From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang. Illustrated by Rachel Wada

From the Tops of the Trees

Based on the true story of author Kao Kalia Yang’s early childhood in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, this touching children’s picture book relates how 4-year-old Kalia and her cousins Mai and Yer find ways to play and enjoy life, oblivious to the restrictions imposed on their Hmong families by government authorities. Though the children hear the adults talk about the fallout of war, they are unable to fully comprehend the circumstances in which they live.  

Kalia’s wise father tells her, “Your hands and your feet will travel far to find peace.” But she doesn’t understand what he means. Later, she asks, “Father, is all of the world a refugee camp?” When he answers no, Kalia asks, “What is the world outside this camp like?”   

Kalia’s father comes up with a unique and daring way to answer his inquisitive daughter’s question. He and Kalia get dressed in their best clothes, then walk to the base of the highest tree in the camp. Kalia’s mother prepares to take their picture with a borrowed camera. Kalia’s father tells her to climb on his back, close her eyes, and hold on no matter what. Then he begins the slow, treacherous, steep ascent of the tree trunk. When they finally reach the branches and make it to the top of the tree, they burst through the foliage and Kalia is amazed at how big the world is. When they find a perch, Kalia’s ever encouraging father says, “One day my little girl will journey far into the world, to the places her father has never been.”  

In the author's notes, Kao Kalia Yang relates how she and her family left the refugee camp when she was 6 years old, and how her father’s prediction that she would travel far came true. Illustrator Rachel Wada’s earth-toned artwork portrays the difficult, down-to-earth existence of refugees living in a camp, and the majesty and vastness of creation—a harbinger of a better life—witnessed from a tree top. (Carolrhoda Books)

About the Author

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer and a member of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.

X