I received Wishes by Muon Thi Van and searched my blog to add it to my Vietnamese American book list only to find … that I don’t have one! I’m not sure why I never made one. Perhaps there weren’t enough books to make a list? Or, more likely, I just forgot. That was remiss of me!
In the vein of better late than never, I really enjoyed finding and reading books for this list. And, Wishes, is a gem of a picture book. I hope you enjoy them too. And please tell me your suggestions for this list. Thanks so much!
Vietnamese American Children’s Books
Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai
With minimal words but a powerful message, this picture book hits all the emotional rawness of refugees fleeing their country by boat into the unknown. The illustrations also help to amplify the drama that the spare words hint at, and the somber background tone conveys the urgency and direness of the family’s situation. This is a gem of a picture book. It also transcends just the plight of boat refugees and encompasses all refugees who must leave their homes for various reasons including climate change, war, violence, and natural disasters, and start over again. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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]
Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
A language and generation gap keep a grandson apart from his grandfather, but art draws them together in this heartwarming adventure. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Where Wildflowers Grow by Hà Dinh, illustrated by Bao Luu
It’s moving day for young Hà and her family. After being uprooted from Vietnam, they are living in a refugee camp in the Philippines and now they are going to America. But Hà is happy in the refugee camp where she goes to school with her best friend, and picks wildflowers every day. Wildflowers can grow anywhere, a message that Hà takes to heart as she starts her new life in the United States. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien
Children get to school in a myriad of ways. This is the story of An, a young Vietnamese boy whose first day of school requires him to traverse a great distance through the Mekong River. It’s a scary adventure but it’s worth it! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam
Thao Lam’s grandparents left war-torn Vietnam in a fishing boat. Now, she retells their story using ants as the protagonists who are uprooted and land in a new country across the sea. Ants also figure into her mother’s true story of fleeing Vietnam. Lost in the deep grass, she followed a trail of ants by the light of the moon, ending up at the riverbank where the escape boat was located. As a child, her mother rescued ants from sugar water traps her parents set. Karma, kindness, and family legend figure into this refugee story. [wordless picture book, ages 6 and up]
Hello, Mandarin Duck! by Bao Phi, illustrated by Dion MBD
Hoa and Hua discover a colorful duck at the park on their way to the May Day parade. The duck seems lost and the kids want to help it find the pond. They enlist the help of all their friends. The duck ends up at the parade where it is greeted warmly and in many languages. This is Bao Phi’s tribute to immigrants who all hope to be welcomed and accepted in their new homes. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by April Chu
“The illustrations, with strong references to Chinese pen-and-ink landscapes and Japanese woodblock prints of the sea, will draw readers to this book again and again.”
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Moun Van and April Chu created a book list for me here. April Chu writes:
When I first read the manuscript by Muon Van, I knew I wanted to illustrate her story right away. It had all the elements of a classic story but it was also unique and refreshing at the same time. Her circular style of writing inspired me to play around with different angles and perspectives in my illustrations. There was also enough room in the text for me to add another level of detail to the story through my artwork. Much like the illustrated children’s books that have inspired me, Muon and I hope to create a book that readers will want to return to time and time again. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
My Footprints by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran
Thuy’s footprints mimic animals as she walks home. She has not had a good day a school due to bullies who tease her about her two moms. But when she gets home, both moms are there and she continues her game of made-up creature footprints. Together, they create the footprints of a phoenix and a Sarabbha, reminding Thuy that she is stronger together. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Always with You by Ruth Vander Zee and Ronald Himler
This is the true story of Kim, who survived a bombing of her village that left her an orphan. American soldiers found her and brought her to an orphanage in China Beach. The caretakers there were loving and kind and she along with hundreds of other orphans survived. Because Kim was only able to see hazy images after the bombing, she was sent to the United States for eye surgery. She eventually was adopted by a family in Chicago. Historians estimate that between 300,000 and 800,000 children were orphaned during the Vietnam War. [picture book biography, ages 8 and up]
Rebecca’s Journey Home by Brynn Olenberg Sugarman and Michelle Shapiro
The Stein family eagerly awaits the newest member of their Jewish family, a little girl named Le Tai Hong, who will now be called Rebecca in English and Rivka in Hebrew. This is their adoption story of becoming a multicultural family celebrating Vietnamese, American, and Jewish culture and traditions. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnam Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated 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]
Thank you to Amber for her great recommendation for a Thanksgiving book!
A Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter
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]
Going Home, Coming home / V̂è nhà, thăm quê hương by Truong Tran and Ann Phong
Ami Chi visits Vietnam with her parents. For them, it’s a return home. For Ami Chi, even though her relatives live here, this is a strange, new world. When she gets lost in the marketplace, she makes two new friends who help her find her way home. When it’s time to return to the United States, she realizes that she is both Vietnamese and American, and her heart can belong to both. [bilingual Vietnamese/English picture book, ages 6 and up]
Fly Free! by Roseanne Thong and Eujin Kim Neilan
“Fly free, fly free,
in the sky so blue.
When you do a good deed,
it will come back to you.”
The idea of karma, a belief in the Buddhist religion of cause and effect of our deeds, is illustrated here. Each person is connected in this story starting with Mai who is tenderly feeding caged sparrows wishing for their release. She and her family don’t have the money to buy the sparrows to set them free, but her kindness starts a chain reaction of good deeds. This picture book beautifully conveys an important tenet of Buddhism in a way that kids can understand and emulate. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies and Josée Bisaillon
Ten cents a pound is what I’ll earn
To buy these books and set you free.
Rhyming text conveys a young girl’s desire to stay to help her mom harvest coffee beans instead of going to school. Her mother, citing the meager ten cents a pound that she earns, convinces her daughter to go to school in order to escape a life of manual labor. [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]
My Grandfather’s War by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper
Waiting for this to arrive from my library.
Chicken of the Sea by Viet Thanh Nguyen, illustrated by Thi Bui
Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen joins his son in bringing a pirate chicken adventure to life. Inspired by A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thu Bui, his son is joined by Thu Bui’s 13-year-old son Hien, who illustrates this picture book. It is safe to say that the next generation will take the torch from their parents and make their own mark through their storytelling. [picture book, age 4 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 a U.S. ex-pat in Singapore through 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]
Gibberish by Young Vo
Dat is starting school for the first time in a new country and he doesn’t understand the language spoken here. Everything he hears sounds like gibberish. Luckily, he makes a new friend, and the little girl helps him unravel the sounds into words. As he learns English, she morphs from a cartoon figure to his friend Julie. Pair this with Sumi’s First Day of School Ever! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
H is for Hanoi by Elizabeth A. Rush, illustrated by Nguyen Nghia Guong
The illustrations, font, and graphic design of this picture book are a little too frenetic for me. It makes the story very hard to follow. But perhaps that is the point as this story reads like one of those dreams that don’t make any sense. Artist Nguyen Nghia Guong’s work is featured. I wish the font and layout and design of the book were more restrained so that his work would be the focus of the book. [bilingual Vietnamese/English picture book, ages 5 and up]
WeirDo by Ahn Do
It’s easy to see why WeirDo would be a hit. It has all the comedic antics of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, balanced with a light amount of text styled around funny illustrations. While the character is Vietnamese, ethnicity doesn’t play a huge role except for his name which is instant comedy. And, if you think these kinds of Vietnamese names are hard to believe, my husband has a Vietnamese client whose name was Long Dong. WeirDo is still funnier though! This is a light and fun read with a quirky cast. [notebook novel chapter book, ages 7 and up]
Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Le, illustrated by Andie Tong
My son has always loved DC and Marvel Comics superheroes, specifically The Flash and Green Lantern. I thought this was a no-brainer to get him reading. But he’s not a fan of “diversifying” superheroes where they suddenly get a new ethnic identity, in this case Vietnamese. I think with the success of Miles Morales as Spiderman, it’s a money grab to recast superheroes into BIPOCs. My son would prefer that DC and Marvel create BIPOC superheroes, rather than pretend that an alternate universe exists where they are suddenly completely different. Still, I personally enjoyed this retake of Green Lantern as the grandson of a Vietnamese Superhero. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Tatsuro Kuichi
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: a beautiful flower rises from the mud. [picture book, ages 6-12]
The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden
This 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 landmines from the war still buried in the countryside to get the engine repaired. [chapter book, ages 9-12]
Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This was an interesting look at a range of high school group dynamics, with a range of cultural backgrounds. This is set in Southern California, and Eliza tells us that the most popular kids are the ones of Korean descent, since they make up the majority of the student body. Eliza’s parents are of Chinese descent, but come from Vietnam. Len has a Japanese mother and a white father. In addition to the newspaper, we also get a glimpse into the inner workings of student government, and see the drive to succeed that many of the students in the school have.” [young adult, ages 13 and up]
My First Book of Vietnamese Words by Katy R. Kudela
The Vietnamese language has six tones, and this engaging picture book introduces English and Vietnamese words and phrases using photo illustrations. [picture book, ages 1 and up]
My First Book of Vietnamese Words by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran and Thi Hop Nguyen
This is an ABC rhyming book with charming illustrations. Each page has a rhyming stanza accompanied by a factoid sentence about Vietnamese culture. The back matter has a list of Vietnamese words. This is a wonderful introduction to the Vietnamese language and culture for kids of all ages! [picture book, ages 3 and up]
All About Vietnam: Projects and Activities for Kids by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc, illustrated by Nguyen Thi Hop and Nguyen Dong
Learn about Vietnamese culture through folk tales, songs, crafts, and games in this immersive and fun activity book. This wonderful series from Tuttle Publishing is multipurpose — it works as bedtime stories as well as a book club or ideas to celebrate Vietnamese holidays. It’s perfect for an armchair travel adventure too! [activity book, for ages 8 and up]
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