Vietnamese-American Stories: The Best We Could Do and The Refugees

Two of the best books I’ve read this year were by Vietnamese-American authors. It wasn’t particularly intentional on my part, but I love it when I find unexpected connections in books that I read. The books are The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui and The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen. In one sense they’re very different from one another – the first is a memoir in graphic novel format, and the second is a collection of short stories. Yet the two books complemented each other in interesting ways.

best we could doThe Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir, in the tradition of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Nina Bunjevac’s Fatherland. The author herself arrived in the US as a toddler (after her family fled Vietnam), so the book centers more on her parents’ stories. In fact, the very process of her seeking to uncover her parents’ stories is woven into the narrative itself. We see the long, difficult conversations she had with her father, and the way her mother opened up more easily to the author’s Caucasian husband about her past than she could with her own daughter. We see her father’s childhood unfold, and then her mother’s. These two stories providing an interesting counterpoint to each other – the mother grew up in the social elite, attending French schools, and vowing never to give up her freedom and dreams by marrying or having children. The author’s father, on the other hand, grew up in poverty, abandoned by his father – a man who later tries to recruit him to the Communist cause. Seeing the history of Vietnam as a backdrop to these two very different childhoods provided an interesting glimpse into the varied experience of the Vietnamese people.

Another element of this book that stood out to me is how the author tells the story through the lens of motherhood. Pregnancy and birth is a sort of frame to the narrative. The book opens with a vivid scene of the author giving birth to her firstborn child, and we watch as she’s inundated with the questions and fears that often accompany motherhood. Her new understanding of both the significance and the difficulty of having a child leads her to investigate her own mother’s past with a particular focus on the experience of motherhood. As the story unfolds, she follows each of her mother’s pregnancies, set against a background of a changing country, often full of turmoil and unrest. The pregnancies are varied: there are stories of infant loss and stillbirth, stories of “replacement pregnancies” following the loss of children, stories of fleeing the country with an infant in arms and of giving birth in a refugee camp. There’s a poignancy to a woman realizing for the first time the intensity, meaning, and self-doubt of being a mother, and then seeking to interpret and understand her own mother’s past in light of this.

refugeesThe Refugees served as both a complement and a counterpoint to The Best We Could Do. It’s a slim collection of short stories, much more understated and reserved than the graphic memoir. All of the stories relate in some way to the Vietnamese-American experience, yet there was an incredible amount of variety among the stories. The fact that the characters’ lives had a connection to Vietnam wasn’t presented as a dramatic or flashy thing – there was no sense of exoticism or melodramatic pity in these stories. Instead, we see a nuanced and often understated look into a few moments in these characters lives. It shattered the illusion of a single, monolithic “Vietnamese-American experience.”

Not all of the stories were about literal refugees. To me, the title seemed to refer more to the unmoored feeling of being between cultures – not fully belonging to one or the other. This unmoored feeling presented itself in very different ways depending on the personality and experiences of the character. The characters themselves are well drawn and they come to life on the page. We see the adult daughter who lives with her ghost-believing mother who finds herself haunted by the memory of the brother who died saving her life as they escaped from Vietnam. Or the Vietnamese girl who idolizes her half-sister living in America, until the sister comes to visit and reveals the complicated truth of her life in the States. There’s the retired USAF pilot who fought in the Vietnam War, now visiting his daughter who has chosen the life of a language teacher in Vietnam, as they hash out their conflicting views about the country his daughter now calls home. And we see the elderly librarian who questions her husband’s past when he begins to call her by another woman’s name as his Alzheimer’s worsens. Each character inhabits his or her own space, and reveals another facet of the story that connects Vietnam and America.

These two books stand beautifully in conjunction with each other. On the one hand, they have quite different ways of approaching the subject – The Best We Could Do with its striking visuals and deeply personal autobiographical story, and The Refugees with its thoughtful and nuanced portrayal of a multiplicity of different experiences among Vietnamese-Americans. Yet they both delve deep into the same subject matter – the lives of people who have become Americans due in large part to the Vietnam War. The war is an ever present thread weaving throughout both books, but it’s not often the main focus of the narrative in either book. Instead, these books focus on the personal journeys of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American individuals – their joys and their struggles, and the way Vietnamese and American culture rub up against each other in their lives. Both books are beautifully written, and the experience of reading them side by side deepened my understanding and connection to these stories and experiences.

Diversity in Verse Novels – Part II

I love reading verse novels. There’s something so alluring about them. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it’s a form in which the entire story is told in a series of non-rhyming poems, usually from the perspective of the main character (or switching back and forth between several characters). I find it to be a unique and beautiful way to get inside the thoughts of a character.

It’s a wonderful genre for diverse stories. The format of narrative poems allows for such intimate access to each character’s point of view. I find that even if the character is very different from me, I can understand his or her perspective more easily when I engage with poems like these.

I’ve already written one post about diversity in verse novels (you can find Part I here), but I just had to share a few more of my favorites.

Brown Girl Dreaming – by Jacqueline Woodson

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This memoir, written as a series of narrative poems, tells the story of the author’s childhood during the 1960s and 70s. I was particularly struck by her comparisons of the culture of her home in New York with the culture of her mother’s family in South Carolina. Deftly written and inspiring.

The Crossover – by Kwame Alexander

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The language in this novel packs a punch. Each poem is full of movement and motion, sizzling across the page. The story is about basketball, but it’s also about brotherhood, about navigating adolescence, about working through family tension. It’s an engaging story, and a joy to read.

Audacity – by Melanie Crowder

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This powerfully written story was inspired by true events in the life of Clara Lemlich. It deals with immigration, antisemitism, women’s rights, labor rights, and protest, all in a very readable and accessible way. A Jewish immigrant from Russia in the early 20th century, Clara refuses to accept the terrible working conditions prevalent in her new community in New York. Her story is inspiring and expertly told.

Red Butterfly – by A.L. Sonnichsen

red butterfly

Kara has never met her birth mother. She was abandoned as an infant but taken in and cared for by an American woman living in China. She’s knows that something is unusual — even wrong — about her life, but she can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Why is she kept out of sight in their tiny apartment in Tianjin? Why can’t she and her American mother join Daddy in the U.S.? An intriguing and compelling story about adoption, family, and being undocumented.

Serafina’s Promise – by Ann E. Burg

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Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor someday. But her dream would require her to attend school, and money for a uniform and supplies is non-existent. Besides, Serafina’s mother needs her at home, to prepare for the arrival of the new baby — the whole family is hoping against hope that this time the baby will live past infancy. Set in Haiti, against the backdrop of the 2010 earthquake, this book is filled with hope and determination.

Diverse Children’s Books Link-up: Favorite Holiday Books

Our theme for this month’s Favorite Holiday Books. (Please feel free to share any holiday resources, not just winter holidays.) The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.

What Is #DiverseKidLit?

Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
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DiverseKidLit
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We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, January 7th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Holiday Books. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • January 7th and 21st linkups: Human Rights. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is celebrated in the US in January, think about your favorite books to share with children about the importance and the history of human rights and/or civil rights.
  • February 4th and 18th linkups: Love. Let’s spread the love of diverse books by sharing diverse books about love, families, and relationships.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from last time from The Barefoot Mommy: 15 Diverse and Inclusive Books about Christmas. Rebekah includes an overview of each book as well as a downloadable felt ornament craft. The stories showcase a wide range of cultures and countries celebrating Christmas, some focusing on the holiday and others happening around that time. A great place to start for thinking about this linkup’s holiday theme!

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

 

Beth @ Pages and Margins
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Carolina @ La Clase de Sra. DuFault
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Jane @ Rain City Librarian
Blog / Twitter / Instagram

Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Mia @ Pragmatic Mom
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram

Myra @ Gathering Books
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To join in, click on the blue button below:

Diverse Children’s Books: Favorite Children’s Books Featuring an LGBTQ Character

Our theme for this month’s Diverse Children’s Books linkups is Favorite Children’s Books Featuring an LGBTQ Character(s). (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?


Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit

DiverseKidLit

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, November 19th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Children’s Books Featuring an LGBTQ Character(s). Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • December linkups: Favorite Holiday Books. (Please feel free to share any holiday resources, not just winter holidays.)

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit linkup is Svenja’s Author Spotlight on Ezra Jack Keats. She provides a detailed biography as well as information about his most popular books and characters. Want to learn even more? A new biography of Ezra Jack Keats by Andrea Davis Pinkney just came out this week, titled A Poem for Peter.

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

Beth @ Pages and Margins
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Carolina @ La Clase de Sra. DuFault
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Jane @ Rain City Librarian
Blog / Twitter / Instagram

Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Mia @ Pragmatic Mom
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram

Myra @ Gathering Books
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To join in, click the blue button below!

Picture Books about Italy

Living in… Italy – by Chloe Perkins

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This slim book introduces us to a young girl who lives in Italy. She takes us through a typical day in her life, introducing us to her family and her lifestyle. Along the way, we discover tidbits about Italian culture and history.

I was so excited to find such an accessible introduction to Italy — most of the books that I browsed through were somewhat overwhelming in their length and the amount of information they incorporated. This one was exactly what I was looking for.

Orani: My Father’s Village – by Claire A. Nivola

orani

This is a stunning memoir in picture book form. The author grew up as an Italian-American in New York City, yet returned to her father’s hometown of Orani (on the island of Sardinia) almost every year to visit relatives. This account of her visits is not only filled with exquisite illustrations, it’s rich in the emotion and experience of straddling two worlds. Her delightful escapades with her cousins left me wishing I’d had Italian relatives to visit as a child as well.

This is Rome – by Miroslav Sasek

this-is-rome

This charming book explores the famous sites in the city of Rome. It opens at the very beginning of Rome’s story — with Romulus, Remus, and the she-wolf — but soon transitions to a walking tour of the modern city. It includes a good bit of back and forth between the history and present, ending a page about the Colosseum with the sentence: “But if you go inside today all you see are cats and tourists and photographers and postcard sellers.” 

I felt somewhat conflicted about this book. While it was the clearest introduction to the city of Rome that I found, it was also published in 1960 and can at times feel a bit dated. The string of names of buildings seemed somewhat dense at times, yet these place names were often broken up with humorous windows into daily life in Rome. All in all, we enjoyed the book and and found the illustrations to be particularly wonderful.

See Inside Great Cities – by Rob Lloyd Jones

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While this book explores cities on many continents, it includes a lovely two-page exploration of the city of Venice. The main illustration is of gondolas travelling along the Grand Canal, but there are also a number of flaps to open that offer information about the city as a whole. I found the information to be helpful and engaging, and the book offered an inspiring introduction to this beautiful city.

 

Other Resources:

Travel with Kids – Venice, Italy

Travel with Kids – Rome, Italy

Are We There Yet? – Italy: Sculptures

Are We There Yet? – Italy: Gladiators

Are We There Yet? – Italy: Leaning Tower

Are We There Yet? – Italy: Soccer

Are We There Yet? Italy: Gondola

 

 

Diverse Children’s Books Link-up: Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator

Our theme for today’s Diverse Children’s Books linkup is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Who is your must-read author or must-see illustrator? (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?


Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
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DiverseKidLit
<p>

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, October 15th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Theme

Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • October 15th linkup: We will continue the Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator theme.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most-clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit linkup is KitaabWorld’s Bilingual Picks. This great round-up post includes bilingual favorites in a range of Asian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Urdu. There are also links to more titles and more languages at the end of the article.

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

We’ve started a new group board on Pinterest to highlight all the amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To join in, click on the blue button below!

Diverse Children’s Books Link-up: Diverse Book(s) Featuring a Character with a Disability

Our theme for today’s Diverse Children’s Books linkup is Diverse Book(s) Featuring a Character with a Disability. (Need ideas? Check out past winners of the Schneider Family Book Awards.) (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?


Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

DiverseKidLit
<br />
DiverseKidLit
<p>

We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, September 17th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Upcoming Themes

Our theme for the current linkup is Diverse Book(s) Featuring a Character with a Disability.. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

  • September 17th linkup: Favorite Bilingual Book(s). Think about your favorite book or books that are published in bilingual (or multiple language) editions.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit is ADA’S VIOLIN: THE STORY OF THE RECYCLED ORCHESTRA OF PARAGUAY from Linda at The Reader and the Book. This story is based on the true origins of the Cateura orchestra in Paraguay, and Linda’s post contains a great summary of the book as well as additional information about the author, illustrator, and real-life orchestra!

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

 

Beth @ Pages and Margins
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Carolina @ La Clase de Sra. DuFault
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Gayle Swift, Author of ABC, Adoption & Me
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Google+

Jane @ Rain City Librarian
Blog / Twitter / Instagram

Marjorie @ Mirrors Windows Doors
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

Mia @ Pragmatic Mom
Blog / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram

Myra @ Gathering Books
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Guest Host for September

Shoumi Sen, Author of Toddler Diaries
Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live? Click here to join the mailing list. Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at thelogonauts.com.

(Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

We’ve started a new group board on Pinterest to highlight all the amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children’s Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

To add your link, click on the blue button below!