the world have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their flight to freedom.

Click HERE to buy the book!

You'll be donating a book to children who need them most with your purchase.



Ming & Wah are identical twins who love history, plucky heroes and anything by Agatha Christie. Graduates of Harvard and Columbia Universities respectively, they have published two previous children's books and live in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Learn more about their work on or follow them on Twitter and Instagram.


Carmen Vela is an independent art director, designer and illustrator from Spain. For over a decade she has been living between Hong Kong, Brooklyn and Europe, fuelled by her love of books, paper and stories. Visit to see more of her striking work or follow her on Instagram. 




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