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YANG WARRIORS by Kao Kalia Yang


by Kao Kalia Yang ; illustrated by Billy Thao

Pub Date: April 13th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0798-3
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

In the bleak Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, a brave group of young Hmong children, all cousins, rises up to help those they love.

Led by 10-year-old Master Me, the cousins spend their time training to protect themselves and others. Driven by a sense of duty that defies their age, the group undertakes a risky mission to leave the camp and retrieve vegetables for the younger children. Their fortitude and sacrifice leave an indelible mark on the younger children, giving them their “first taste of freedom” and the courage to keep enduring for a better life. The story springs from Yang’s experience as a child in Ban Vinai, and she narrates with a reflective, retrospective tone, incorporating sensory details that lend immediacy: Readers will taste that bravely foraged meal. Thao’s strong use of perspective highlights the oppressive nature of the camp, with its linear row of dwellings and towering trees standing sentinel. Shadows are dramatically rendered, Master Me’s taking shape in the form of a Hmong heart symbol, representing his role as a leader and as the one “who cares the most.” Within the dull and muted landscape, the warrior children stand out as contrasting pops of bright color symbolizing their resistance and role as bearers of hope. Alas, clunky, repetitive design impedes readers’ immersion in the book. The author and illustrator, who is also Hmong, each contribute a moving note.

A powerful tale about finding purpose and strength in the face of extreme adversity.

(Picture book/memoir. 6-10)