Review of From the Tops of the Trees

From the Tops of the Trees
by Kao Kalia Yang; illus. by Rachel Wada
Primary, Intermediate    Carolrhoda    32 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-5415-8130-2    $17.99

“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.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Weileen Wang
You-Ling (Weileen) Wang loves to write, read, and illustrate. She attended Vanderbilt University, where she studied child development and fell in love with children's literature. She holds a master's degree in arts in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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