Tag Archives: Hmong

PPBF – A Map into the World

I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book on one of the many “best of” lists that have begun popping up these past few weeks. When I read the reviewer’s description and the synopsis, I just had to read, and review, it!

Title: A Map into the World

Written By: Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrated By: Seo Kim

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Hmong, seasons, maps, moving, death, intergenerational, new siblings, immigrant, #OwnVoices

Opening:

The first time we saw the swing and the slide and the garden of the green house with the big windows, my mother sat down in a chair in the backyard and said she did not want to get up. Tais Tais and I looked at the garden, and she pointed out tomatoes, green beans, and a watermelon round as my mother’s belly.

Brief Synopsis: When the narrator, Paj Ntaub, and her family move to a new house, she experiences the seasons and the phases of life, including birth and death.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

A Map into the World follows the narrator, Paj Ntaub, as she adjusts to life in a new home and the arrival of twin baby brothers. But even as life is beginning in Paj Ntaub’s house, an elderly neighbor passes away, leaving her husband of over 60 years alone. How does this sensitive young narrator deal with these three big changes? Frankly any one of them on its own would be difficult for any person, let alone a young child, to process.

But young Paj Ntaub is observant. She notes the changes in nature, and she takes comfort in the Hmong story cloth that graces her new home and tells the story of how her family had left its homeland in southeast Asia. Bringing these threads together, she draws a map to show her neighbor how he can navigate the loss of his lifelong partner and find joy in the world once again.

I love the sensitivity exhibited by young Paj Ntaub, and I love how immigrant culture provides a way for the elderly neighbor, a non-immigrant, to process his grief.

A Map into the World is a perfect read for anyone dealing with a life-changing occurrence and for anyone interested in learning more about Hmong culture.

With soft yellows and greens, Kim’s nature-filled illustrations created with “digital graphite, pastels, watercolor, and scanned handmade textures” render a soothing setting for the story and are a gentle reminder that life is filled with seasons of beginnings and endings.

A Note about Craft:

Per an end note, A Map into the World is based upon the author’s actual neighbors, Ruth and Bob, and the author’s own family. She also is an #OwnVoices writer, familiar with Hmong culture and, presumably, problem-solving. I love how she uses aspects of this culture to problem solve and uses the metaphor of a map as a means to adapt to difficult life changes. This is her first picture book.Visit Yang’s website to see more of her books.

Visit Kim’s website to view more of her illustrations.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in the bookstore at the New England SCBWI 2017 conference this past April. The gorgeous stitched illustrations and evocative title drew my attention even before I saw the tag line, a refugee’s story. Interestingly, it’s not one I’ve found on any of the many lists of picture books about refugees…yet!

As this is the story of a grandmother and grandchild journeying together, with their love and the strength of the female community so prevalent throughout the tale, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to feature for Mother’s Day:

9781563971341_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

Written By: Pegi Deitz Shea

Illustrated By: Anita Riggio

Stitched By: You Yang

Publisher/date: Boyds Mills Press/1995

Suitable for Ages: 3-8 (per the publisher; I’d say older)

Themes/Topics: refugees, Hmong, needlework folk art

Opening:

After Mai’s cousins moved to America, Mai passed the days with Grandma at the Widows’ Store, watching the women do pa´ndau story cloths. She loved listening to the widows stitch and talk, stitch and talk – mostly about their grandmothers’ lives in China a hundred years ago. All Mai could remember was life inside the refugee camp, where everyone seemed to come and go but her.

Brief Synopsis:

With the help and encouragement of her grandmother and the women stitching, and selling, Hmong story cloths, Mai learns this traditional art and shares the tale of her losses.

Links to Resources:

  • Shea provides a Curriculum Guide on her website and there is a Glossary and Foreward that provide Hmong words and story background;
  • Learn about the Hmong peoples and culture;
  • Learn about Hmong embroidery and try some embroidery stitches;
  • Learn about Southeast Asia, including Laos and Thailand, the setting of The Whispering Cloth;
  • Create story pictures about your life or the life of an older relative or friend.

Why I Like this Book:

As is evident from the synopsis, the refugee in today’s picture book hails not from the Middle East, Africa, or Central America. Nor is Mai’s story a contemporary tale. Published over 20 years ago, The Whispering Cloth is the story of a young, orphaned Hmong refugee living with her grandmother and dreaming of a better life. Tragically, while the setting and ethnic group are different, this story is as relevant today as when it was written. And while children like Mai may now be settled in the US and have children of their own, I believe that learning what they experienced is important for all of us. Reading The Whispering Cloth together may even help these survivors share their experiences with children and grandchildren.

The bond between Mai and her grandmother is another reason I like this story. That older women have talents and traditions to share with grandchildren is a valuable facet of this tale.

Finally, I love how the arts are at the heart of The Whispering Cloth: as a way to earn money by selling the pa´ndau story cloths and as a means to both tell and process the horrific experience of losing parents, fleeing home, and living in a refugee camp. The folk art pa´ndau is also central to Hmong culture, making it particularly relevant to the story of Hmong refugees. This makes me wonder about the folk art traditions of current refugees: whether the children are learning them, whether they serve as therapeutic outlets, and whether they are surviving the transitions to new homes and cultures.

The Whispering Cloth includes scenes and references that might prove upsetting to younger children (blood, soldiers and bullets figure in the embroidered story). However, they are integral to the story, and the combination of rich watercolor and embroidered artwork may soften the potential impact of these troubling details for younger children.

A Note about Craft:

Authors and illustrators know that we must find the kernel of a story, the nugget at its heart that helps the story resonate with readers. But how do you identify that nugget? At least when writing a story set in a particular place or describing a particular culture, I think the nugget must provide insight to that place/culture. Additionally, it must play a significant role in the character development and story outcome. I think the nugget in The Whispering Cloth is the Hmong pa´ndau. Its centrality in the text and illustrations provides a window into Hmong culture, a culture about which many readers may be unfamiliar. It also acts as a mirror, for those who journeyed through the refugee camps and beyond, as they share this story with their children and future generations. And mastering the techniques enables Mai to remain tied to her traditional culture while earning the money necessary to escape from the refugee camp.

Neither Shea nor Riggio is an #OwnVoice author or illustrator, but a Hmong artist, You Yang, rendered Mai’s story as a pa´ndau, adding richness and authenticity to this story.

Pegi Deitz Shea is also the author of a middle grade book, Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story (Clarion, 2003), that follows Mai as she starts a new life in Rhode Island.O8Sg9_KvFq0C

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!