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 though 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!
p.s. Thank you to Becky Linderholm who reviews books for her Family Conversation Kits for many of these book suggestions and book blurbs.
Lao and Hmong Children’s Books
From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Rachel Wada
Kalia lives with her family in Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. Like many young Hmong children, she has not known life outside of camp. While her life includes play, it is also a difficult life where there is not enough food to eat. When Kalia wonders if the world is just one big refugee camp, her father takes her very seriously. To show her what is possible, he climbs a very tall tree with her clinging to his back to show her the view from the tops of the trees. The world is bigger than she could ever imagine and her father tells her that she will journey to places that he has never seen. This semi-autobiographical story shows how she has fulfilled her father’s wishes for her. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim
“As the seasons change, so too does a young Hmong girl’s world. She moves into a new home with her family and encounters both birth and death. As this curious girl explores life inside her house and beyond, she collects bits of the natural world. But who are her treasures for?
A moving picture book debut from acclaimed Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang.” from publisher [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Astrid and Apollo & The Starry Campout by V.T. Bidania, illustrated by Dara Lashia Lee
Astrid is afraid of the dark and doesn’t want to go on her family camping trip. But her twin brother, Apollo, is excited. When they encounter scary things such as crawly bugs and the creepy dark, Apollo helps his twin through them. And when they encounter the scariest thing of all, Astrid might just be the one to save the starry campout. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“The details about the Hmong community, as well as Pahua’s experiences in the small Wisconsin town, added an interesting layer to the story, and it was good to see that June reacted in the way tweens should act when they see someone being prejudiced and acting unkindly. There is plenty of action and adventure to keep fantasy fans turning the pages and learning about Hmong culture, religion, and folk lore.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
A Sticky Mess by Nor Sanavongsay
A Sticky Mess is the comedic origin story of one of the most beloved folk heroes of Laos. A young monk keeps getting in trouble with the head of the monastery who thinks the boy can’t do anything right. Finally, the young boy decides to turn the tables with the help of a chicken and a little bit of a sticky snack called mieng. What happens next has become the stuff of legend for over 600 years! This is a hilarious tale of cleverness and ingenuity. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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]
Pa Lia’s First Day by Michelle Edwards
Second grader Pa Lia gets lost on her way to her classroom on her first day of school and wonders if she’ll ever fit in. [early chapter book, ages 5 and up]
Grandfather’s Story Cloth by Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford, illustrated by Stuart Loughridge
“In ancient times, a tribe of people called the Hmong lived in China. During the 19th century, oppressed by the Han Dynasty, many of the Hmong migrated to remote areas of Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand in an effort to maintain their culture identity.” from the end note
A Lao boy’s grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, but a story cloth that his grandfather made himself preserves his memories of his life in Laos. His story cloth includes the war and how he had to cross to Thailand to safety where he lived in a refugee camp. It was here that he made the story cloth. Chersheng, the grandson, uses his drawing skills to create his own storyboard that continues his grandfather’s story of life in America. [advanced bilingual picture book in English and Hmong, ages 6 and up]
The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Deitz Shea
A Hmong girl watches her grandma stitch story cloths and imagines what a story cloth of her own might look like. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
When Everything Was Everything by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, illustrated by Cori Nakamura Lin
“With flowing yet anchored language and precise illustration, this book is a much-needed intervention against the erasure of working-class Southeast Asian life and a celebration of it. This too is a Minnesota story. This too is an American story. This too is a human story. I can’t wait to read this with my daughter.” Forward by Bao Phi
Pair this with A Different Pond for another take on working-class Southeast immigrants that tell their stories with dignity and compassion. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
“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]
Mai Ya’s Long Journey by Sheila Cohen
A book detailing the experiences of a young Hmong refugee. [nonfiction early chapter book, ages 7 and up]
Long Road to Freedom by Linda Barr
A nonfiction text about the circumstances that led to Hmong refugees fleeing Laos, and what they experienced. [nonfiction chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Farmer’s Market: Families Working Together by Marcie Rendon & Cheryl Walsh Bellville
This is a nonfiction story about two families (one Hmong and one German) who work at the farmer’s market. [nonfiction picture book, ages 4 and up]
How Do I Begin? by Hmong American Writers’ Circle
A Hmong American literary anthology about a variety of topics like soul-calling ceremonies, gangs, drugs, and intergenerational issues. [anthology, ages 9 and up]
Little Cricket by Jackie Brown
A Hmong girl leaves behind her village with her brother and grandpa for the US where they must adjust to life in Minnesota. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Many Ideas Open the Way by Randy Snook
A collection of Hmong proverbs in Hmong and English along with a statement in the back regarding Hmong history. Photographs of Hmong individuals in traditional clothes are used throughout the book. [poetry picture book, ages 4 and up]
Hmong Food by Pang Xiong
It is a very simple, patterned text with a Hmong boy eating different Hmong foods families could try. [nonfiction picture book, ages 2 and up]
I Am Hmong by Pang Xiong
Join this boy for dinner as he tells his readers about the Hmong foods that he likes to eat. The repetition allows young readers to be successful.[nonfiction picture book, ages 2 and up]
My Birthday by Pang Xiong
Join these Hmong kids as they celebrate their birthdays. [nonfiction picture book, ages 2 and up]
Candy by Pang Xiong
Beginning readers will love this colorful book about one of their favorite things in the world–candy! Students will enjoy looking at different kinds of Asian and American snacks including Hmong candy. [nonfiction picture book, ages 2 and up]
Ka’s Garden by Maggie Lee McHugh & Dr. Bee Lo
This is a bilingual children’s book with a pronunciation guide. Readers count animals that interact with the garden while learning about some Hmong beliefs. [picture book, ages 4 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 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 through 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 folktale 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]
Nine-in-One Grrr! Grr! by Blia Xiong
A Hmong Folktale. Available in a bilingual version. [picture book, ages 5 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 which 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
Mommy Eats Fried Grasshoppers by Vilayvanh Bender, illustrated by Nor Sanavongsay
Mahlee learns how differently Mommy did things as a child in Laos than Mahlee does in America, where they live now. She loves doing everything with Mommy, but will she eat fried grasshoppers? This book is available in September 2018. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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 folktales 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 feature 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!
Alike and Different series from Cloverleaf Books with my students and my own children. Especially My Language, Your Language because it includes a Hmong-speaking family (so rarely found in books like that).
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Food for the Future: Sustainable Farms Around the World
- Junior Library Guild Gold selection
- Selected as one of 100 Outstanding Picture Books of 2023 by dPICTUS and featured at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
- Starred review from School Library Journal
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.