Bella's Vietnam Adventure, Vietnam, picture book,

Exploring Vietnam: Culture and KidLit

Vietnam: Crafts and Books for Kids

I’ve never been to Vietnam but it’s at the top of my list of places that I want to visit, particularly for the food which we eat at least once a week so it was a easy choice to armchair travel.  I grew up 15 minutes from Little Saigon in The O.C.  and I am a big fan of Vietnamese food.  It’s my favorite Asian cuisine.  My mom worked in a real estate office near Little Saigon years ago and she ate at almost all of the phô and seafood restaurants in the area and would bring us to her favorites. It’s only fitting that food be included.  I’ve actually made this recipe for Lemongrass Beef served Vietnamese “Burrito” style AND had my kids’ play dates enjoy this recipe which surprised me as some of my kids’ friends are fussy eaters.  I also selected a cookbook by Saveur contributor, Andrea Nguyen, who returned to her homeland to research this book.

For children’s literature, I picked two books, one picture and one chapter book, that really seem evoke the culture and spirit of Vietnam. Both have a Zen quality to their story:  spare, eloquent, and powerful.  And both stories recall the terrible war but also the ability of the Vietnamese to transcend and make peace with it. For those who might want a intricate project, I have included  a link to creating (and then possibly racing) a Dragon Boat.  It’s a pretty labor intense project, so it’s not for everyone.

Finally, I searched for something emblematic of Vietnam and found lacquered paintings that are unique as well as beautiful.

I hope you enjoy our trip to Vietnam and that it inspires you to visit or revisit Vietnam soon!

Children’s Literature

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

This is a gentle story that touches on more serious subjects. A boy and his father go on an early morning fishing trip but they fish for dinner not for sport. The boy asks his father why they need to fish since his father works two jobs. Fishing also reminds his father of his brother, another sad subject touched on since his brother who fought by his side in the Vietnam war never returned. This quiet story is like the pond itself, tranquil on top but teeming with possibilities including life or death underneath. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland.  This gorgeous picture book for kids is a spare and beautifully written book that touches on the most recent history of Vietnam.  In this story, a young girl watches the emperor cry as his kingdom falls.  She takes a lotus seed from the Imperial Garden and guards it throughout her harrowing journey from war-torn Vietnam to the United States.  When her grandson plants the seed, she is inconsolable when she cannot locate her seed.  Spring comes and the lotus blooms.  The Grandmother carefully saves the seeds from the flower to give her to children, keeping one for herself.  The lotus is an enduring symbol of Buddhism:  rising from the mud comes a beautiful flower. [picture book, ages 6-12]

The Lotus Seed, Vietman Picture Book,, Pragmatic Mom

Thank you to Amber for her great recommendation for a Thanksgiving book!

A Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Tuyet is excited about the holiday and the vacation from school. There’s just one problem: her Vietnamese American family is having duck for Thanksgiving dinner — not turkey! Nobody has duck for Thanksgiving — what will her teacher and the other kids think?

To her surprise, Tuyet enjoys her yummy Thanksgiving dinner anyhow — and an even bigger surprise is waiting for her at school on Monday. Dinners from roast beef to lamb to enchiladas adorned the Thanksgiving tables of her classmates, but the celebrations all had something in common — family!

Kids from families with different traditions will enjoy this warm story about “the right way” to celebrate an American holiday. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

The Walking Stick by Maxine Trottier and Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

The walking stick from a teak tree near a Buddhist temple is young Van’s talisman as his life winds through marriage, a child, the Vietnam war, immigration to a new land, and back again to the same temple by way of his granddaughter.  [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Bella’s Vietnam Adventure by Stacey Zolt Hara, illustrated by Steve Pileggi

I met author Stacey Zolt Hara on Twitter. She shares her experiences living as an U.S. expat in Singapore though her daughter Bella’s eyes. In this charming picture book, they all travel to Vietnam as tourists where they experience the intimidating traffic, Hoan Kiem Lake, shopping at street fairs, and the beach. This is a must for anyone thinking of taking their young kids to Vietnam! [picture book, ages 4-10]

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnam Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, art by Brian Deines

Review by Randomly Reading:

A young boy and his family risk their lives escaping from Vietnam in 1981, to join his father and sister in Canada. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden. This chapter book also has a spare yet richly nuanced story conveying life in rural Vietnam.  1o-year-old Tinh works with his father to catch fish for their livelihood.  When a storm damages their boat because he fails to secure it, Tihn must go on a dangerous journey through old land mines from the war still buried in the countryside to get the engine repaired. [chapter book, ages 9-12]

The Buddha's Diamond,, Teach Me Tuesday Vietnam

Vietnamese Cookbook from Saveur Editor, Andrea Nguyen

One of my favorite magazines of all time is Saveur Magazine.  It’s a food magazine that goes deep into the culture of different countries, typically exploring home cooking.  I’ve enjoyed reading Andrea’s articles and now she’s has a cookbook published on her native cuisine.

Andrea, vietnamese cookbook, teach me tuesday vietnam,, pragmatic mom

Lemongrass Beef

Flank steak, cut against the grain into thin ribbons, about a pound

Marinade for a few hours or overnight in:

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon minced inner stalks of lemongrass

1 clove garlic, minced finely

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use Kikkoman’s)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

Dipping sauce:

1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar (or juice from one lime)

1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce

4 teaspoons sugar

Stir to mix and serve in small bowls.

Serve with:

1/2 head Bibb lettuce, washed and leaves separated

2 small carrots, julienned in long strips

1 English cucumber, julienned in long strips

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 package rice paper wrappers, 6 inches in diameter

Lightly coat a cast iron grill pan with oil and heat over medium high heat. Sear steak and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes or until done to the degree you prefer.  Discard marinade, and arrange steak with lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, herbs on a platter.  Bring out a large bowl of water, the rice paper wrappers and the dipping sauce.   Dip the rice paper wrappers in water then lay out on a plate.  Let each diner add on the veggies they like best, then wrap like a burrito, dip into the sauce and eat.  The appeal of this meal for children is that they can make their own, it’s hands on, and it’s delicious!

Craft:  Vietnamese Dragon Boat

In Vietnam, boat racing is a national sport and has become a traditional way to celebrate Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese New Year. This boat takes about 6 hours but is broken out into about 2 hours of assembly time and 4 hours of drying time so it’s doable albeit ambitious.  Here’s the link.

dragonboat racing, vietnam, teach me tuesday, pragmatic mom

Vietnamese Lacquer Art Paintings

Vietnamese Lacquer Ware is based on the natural vegetable lacquer, a product made from the lacquer tree which is found in several Asian countries. But the resins in the lacquer trees in the province of VinhPhu, Vietnam, produce the best lacquer ware products. They are the most beautiful and durable lacquer ware items in the world today.

The origins of making lacquer ware dates back six to seven thousand years in China. These early examples were very basic and lack the number of process done today. Modern lacquer ware styles and process came about during the first century AD. Somewhere around the 8th century this form of art came to the North of Vietnam. That explains why today, Vietnam is well-known in this field. When speaking today about fine lacquer products, items from Vietnam represent the finest examples of the art today.

Lacquer painting can also be combined with gold and/or silver leaf for stunning results!

vietnamese lacquer art paintings,, PragmaticMom

vietnam lacquer art, pragmaticmom, teach me tuesday vietnam

teach me tuesday vietnam, vietnamese lacquer painting,, pragmatic mom

lacquer paintings vietnamese vietnam, pragmatic mom teach me tuesday

vietnamese lacquer painting,, teach me tuesday

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To view any book or item more closely, please click on image.

I will be giving away the multicultural picture book Bella’s Vietnam Adventure. To win, please leave a comment. You can earn additional chances to win by signing up for an email subscription, following on Networked Blogs, following me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Please just note what you did. Thank you! I will draw a winner on March 15th.

Congrats to Ann and Alma. You both won!

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Multicultural Books for Kids on Pinterest.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Ann

    There was a Vietnamese restaurant in Providence that we went to a few times and loved it! I am going to try that recipe – yum!!!

    I love posts from this series – so fun and interesting!

  2. alma lizarraga

    I hold Vietnam in a very special place in my heart. I visited it when I was 7 months pregnant with my now two-year-old son. I found the country enchanting and wonderful. Its thousands of flavors and colors will always be in my mind. I would like my son to know more about this fascinating place as he grows older. I’m certain he will love it as he loves pho now. Thanks for sharing the review of the book.

  3. My son loves picture books! I will certainly be looking for The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland. Thank you for linking up at Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop!
    Frances recently posted…Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #1My Profile

  4. Great post! Really enjoying your kid lit posts, from all perspectives – multicultural, kids books, related art and recipes.
    Marie-Claude Leroux recently posted…The Chinese Language In All Its Forms – Basics of CalligraphyMy Profile

  5. What a lovely post! Thank you so much for linking up to the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop – The Lotus Seed sounds like a really beautiful book and the Lemongrass Beef sounds absolutely delicious!
    Mud Hut Mama recently posted…Crock Pot Split Pea Soup: Simple Family DinnersMy Profile

  6. There’s also “In a Village by the Sea” written by Muon Van and beautifully illustrated by April Chu! It’s one of my favorites. 🙂

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