From the Tops of the Trees
From the Tops of the Trees
by Kao Kalia Yang; illustrated by Rachel Wada
A moving and inspiring true story about how a father's love helped a daughter dream of a life beyond the confines of the refugee camp where they live.
Hardcover, 32 pages.
Nest Notes: This book touched us, expanded our hearts, and gave us witness to others' stories and this part of history; it lifted our spirits as a tribute to the loving shelter people can lend each other and messages of hope in hard times. The bio at the back of the book of the grown author and recent photo of her with her father was a joyful ending to the story.
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books — 2021 — Winner
Irma S. and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature — 2022 — Nominated
Kirkus Best Children's Books — 2021 — Winner
New York Public Library Best Books for Kids — 2021 — Winner
"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 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
"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
"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 military-like 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
"'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
Rachel Wada was raised between Japan and Hong Kong and is currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, advertising, and even a mural. Her first children's book project, The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden, was recognized with the Freeman Award for Children's Literature. Her second children's book, From The Tops Of The Trees, is expected to be published in the fall of 2021. Visually, Rachel's works are characterized by the use of rich colours, textures, and fine details through both digital and traditional mediums.