Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 5 to 9
- Grade: k to 3
- Reading age: 7 to 8
"Father, is all of the world a refugee camp?"
Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. The Thai camp holds many thousands of Hmong families who fled in the aftermath of the little-known Secret War in Laos that was waged during America's Vietnam War. For Kalia and her cousins, life isn't always easy, but they still find ways to play, racing with chickens and riding a beloved pet dog.
Just four years old, Kalia is still figuring out her place in the world. When she asks what is beyond the fence, at first her father has no answers for her. But on the following day, he leads her to the tallest tree in the camp and, secure in her father's arms, Kalia sees the spread of a world beyond.
Kao Kalia Yang's sensitive prose and Rachel Wada's evocative illustrations bring to life this tender true story of the love between a father and a daughter.
About the authors
Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer, teacher and public speaker. Born in the refugee camps of Thailand to a family that escaped the genocide of the Secret War in Laos, she came to America at the age six. Yang holds degrees from Carleton College and Columbia University. Her works of creative nonfiction include The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, The Song Poet, What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Indigenous Women and Women of Color, andthe upcoming title Somewhere in the Unknown World. Yang has also written multiple children's books such as A Map Into the World, The Shared Room, and The Most Beautiful Thing. Her work has won numerous awards and recognition including multiple Minnesota Book Awards, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, an ALA Notable Children's Book Award, Dayton's Literary Peace Prize, and a PEN USA Award in Nonfiction.
- Winner, Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year
- Winner, ALA Notable Children's Books
- Runner-up, Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature
- Winner, New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
- Winner, A Mighty Girl's Books of the Year
- Winner, Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
"It is 1985, and four-year-old Kalia spends her days in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, playing with her cousins Mai and Yer and spending time with their two dogs. The Hmong families in the camp receive minimal rations every week, and Yang grounds the storytelling in the child's innocent point of view, with Kalia listening to everything the adults talk about—often, war—though she does not quite understand it. When Kalia asks her father if the world outside the gate that encloses them is the same as it is inside, he tries to explain the nature of their refugee camp and the world beyond. Dressed in their best clothes, Kalia and her father go to the top of the tallest tree in the camp, where he shows her the vast world that waits beyond the camp, telling her she will one day visit it all. This moving picture book beautifully shares the author's true experiences in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp and the incredible day her father showed her the world. Wada's striking illustrations use earth tones to bring the scenes vividly to life, pairing perfectly with the concise, heartfelt text. Beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, with a hopeful and inspiring message, this story will not soon be forgotten."—starred, Booklist
"In this moving, positive story, a father encourages his young daughter to confront challenges and look beyond borders. In Wada's scenes, no Hmong refugee appears skeletal, but the 'Humane Deterrence Policy' of the camp in Thailand, in 1985, includes just three days' worth of food a week. Kids play happily together, ride dogs and chase chickens; the aunties of the extended families embroider calmly; but soldiers appear as splotchy memory-shadows, behind pretty blue-green foreground leaves. Kalia has overheard talk about the war and adults' fears, and asks, 'Is all the world a camp?' Then, from a treetop, her father changes her perspective, assuring her she'll 'travel far to find peace.' Autobiographically based, like Yang's The Most Beautiful Thing, this book includes an account of the writer's successful subsequent life, pronunciation help, and a map. Wada seamlessly mixes media (graphite, watercolor, digital) in subdued hues into a simple, sensitive child's-eye depiction of the camp and its people, scaled for reading to a group. VERDICT This is a gentle celebration of vision, hope, and determination in a book for all collections."—starred, School Library Journal
"In 1985, a four-year-old Hmong child sees her first glimpse of the world in this poetic autobiographical account by Yang. Born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, per an author's note, young Kalia plays with her cousins as their families, Hmong refugees, struggle with hunger, racism, and fear: 'They are scared to return to the old country. They are scared to go to a new country.' When Kalia innocently asks if 'all of the world [is] a refugee camp,' her father climbs to the top of the tallest tree with her on his back to show her the wide view and distant mountains. Lush, multilayered art in a natural color palette by Wada emphasizes family and community interactions, rendered in a combination of traditional media, including graphite and watercolor, and digitally. A stirring, lyrical portrait of hope and intergenerational bonds. Back matter includes an author's note, a brief glossary, and a map."—starred, Publishers Weekly
"'Father, is all of the world a refugee camp?' In sensitive and empowering words, Yang speaks about historical truths and shares her own childhood story with readers. Born to Hmong refugees in Thailand, little Kalia has never seen the world beyond the gate of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. To answer her question, Kalia's father climbs with her to the top of the tallest tree—from where she can see the view beyond the camp's gate and 'the place where the sky meets the earth.' Kalia now knows that the world is bigger than anything one can imagine, and that no gates or fences should hold her back from experiencing it. Wada's mixed-media and digital illustrations employ a muted palette of yellows, browns, and military greens that perfectly complements the narrative. Details are clearly depicted to reflect camp life from little Kalia's point of view—watching a 'bald rooster,' riding a large dog, 'crouch[ing] low' to look for fruit. The author's note, which includes a real-life photo of four-year-old Yang and her father high in the tree, shares a good amount of autobiographical detail plus some historical background. A list of Hmong words and a map of Thailand are also appended."—The Horn Book Magazine
"The author recounts a formative childhood experience that continues to inspire her today.
Born to Hmong refugees, Kalia has only ever known the confines of the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Even while playing with her cousins, reminders of the hardships of their life are always present. She overhears the aunties sharing their uncertainty and fear of the future. They are a people with no home country and are still trying to find peace. Kalia asks her father why they live behind a gate and wonders what lies beyond the fences that surround the camp. The next day they climb a tall tree, and he shows her the vast expanse around them, from familiar camp landmarks to distant mountains 'where the sky meets earth.' This story of resilience and generational hope is told in an expressive, straightforward narrative style. The simplicity of the text adds a level of poignancy that moves readers to reflection. The layered and heavily textured illustrations complement the text while highlighting the humanity of the refugees and providing a quiet dignity to camp life. The militarylike color palette of olive greens, golden yellows, and rich browns reinforces the guarded atmosphere but also represents the transitional period from winter to spring, a time ripe with anticipation and promise.
A visually striking, compelling recollection."—starred, Kirkus Reviews