Houston Chronicle

"Local book publisher carves his own niche"

All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't do it, but Vuthy Kuon did. His sequel to the simple children's nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty After the Fall, not only put Humpty back together again but it gave the 31-year-old Cambodian refugee, artist and illustrator the springboard to his career as a  book publisher.
And in the same way he revamped the classic nursery rhyme, Vuthy Kuon, pronounced wood-tee kwan, is focused on carving a niche in the book publishing industry. 
His approach? Find authors willing to present, read and sell their books directly to kids in classrooms. Then print their books, sell them back to them at a discount, with the discount increasing with the size of the order and, in  the process, eliminate the 5 percent royalty publishers typically pay authors. Kuon also trains and coaches his authors to market the books directly to their  readers by making presentations in schools and bookstores.
"I specialize in publishing people who are great personalities and who can get out there and promote," says Kuon. "If they work hard, they can reap a lot of  rewards." He adds that they can make a profit of 40 percent to 80 percent selling the  books themselves, like he did.  So far, the novel formula has worked. 
Kuon's 7-year-old company, Providence Publishing, has produced 17 books, with  four pending. Revenues for 2002 reached almost $200,000, he said. "People don't understand I do things differently because of the results," said Kuon, whose boyish looks and earnestness give him a manner that  conveys trustworthiness. 
Elementary school teacher Marie Helena Cortes believes in the unusual approach to publishing. Through Kuon's method, Cortes was able to publish her first book, My Annoying Little Brother. In the first two weeks her book was released,  she sold 175 books, with 95 more preordered. 
Cortes said she chose Kuon to publish her book because she could retain more rights to her book, a 32-page picture book that tells the same story from two  points of view -- a sister's and her brother's. "I had talked to other publishing companies and knew what I could do and  couldn't do," recalled Cortes.  She said she liked the freedom she received from Kuon.
"I was very happy I had found somebody who would let me work on my project and do it my way," Cortes said. "He gave me a ton of good  advice, spent a lot of time, and I'm very, very happy with the product." 
Kuon, born in Cambodia but of Chinese descent, credits his entrepreneurial bent  to his mother, who was essentially sold to a family when her mother died. Like Cinderella, Kuon's mother was required to do all the chores in her new  home. But she found a way through her misfortune.
She saved her money, bought two piglets and raised them, feeding them scraps of food she collected from neighbors' used dishwater. She would end up with two desirable, fat pigs, sell them and then take one-fifth of the proceeds to buy  two more piglets.
Kuon's mother later married and had five children. In 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over and civil war broke out, Kuon's family was one of the first to escape via cargo plane to a refugee camp in Thailand and came to Houston when a  Catholic family here sponsored them. In America, Kuon's mother worked as a janitor until she saved enough money to  buy a doughnut shop, where she increased revenues from $200 a day to $600.
Kuon, too, started his business small -- with just one book and a $10,000 loan from his brother-in-law. Knowing it would take three months for the books to  arrive from overseas, Kuon got busy preselling his book. By the time the books arrived on his doorstep, he had enough orders to repay  the loan.  
These days, Kuon knows that to compete with the giant publishing companies,  every book he publishes must sell well. "The children's book industry is doom and gloom. It's very old-fashioned. They have very traditional methods and ... certain set standards," Kuon said. "Over 90 percent of all books fail and never go into a second printing." If 90 percent of his books failed, Kuon said, he'd be out of business.
To produce a winning book each time, Kuon discovered he could publish his books overseas -- in Hong Kong and China -- save costs, even with shipping, and still receive high-quality printing. "I started paying more to get bigger book covers, thicker paper and richer colors. When you focus on the quality of the product, it goes a long way," he said. "If you create a high-quality product, people take notice."
Secondly, Kuon discovered that the author needs to be noticed. "You, yourself, are a product," he said. "You are the main product, even though you have a book. The book is not the main product. The reason the book sells is you." Consequently, children's book authors need to work on their skill at presentation, something his own Web site, at, demonstrates rather well.   

Houston Chronicle

"Unlucky egg gives writer/artist his first book"

Some might label Vuthy Kuon as an egg head for scrambling an American classic. But the former Sharpstown resident knew exactly what he was doing when he decided to write a sequel to the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

I've always loved Children's books particularly nursery rhymes said 24 year old, whose first name is pronounced Woodtee. Humpty Dumpty is one of my all time favorites, but I felt something was missing. It really didn 't have an ending. Until now, that is. Through his company providence Publishing, Kuon recently released his book, Humpty Dumpty After the fall which chronicles the cracked character 's past following his nasty spill. Kuon drew the art work and wrote the text for the hardbound book.

When last seen poor Humpty Dumpty had fallen into pieces and neither the kings horses or neither the kings men could reassemble him.

Bringing Humpty into the 21st century, Kuon commissions a doctor, nurse, tailor, carpenter, weilder, and baker to help. Why even the dreaded tax collector makes an appearance. I tried to modernize it a bit, but at the same time I wanted to convey a message, said Kuon, who ended by relaying several messages. Unlike the original version, humpty regains his shape, thanks to his divine intervention as he is healed by the wings of a dove. Humpty becomes a shell of his previously lazy self, now content to do good deeds. There are several morals there, Kuon said. One thing is to never give up hope that miracles can, and do, happen. Another is the value of a productive life and of not being lazy. There are some biblical references there as well, although they may not be obvious, he added. But I believe that there is something in this book for everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. Kuon never shows Humptys face during the entire book so that the reader may empathize with the character. Humpty Dumpty after the fall has personal significance to his entire family. In 1987, his brother Tony died due to massive head injuries sustained in an accident.

This book is dedicated to Tony, Kuon said. he was only 18 when he died, and we still miss him terribly He was my inspiration.

Humpty Dumpty after the fall had more than messages and personal sentiments. Kuon has filled his hard back books with vivid, colorful illustrations and clever rhymes. He launched the project four years ago when attending the Rhode Island school of Design in Providence.

Kuon noted that illustrators David Macaulay, Barry Moser and Mary Jane Begin were a major influence on him during his studies. "It took many years of revisions, but finally it 's done," Kuon said.

When I opened the box with the first copies, I just screamed and jumped for joy. I always had dreamed of seeing my name in print, and it had become a reality. Kuon said 2000 copied have gone on sale for $15 at bookstores in Houston and across the country. A second shipment of 2000 will hit the shelves on Nov. 29, with a red cover for the Christmas holidays and a price tag of $15.99. All will be autographed personally by the author.

"We're very pleased with the way it turned out," said Leng Abbassi, Kuon's oldest sister. "The book is very humorous, but it s got a serious side. The illustrations are beautiful.
We're very proud of Vuthy. He's very talented."

The Pearland Journal

Author visits Rustic School 

Vuthy Kuon, author of Humpty Dumpty after the fall, came to read and amuse students from every grade at Rustic Oak Elementary last December. Kuon began his talk with his personal history, which included his education in the Houston area. Next came a slide show featuring his book, in which Kuon pointed out tidbits about illustrations such as his heart shaped egg yolk.

But the grand finale was what all students will be talking about for a very long time. In Kuon 's quest to draw the million faces of Humpty Dumpty, he selected numerous students from each show to model for Humpty 's characteristics. All were just rolling with laughter as the students tried their best to model as Kuon humorously interpreted the student 's form.

Teachers were fortunate enough to be selected for hair modeling and then the audience named the new Dumpty. The sketches are still featured in the classroom.

Students also waited patiently as Kuon personalized their copy of his book. Favorite sporting activities were among some of the drawings he created. Fun was had by all.

Author Vuthy Kuon reads his book, Humpty Dumpty, after the fall, to the students at Rustic Oak Elementary. He made sketches for the students and personalized their copies of his book. Students rolled with laughter at his humorous interpretations.

The Herald Newspaper

Author entertains at schools 

Children's book author and illustrator Vuthy Kuon visited the Aransas County ISD campuses this past week.

Kuon was born in Cambodia and came to the United States in 1975. He received his BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has been an art teacher and worked as a graphics designer for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

He now lives in Houston and devotes his time to writing and illustrating children 's books. He is the author and illustrator of Humpty Dumpty After the Fall, an inspirational story of Humpty 's rescue and the illustrator of Theodore Was Here, an amusing Christmas story about a mischievous elf who helped Santa. A new book illustrated by him, Willie and the World Wide Web, will be published this spring. It is about a young boy traveling inside his computer, and the wonderful, sometimes scary things which he encounters.

Kuon spent a full day at Live Oak Elementary, the Intermediate School, Fulton Elementary, and Rockport Elementary sharing his books and experiences with the children.

He thrilled the children with a visual presentation of his first work, Humpty Dumpty After the Fall. He used suggestions from the different grade levels of children and let each class come up with their own version of what Humpty Dumpty should look like.

The Citizen

Young author catches up with Humpty after his great fall.

At 24, Vuthy Kuon is already on his way to a successful career as an author and illustrator of children 's books.

His first book, Humpty Dumpty After the Fall published by Providence Publishing in Boston, is such a success, he has a schedule of 24 appearances including one on The Spirit of Texas This Morning on Channel 11 last week. He has made or is scheduled for appearances at schools, story times and autographings at both Barnes & Noble and Borders Book Stores in Houston, in Rhode Island and in the Boston area.

He has been invited to visit several schools giving mini art lessons and autographings. He is making appearances in the Bay Area on Nov. 20 at the opening of the Clear Lake area Barnes & Noble and Dec.8 at Jeremy's Bookshelf.

Of Chinese Cambodian heritage, he and his parents and his two sisters and two brothers left the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia when their parents told them they were going to kind of take a trip from Cambodia to Thailand at the insistence of an uncle. In their luggage were pots and pans and even a room air conditioner. Their destination was a refuge camp used early in the Southeastern Asian exodus.

The Kuons came to the United States when he was 3 years old, in 1975. After a brief stop in San Diego, they came to Houston. They were sponsored by Ernest and Margaret Hotze, who have remained close friends with the family.

Kuon grew up in Sharpstown, graduating at the top of his Bellaire High School class. His family moved to the Bay area in 1989, but he stayed with a married sister in Sharpstown until after graduation from high school. He now lives with his parents in the Bay Area.

After reviewing all the scholarship offers, he selected the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I., because his brother was at nearby Brown University. He intended to teach illustration and photography after graduation.

While at school, to augment his academic scholarship, he was reference assistant in the school library, head supervisor in the school weight room, gallery monitor for the Canal Street Art Gallery, a part time designer for the Brown/Rhode Island School of Design newspaper, The Independent, and a teacher 's assistant for one film/animation class at Hope High School.

While working in the library, he examined the collection of children 's stories and made the decision to write and illustrate his own. He 'd often heard the tale and, as a child, wondered what happened to poor Humpty. His imaginative answer fit right in with his desire to become an illustrator and designer.

During break in 1991, Kuon served as a graphics designer, designing layouts and spreads as well as editing some articles for Cambodian Life Magazine in Houston.

In 1992, his break was spent working at the Children 's Museum of Houston in the Fabrication Department where he used his skills designing, sculpting and painting museum exhibits. He was accepted for the 1993 Minority Internship Program at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. There he served as graphic design intern/publications department intern. He designed page spreads for MFA Today Magazine, and designed advertisements for the Theta Charity Magazine. He also edited, typed and rewrote text for MFA Today. After graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design, he became an art and photography teacher for Fort Worth Country Day School, a private kindergarten through grade 12 school. The next book on his computer drawing board was to be named Pug, based on a bible verse from St. Paul 's letter to the Corinthians about love. He is using a dog to illustrate the idea that life need not be a rat race but can turn into a loving dog race instead. After that he 's considering a small autobiography illustrating the transitions necessary to move from one culture to another with ease.

The Facts

Artistry in Motion

Lake Jackson -- For students like Devon Pharis, meeting the author of the books at his school library brightened his Monday. Vuthy Kuon, author of children 's books including Humpty Dumpty After the Fall, kept students laughing and eager to participate during his visit to O.M. Roberts Elementary School.

He 's funny said Pharis, 9, while waiting to get his book autographed. I like his expressions.
With funny faces and movements that kept students on edge, Kuon shared the story of how he moved from Cambodia during the Vietnam War and landed in Houston. Though Kuon was animated while telling how bombs fell during the war, students soon learned how he overcame language barriers and lack of money to become what he is today.

He described how his naughty behavior led to a paddling from his elementary school principal, but he also shared how a teacher led him to read children 's books. That day his behavior and grades changed.

From that day on, I became a straight-A student, Kuon said.

That experience played a role in why Kuon became a writer. Kuon, who is also an illustrator and publisher, used the story of Humpty Dumpty as portrayed in his book to let students know that anyone who has fallen can get back up.

The message is just one portrayed in Kuon 's book. In Elmer the Dog, underlying message to children is that they should be proud of who they are. The presentation 's highlight included students helping Kuon design a face for Humpty Dumpty, a once idle character who transforms into someone who helps the needy.

As an artist it is hard to come up with a perfect face, Kuon told students. I want you to become my artists today.

Coming to America

There is some irony in Kuon 's career choice.

After all, Kuon spoke no English when he arrived in the U.S to decades ago. His immediate family of seven and his larger extended family had fled their native Cambodia, which was in the midst of civil war. They sought refuge in Thailand before arriving in Houston, where they were sponsored by Earnest and Margaret Hotze.

A mischievous child, Kuon was merely an average grade school student at Ed White Elementary School in southwest Houston. In 1990, he finished No.1 in his graduating class at Bellaire Senior High School with a 4.7 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.

Kuon 's love for art began a seventh grader at Sharpstown Middle School. His mentor at the time was Harry McGinnis, who Kuon credits for much of his success.

He (McGinnis) really took me under his wing, Kuon said. I owe him a great deal, as well as my parents (Ngy and Heing Kuon) and the rest of my family.

Kuon put his artistic ability to use designing, Sculpting and painting several exhibits for the newly opened Children's Museum of Houston during the summer of 1992.

The next year, he served as a summer intern for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where he did graphics and edited the publication MFA Today.

After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994, Kuon was employed as an art and photography teacher at Fort Worth Country Day School.

All that was the perfect preparation for a budding author and artist.

Kuon has several other books planned, although he still is doing plenty of promotional work for Humpty Dumpty after the fall.

"I'll be moving to Boston in October to do some free lance work, but I'll be back in Houston from time to time, he said. I'll be touring a few schools, and I've got some appearances lined up at Barnes & Noble, Borders and other book stores. Everyone's been very supportive.

Unlike a certain egg shaped creature, Vuthy Kuon refuses to fall.