It’s clear to me when trying to create this list that there are not enough Lao and Hmong children’s books out there! They were hard to come by even through my public library system so I purchased Lao Folktales and The Hemp and the Beeswax: A Hmong Cinderella. If you need either for your home or classroom library, please leave me a comment about why you need it and I’ll send them to you.
How about you? Do you have any book suggestions for this list? They would be most welcome. Thank you!
Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
This is the true story of Laotian American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Mali lived an idyllic life in the country with her family until the war began. Forced to flee, Mali and her family are arrested for not having a home in this country. With her childhood memories to sustain her, Mali tells stories of home to her fellow refugees. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
A Hmong man is included in this story as a side character so I’ve included it in this list.
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]
Dia’s Story Cloth by
“Everything in a Hmong story cloth is hand-embroidered. The stitches in a Hmong story cloth make pictures of life. This story cloth will tell you about our life.”
This story cloth begins with the Hmong diaspora from China to Laos. In 1960, Laos was caught in warfare with many Hmong men joining forces with the American government to fight the communists. The Hmong villages were relentlessly bombed and many, many people died. In 1970, the Americans pulled out of Laos and many Hmong escaped as refugees to Thailand and then America. The story cloth is a bridge to all the generations before us and after us as well. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
Basha: A Hmong Child by Herve Giraud
Through Basha’s life with her parents , learn about the lifestyle and customs of the Hmong tribes of the northern Vietnam. [nonfiction picture book, ages 7 and up]
Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story by Pegi Deitz Shea
From a Thai refugee camp to Providence, Rhode Island, thirteen year old Mai Yang’s journey is realistically described from nearly being raped by a doctor at the refugee camp to the difficulty of adjusting to a new language and culture in America. Pair Tangled Threads with Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai. There’s an extensive book list for more children’s and young adult books about the Hmong though my library system did not have many of them. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Hmong Folk Tales for Kids
Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella by Jewell Reinhart Coburn, illustrated by Eddie Flotte
The father in this Hmong folk tale changes Jouanah’s mother into a cow and then selfishly remarries another woman with a daughter her age. He’s easily manipulated by the evil stepmother who gets him and Jouanah to do all the chores from dawn to dusk. She learns of the silken thread the cow spins, and gets him to destroy it, and sacrifice the cow. Soon, the father dies as well.
When the New Year arrives, Jouanah is too busy doing the cruel tasks her stepmother gives her to attend the village festivities. On the third day, she finds a beautiful outfit in her sewing basket and joins the celebration, catching the eye of the son of the village elder. Jouanah is not recognized by her stepfamily, but loses one shoe in her haste to get home before them. The ending is the same as all Cinderella stories but in this story, the stepmother and stepsister continue to live as they did, in misery. [fairy tale picture book, ages 6 and up]
The Hemp and the Beeswax: A Hmong Folktale retold by Ia Moua Yang
The Hmong Cinderella explains the significance of the Indigo batik cloth that is a textile tradition in Hmong culture. In this Hmong story which is detailed above in Jouanah, this story goes further and explains how the couple is united in the hemp cloth because it combines the hemp for cloth (husband), beeswax for the batik (first wife), and hummingbird (son) to eat the honey. [trilingual Hmong/Lao/English picture book, ages 4 and up]
Lao Folk Tales for Kids
Lao Folktales by Steven Jay Epstein
“Many of these tales with animal themes have their roots in the Panchatantra and Jataka tales. The Panchantantra tales originated in India about 2300 years ago. The Panchatantra tales are the basis for Aesop’s fables. The Jataka tales are a collection of stories of the past lives of the Buddha. These two dozen folk tales are also meant to entertain and reflect the constant good humor of the Lao.” from the forward
These are short and funny stories. They remind me of a Lao version of Strega Nona. [folk tale chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Suggestions by Readers
I’m a Hmong-American illustrator and author and I couldn’t agree more! I’ve currently created two children’s graphic novels entitled, “Then and Now” and “The Collection,” which features Hmong characters and experiences! Feel free to check them out here.
I’ve also illustrated for See Lor of @readingkarma which have several children’s books out that feature Hmong characters and the culture! Feel free to check out Reading Karma for more Hmong-related books!
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