by Kao Kalia Yang
Illustrated by Billy Thao
Publication: April 13, 2021
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
Led by Master Me, ten cousins train daily in the Ban Vinai refugee camp. They have to in order to protect their families, which includes a plan to search for fresh vegetables after a week without any. They embark on this dangerous mission, leaving behind the five-year-old author to await her sister Dawb and the rest of the warriors’ return.
While I was born in the U.S., my family arrived as refugees. I grew up hearing stories about life in Laos and the refugee camps, a life so vastly different from my own. The perspective of the author at five years old offers a different view of the refugee experience and affords an opportunity for children today to try to understand and possibly to even relate to the children in the book. Yang crafts an engaging story from memories of her time in Ban Vinai, drawing from the heroism of her older sister Dawb and her cousins. It’s a story of brave children in an adverse environment doing their best to survive.
The illustrations were exceptional, helping connect me to my family and the past of my people. I may not have experienced life in Ban Vinai, but the illustrations helped to tie my childhood to the Yang Warriors–what child hasn’t “trained” to prepare for their battles ahead? It may have been under different circumstances with different training for different missions, but the intent being similar, protecting those we care about.
It’s a heroic story that needs to be shared. It’s the perfect story to create opportunities to help my nieces and nephews begin to understand their roots.